Rail Lines: Flooding

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Labour, Oldham West and Royton 9:30 am, 28th January 2016

What assessment he has made of the effect of disruption to rail lines caused by the recent winter floods on the economy.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Just days after the hon. Gentleman’s election, he will have seen for himself the impact of the transport disruption caused by this winter’s unprecedented weather conditions. I am sure he will join me in paying tribute to Network Rail’s orange army, who managed to get the west coast main line opened within four days of its being flooded with 8 feet of water. We remain absolutely committed to getting all such lines back up and able to run a full service safely as soon as possible. I am sure he would also like to join me in thanking passengers for their patience during this time.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Labour, Oldham West and Royton

I share the Minister’s appreciation for the staff and for the patience of passengers, but I think the point is being missed. Because money has been taken away from routine maintenance and flood defences, there has been a massive effect on our local economy. If an assessment has been carried out, surely it should be made public.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am afraid that I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s facts, although I hate to do so at his first Transport questions. The Government have announced that overall flood spending in the next period will be £1.7 billion higher than it was in the previous period. Within the transport budget, about £900 million is dedicated to things like making sure that the banks and cuttings are safe—those things that are often the first to go when there is heavy flooding. Improving the resilience of the rail network and making sure that it is fit for a 21st century climate are at the heart of the record level of investment that this Government are putting into the railways.

[This section has been corrected on 29 January 2016, column 3MC — read correction]

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

Pursuant to that answer, will the Minister clarify what discussions have taken place with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to prepare rail links for the flood damage that is likely in the weeks and months ahead as a result of climate change?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am sure that the hon. Lady will be relieved to know that all the Cobra discussions over Christmas on the immediate effects had strong transport representation. I went to Scotland and saw for myself with the SNP Minister for Transport the impact of scouring on the Lamington viaduct. That bridge has been there for over 100 years and has never been so damaged by a weather event. It is a tribute to the engineering work that is being done that the bridge will be secured and back open by 1 March. We treat such links with incredible importance.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Two years ago, the Prime Minister stood on the ruins of the Dawlish sea wall and said:

“If money needs to be spent, it will be spent; if resources are required we will provide them”.

Now, we learn that Network Rail cannot even afford to fund a report on improving the south-west’s rail lines, putting millions of pounds of investment at risk. Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not say where that money would come from. I want to give the rail Minister a chance. Will she honour her right hon. Friend’s commitment and fund that study?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, who raised this question with the Prime Minister. The hon. Lady really needs to sort out her facts. The Government spent £35 million on the Dawlish repair and opened the line in record time. We are spending over £400 million on transport investment in the south-west, unlike her party, which wanted to can two major roads. I am looking carefully—[Interruption.] Perhaps she would like to listen, rather than chunter. I am looking carefully at how we can fund this very small amount of money without in any way inhibiting the overall report that we are looking forward to seeing from this very important organisation in April.