Rail Electrification Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 23rd October 2014.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 9:30 am, 23rd October 2014

What recent progress his Department has made on the rail electrification programme.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

The electrification programme announced in the 2012 rail investment strategy is under way. The Manchester to Scotland route transferred to full electric operation in early 2014, following the electrification between Manchester and Wigan. The plan is for the Liverpool to Manchester, St Helens, Wigan and Warrington routes to move to electric operation in early 2015.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Following cost overruns on other electrification projects, Network Rail has said that it is reconsidering all electrification projects. Commuters in Chesterfield will be very concerned that that will mean delays or reductions to the midland main line project. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that the only review the Government are undertaking is about ensuring that they are on time and on budget next time, and not about cutting or delaying that important project?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I do not like to be party political, but considering that the last Government managed to electrify no more than 10 miles of railway in 13 years, Labour Members should not be giving any lectures to a Government who have announced plans to electrify more than 800 miles of railway. I am very proud of what we are doing. Of course there are challenges with electrification. If the hon. Gentleman pays a little more attention when he travels by train from London to Chesterfield, he will see that the work is already being undertaken.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

When he looks at the electrification of the midland main line, will the Secretary of State consider extending electrification to the line through Langley Mill and Alfreton in my seat, which has been missed out of the plan? That would improve the services for those stations and the resilience of the line.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I will look at that. However, I stand by what I have said. We have ambitious plans for electrification and it is right that we ensure they are delivered in a practical and timely manner.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour, Barrow and Furness

Electrification in the rest of the north-west is adding to the worry that the Furness line might lose its direct service to Manchester and Manchester airport, which is vital. Has the Secretary of State read the report by the Railway Consultancy, which was funded by businesses in my constituency through Cumbria Better Connected, and will he pay attention to the irrefutable case to keep and improve that service?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I will take the hon. Gentleman’s representations seriously and ensure that I re-read that report.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

I thank the Secretary of State for a productive and useful meeting with representatives of the Peninsula rail group and West Devon local government, who are pressing hard for the reopening of the line through Okehampton to Tavistock and Plymouth, which would preferably be electrified. On his visit next week, will he examine closely the compelling case for the reopening of the line via Okehampton on the grounds of cost and resilience and of the economic benefits that it would bring to a wide swathe of economic areas?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for leading that delegation to my office yesterday. As I informed him yesterday, I am looking forward to my visit to his constituency next week and to seeing what is behind the points that he made to me. As we all saw last winter, resilience for the south-west is incredibly important, and I am determined to look at all the available options.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

In May when I asked the Secretary of State about problems with the electrification of the Great Western main line, he said that

“there will always be problems”.—[Hansard, 8 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 264.]

Will he confirm that the Great Western £1.1 billion electrification project is now a £1.6 billion electrification project, and will he say which electrification projects will be delayed or cancelled when his Department has concluded its panic review of his flagship projects?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

A “panic” review of a project that is more ambitious than anything the last Government ever dreamed of? I would have thought there would be a consensus across the House for the huge investment that we are putting into the railways through Network Rail. I am working with Network Rail and it is working with me to ensure that we get the electrification programme delivered, and within an overall budget.