Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 5th March 2015.
What plans he has to improve railway stations to cater for increased rail traffic.
To keep up with the unprecedented growth in rail traffic across the country since privatisation, including a 5% jump in passenger rail journeys last year, the Government have committed to significant investment in improving stations across the network by 2019. That includes £160 million in Access for All schemes, £100 million in station commercial projects, and £100 million for the station improvement programme.
The Secretary of State recently had a chance to visit Gloucester and see the importance of an additional entrance and new car park at our train station, which will also be a catalyst for wider growth and regeneration. Will my hon. Friend confirm when she expects the Department’s negotiations with First Great Western on its franchise extension proposals, which include the improvements at Gloucester, to be completed?
I thank my hon. Friend for his specific and helpful recommendations about the development of Gloucester station. He is a champion for rail travellers in his constituency. The Department is currently in negotiation with First Great Western about the new directly awarded contract that will provide services for three and a half years from September 2015. We carried out a public consultation last year, and I expect to conclude negotiations this month.
The chaotic and dangerous scenes at London Bridge station come after the major disruption at Christmas. How can the Minister ensure that the whole rail sector works together to put the interests of passengers first?
Although I am a strong champion of the unprecedented investment programme going on right across the country, including the rebuilding of one of the most complicated and busiest stations in Europe, that cannot be done at the expense of passengers. I have had several conversations with the chief executive of Network Rail—most recently before questions this morning—and we are in constant contact with the station management team. It will take a joined-up approach from operators, Network Rail and the British Transport Police, and the system is feeding that service to ensure that passenger safety and comfort is not compromised. Clearly nobody wants crowded platforms—but this is not crowd control; this is passengers trying to get home after a long day at work.
Further to that point, we all want to see improvements to these stations, but the deplorable failure of Network Rail in what is, of course, a very complicated scheme in any event and the failure of the train-operating companies to deliver new timetables within such constraints has led to inexcusable delays and inconvenience for my constituents. Will my hon. Friend consider giving all those people who have had to travel into London Bridge during this period compensation for the cost of their tickets to reflect the very serious conditions with which they have had to deal?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who has been an assiduous commentator and critic of the current system. Like me, he is absolutely determined that this unprecedented investment is felt by passengers. That is why the Government are spending £38 billion on passenger improvements. I completely agree that a compensation scheme is required, and we are currently looking at providing one.
Many stations in Yorkshire and the north will be affected by HS2. Has the Minister seen the startling information blogged this morning by Tom Edwards, the BBC transport correspondent, that evidence to the HS2 Committee suggests that hidden costs will raise the overall cost of the HS2 project from £50 billion to £138 billion? Are the Government misleading this country about just how much this folly of HS2 is going to cost?
I am not sure that what the hon. Gentleman said is as closely related to the terms of the question as he would have wanted, but the Minister is a dexterous character.
I did not see the information because I was on the phone to the chief executive of Network Rail. A budget is a budget. Unlike the hon. Gentleman’s Government, this Government have a track record of bringing in major infrastructure projects such as the Olympics on budget and on time.
Travel to the west country is often massively disrupted by incidents between Reading and Paddington. Given the huge investment that has gone into Reading station, is it not possible to find alternative means of connectivity between Reading and London—Reading is virtually becoming a London station—so that people from the west country can get in and out of London perfectly easily?
The hon. Gentleman—like me, he travels on that line—will have seen the many improvements to Reading station. It is not just a beautiful new station; there has been significant remodelling of the train paths, including a flyover of the freight line to reduce disruption for passengers. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Crossrail interchange, which will go to Reading, will lift about 10% of traffic off the rail network, giving passengers going to Reading a whole series of other options for connectivity right into central London.
Rail passenger numbers have doubled compared with 20 years ago—thanks to record investment under the previous Labour Government, including in stations such as the magnificent St Pancras. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like it, Mr Speaker, but it is true. Government Members try to take credit for projects we began, such as Reading, but we should look at their broken promises and record of failure instead. They make the dodgy claim that they are electrifying 850 miles, but only 18 miles have been finished, while electrification costs have doubled, essential projects have been delayed and the Transport Select Committee has warned that vital schemes may never be delivered. Is it not time for a change of Government, so that passengers get the services they deserve?
It’s the way the hon. Lady tells them. It is not 850 miles of electrification, but 889 miles—as opposed to the 10 miles delivered in the previous 13 years of supposedly record economic growth. I know that the hon. Lady is a frequent traveller from Nottingham station, which has benefited, of course, from £100 million-worth of investment under this Government. We will take no lessons from her.