With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our plans for Britain’s railways. Those railways were privatised in the mid-1990s against a backdrop of what many regarded as terminal decline. The radical Beeching cuts of the 1960s had been followed by further line closures under British Rail, and passenger numbers had been falling steadily since the second world war, yet privatisation sparked a remarkable turnaround in the railway’s fortunes. More than a million and a half more trains are timetabled each year than was the case 20 years ago, and passenger demand has more than doubled. Other countries are now adopting Great Britain’s rail model in their own markets.
To support that growth and reverse decades of underinvestment in the infrastructure, we have embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian age. In addition to Government funding, billions of pounds of investment from the private sector is helping to renew and expand train fleets, upgrade stations and transform services across the country, and franchises are making an increasing contribution to the public purse. The rail renaissance we are seeing in Great Britain today is the direct result of a successful partnership between public and private sectors.
That partnership has delivered real benefits for passengers for more than 20 years, but that success has created its own challenges. As the number of services has increased, our network has become more and more congested, making the delivery of the punctual, reliable services that passengers expect more challenging. On much of the network, our railway is operating on the edge of what it can cope with. It carries more passengers today than it did in its heyday in the 1920s, on a network that is a fraction of the size. When things go wrong, the impact can be widespread and quick, causing significant frustration for the travelling public.
That is why last year I announced plans to start bringing together the operation of track and train on our railways. I said at the time that it should be a process of evolution and not revolution, and that the exact approach might differ from area to area, but the outcome must be the same: a railway that is predominantly run by a joint local team of people with an absolute commitment to the smooth running of the timetable whether they are planning essential repairs, responding to incidents on the line or communicating with passengers.
Today I am publishing more details about our plans, and an update on what we are doing and the steps we are taking to realise our ambitions. That publication, “Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, explains how we will create a new generation of regional rail operations with a relentless focus on the passengers, economies and communities they serve. It represents the biggest change to the delivery of rail services since privatisation.
Although we have already achieved significant structural improvements—with joined-up working between operators and Network Rail, and Network Rail’s own transformation into a series of regional route businesses—the document explains our plans to go much further. Where doing so will deliver real benefits for passengers, many future rail franchises will be run by a joint team, made up of staff from Network Rail and the train company, and headed by a new alliance director. That will make the railway more reliable for passengers by devolving powers to local routes and teams, and ensuring that one team is responsible for running the railways and the related infrastructure.
Today I am issuing the invitation to tender for the next south-eastern franchise. That will, among other things, deliver longer trains, providing space for at least 40,000 additional passengers in the morning rush hour. A simpler, high-frequency “turn up and go” timetable on suburban routes will boost capacity and provide a better service to passengers. As part of the unification of track and train, the day-to-day operations on the south-eastern network will be run by a joint team led by a new alliance director who heads both the train and track operations. On the east midland main line we will also introduce a joint team approach, bringing more benefits to passengers.
Hon. Members will know that the east coast main line has had its challenges in recent times, and I intend to take a different approach on that route. From 2020, the east coast partnership will run the intercity trains and track operations on this route. That partnership between the public and private sector will operate under one management and a single brand, overseen by a single leader. It will take a leading role in planning the future route infrastructure and meeting the challenges that it faces. Bringing the perspective of train operators to decisions on rail infrastructure will help to ensure that passenger needs are better represented in the process. While we run a competition to appoint the east coast partnership members, we are in discussions with the existing east coast franchise operator to ensure that the needs of passengers and taxpayers are met in the short term, and laying the foundations for the reforms I have just outlined.
I want the passenger to be central to train operators’ strategies. On some parts of the network, that will mean that we introduce smaller train companies. I am today launching a consultation on the great western franchise, to seek views on how it can best meet the needs of passengers and communities in the 2020s and beyond. We want to establish whether it should be retained in its current form or divided into smaller parts, with more of a local focus, to deliver best for customers. We will also begin the process of splitting up the Thameslink, southern and great northern franchise in 2021. The two franchises were put together with the intention of helping the implementation of the £6 billion Thameslink upgrade investment programme, which is now near completion.
Despite the improvements in the railway since privatisation, we are still some way from achieving the modern, high-performance, low-cost and customer-focused industry we all want to see. That is why we must continue to reform and invest in the railway, and maximise the contribution that both public and private sectors make to improving services. We will continue to deliver the biggest investment programme in our railways since the steam age, something the Labour party never did when it was in government.
Getting to grips with industry structure will go hand in hand with investment in infrastructure. We need new capacity to cope with growing demand, and new links to support economic growth and housing development. The great north rail project is transforming journeys across the north, providing faster, more comfortable journeys, new direct services and room for tens of thousands more passengers. Every single train in the north of England will be replaced with as-new or brand new stock—that change was never made when the Labour party was in power.
I intend to invest around £3 billion in upgrading the trans-Pennine route to deliver faster journey times and improved capacity between the great cities of Leeds, York and Manchester. In the south, flagship projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink are coming on stream and providing the capacity to underpin economic growth. Our investment in HS2 will bring north and south closer together, and bring benefits to people across the country. It is a new railway for a new era for rail. It is a bold and ambitious project, but if it were not for ambition and faith in the power of rail to transform the country, we would have no railways at all.
Our vision rejects the mentality of decline that characterised the railway in the second half of the 20th century. To complement record levels of private investment, we recently announced Government funding of up to £34.7 billion for the railway in the years 2019 to 2024, as part of an overall expected spend of £47.9 billion. That will support an overhaul of the network’s ageing assets and other vital work and improvements. Passengers value reliability more than anything, and this commitment will help to deliver it.
We also want to create new connections. We are establishing the East West Rail company to restore the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge that was lost to passengers in 1967 and to provide a major boost to the region. I expect construction work to begin next summer. We will look at other opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s, where such projects would unlock development and growth, offer value for money and unlock the potential for housing.
Large projects and industry reform take time, but passengers want faster improvements in their day-to-day experience travelling on the railway. We do too, and we are doing something about it. We are pushing to have smart ticketing available across almost all the network by the end of 2018. We are improving arrangements for compensation and dispute resolution when things go wrong, including by supporting the establishment of a new passenger ombudsman. We are working with industry to extend the benefits of discounted rail travel, to ensure that all who are aged 16 to 30 can access appropriate concessions. We are investing in new digital technologies and better mobile connectivity. We are committed to improving the accessibility of the network and delivering a modern customer experience that is open to all.
I know that the Labour party does not believe this, but privatisation brought a revolution to our railways—that is why there are twice as many passengers as there were 20 years ago. But now is the time for evolution to build on that success: joining up track and train, expanding the network, modernising the customer experience and opening up the railway to innovation. We have a vision of a revitalised railway that is used to its full potential, delivered by a partnership between the public and private sectors, supporting people, communities and the economy. We are taking real action to make that vision a reality. I am making copies of the strategic vision available in the Libraries of both Houses, and the great western and south-eastern documents are now on the website of the Department for Transport. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement, the contents of which have already been well trailed in the media.
The Secretary of State and I can be in agreement on rail’s need for investment and new capacity, and I am delighted that he has picked up Labour’s manifesto commitment to reopen branch lines. The problem is that the current system and the structure of the railways do not lend themselves well to the receipt of new investment or the delivery of new capacity. The majority of the recent problems on the railway can be traced back to the planning for control period 5, when the Office of Rail and Road said that Network Rail had to make efficiency savings of 18%. The ORR got this wrong, and the railway has suffered the consequences.
We are where we are on rail, and I am afraid that the Secretary of State has, frankly, now run out of ideas for what to do with the railways, but Labour has a solution, which I will refer to in a moment. The Secretary of State proposes an alliance on the east coast line between track and train. This was done only a few years ago between Stagecoach and Network Rail on the south-west franchise, but Stagecoach pulled out because it was too expensive. Trains on the east coast may be labelled Virgin trains, but they are actually run by Stagecoach. What makes the Secretary of State think that this alliance with Stagecoach will be any different?
The Secretary of State says he will break up the GTR’s southern and great western franchises. GTR was always going to be broken up at the end of the contract in 2021, so this is not new. His calamitous oversight of the contract only adds to the urgent need to put the whole thing out of its misery for the sake of the passengers.
The Secretary of State says he will reopen lines. He announced the Oxford-Cambridge line a year ago. His new, privately funded line will operate with polluting diesel trains. What about the air quality? Labour supports reopening lines, but, without financial backing, the Secretary of State’s proposals mean nothing in reality. It is all well and good to reverse the Beeching cuts, but what about reversing the Grayling cuts to the great western, the midland mainline and northern railways? The Department’s website hails the reopening of the line
“from Blyth to Ashington in County Durham.”
If it is all right with him, I would prefer Blyth and Ashington to stay in Northumberland.
The Secretary of State’s proposals offer nothing for commuters on overcrowded trains who are facing a fare hike of 3.4% in January on top of the 27% rises since 2010. The truth is that the rail system is broken. No amount of rearranging the furniture will change this central fact. I regret that the Secretary of State cannot recognise or admit this.
Today’s announcement is a total smokescreen. We can put all this to one side; the real issue is that the east coast franchise has failed again and the taxpayer will have to bail it out. Markets do not lie, and the Stagecoach share price has risen by 12% this morning following the news that the Secretary of State has let it off the hook for hundreds of millions of pounds by ending the current franchise early. He has moved the goalposts to suit Stagecoach. He is tough on everyone except the private sector. Labour took the franchise into public ownership in 2009, and it should have stayed there. Conservative dogma put it back out to the market in 2015, and it has now failed again.
The Government’s proposals are more window dressing that will solve none of rail’s urgent problems. Only Labour has the vision and the courage to deliver the railway the public deserves. The public want public ownership of the railways, and the next Labour Government will deliver it.
Fortunately, this country will be waiting a long time for that to happen. What Labour Members really want is to take us back to the days of British Rail, but they have not explained to us how they would pay for all the new trains currently funded by the private sector, or how they would pay for longer trains and better services all around the country. What they do not tell us is that, with a publicly run railway, trains would have to compete for capital costs with hospitals and schools and we would just not get the investment we are currently getting in our railways. Going back to British Rail is simply no solution for the improvements this country desperately needs.
The hon. Gentleman asked a series of specific questions. What is different is what is happening within Network Rail. The devolution within Network Rail—more of a local focus, local decision making, local budgets—is absolutely crucial in making local partnerships possible. We are driving through that change right now, off the back of Nicola Shaw’s report on Network Rail, and it is the right thing to do for the future.
The hon. Gentleman talked about GTR, but I remind the House that the independent Gibb report showed that the GTR problems were substantially down to the actions of the hon. Gentleman’s friends in the unions. Such conduct was unacceptable, and the Labour party’s continuing support for the disruption that unions are causing to passengers on the railways is utterly unacceptable.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the Oxford-Cambridge railway line. I did actually give an update on that. Last year, I said we were going to do it. This year, I am saying that we are now ready to start work on that route in the next few months. This Conservative Government are delivering real improvements and real investment on the railways.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the finance for reopening lines. He may have missed these announcements in the Budget, but I can assure him that there will be £2 billion more for investment in transport in our cities, and there will be £47 billion for investment in the railways over the next five years. We will, indeed, be funding investment in the expansion of the railways, because that is what is needed.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about electrification. I say again that in a world where we have more flexible technology, I regard it as more of a priority to provide more services and more routes for passengers than to save one minute on the journey time to Sheffield and no minutes on the journey time to Swansea. I am doing what we need to do, which is to deliver better journeys, better journey times and new trains for passengers, which is what they want above all. They are not worried about how the trains are powered, but about whether they will have a nice new train that gets them to the right place, and that is what we are doing.
The hon. Gentleman raised a point about the Blyth-Ashington line. It is one of the projects I am looking at seriously. I think it has real potential to expand the investment we are already making in the Metro in Newcastle upon Tyne, and it is another example of this Government’s commitment to the north-east.
The hon. Gentleman asked what we are doing for commuters. All around the country, we and the private sector, together in partnership, are delivering new trains and longer trains to create more space for people who travel on our crowded railway lines each day.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be absolutely clear for the House that as we bring the east coast franchise to a close and move to the new arrangements, no one will get any bail-out at all. It is absolutely clear that Stagecoach will meet in full the commitments it made to the Government as part of this contract, and that is what will happen.
I warmly welcome the commitment in the strategy document to the east-west railway line through my constituency and the announcement that its construction will start very soon. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about when he expects the western section of the line to be up and running, and how this will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor?
My hon. Friend is right that this is an important project. We have been pushing ahead hard with the new special purpose vehicle, which will be set up in the coming weeks. Construction is due to begin next summer, and my goal is to have the first trains running on that route by the end of 2021.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. Unfortunately, I am having to thank him for early sight of what is a disappointing damp squib. Given the media coverage last night about the possible reversal of the Beeching cuts, I hoped there would be some firm commitments in the statement, but there is nothing other than a throwaway line.
The Beeching cuts were typical of the Tory policy of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, and this attitude continues in the Secretary of State’s ideological adherence to privatisation. While he worships the private sector, he needs to remember that there are already four foreign state-owned rail companies operating existing UK franchises. If it is good enough for foreign state-owned companies, it should be good enough for UK state-owned companies to run the franchises. I hope that he supports the Scottish Government’s move to make a public sector bid in Scotland.
The Secretary of State trumpets the turnaround in rail since privatisation, but he does not say that it has been driven by a 90% increase in public sector investment and a real-terms fare increase of a quarter. That is where the real investment and the turnaround have come from. The Secretary of State’s real masterplan is to create alliances and effectively to sub-divide Network Rail, so I have the following questions. What is the overall governance structure to prevent inter-alliance conflict? Given that he is such a fan of devolution, will he devolve Network Rail to Scotland? Who will fund the new railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds? Will the smart ticket system automatically provide consumers with the cheapest fares? If he is considering reopening lines, will he stop the fire sale of Network Rail assets? He will be well aware that the Scottish Government built the biggest new line in the UK for more than 100 years, on the borders. Will he consider reconnecting Carlisle to the borders by rail? Finally, what are the statement’s funding implications for Scotland, and will he review the existing funding gap of £600 million in control period 6?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a mix of questions; let me take them in turn. On devolution, it remains this Government’s position that we will follow the recommendation, which was part of the broader devolution package, that the Scottish Government should be responsible for franchising but not for the infrastructure. The Scottish National party needs to demonstrate that it can do a decent job in government with the powers it has, rather than ask for more powers.
We are working through the railcard with the industry. The extra revenues may well mean that it will be a self-financing venture, but the Treasury has underwritten it in the Budget process. On the cheapest fare options, I want a system of smart ticketing on our railways so that, for future shorter journeys, we end up with the kind of pay-as-you-go technology that exists in London and other cities, so that people can tap in and tap out as they travel. For longer journeys, ticketing is likely to be based on mobile phones and barcodes. We are working to achieve those objectives as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the sale of assets. There are times when assets are genuinely not needed. They can be sold and the money put back into the railway line—that is the right thing to do—but of course there are assets that we need to protect for the future. Frankly, I wish that some assets had not been disposed of or built over, because that makes it more difficult to reopen some of the routes that I would like to be reopened. We will protect the assets we need.
I applaud the Scottish Government for what they have done with Borders Railway, which is a good project and has made a positive difference to that part of Scotland. I am happy to talk to my Scottish counterparts about how we can do more in the future.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the funding settlement. As I have said before in this House, the funding settlement for Scotland for rail is based on the Barnett formula, which the SNP does not usually argue against. I do not think it can have its cake and eat it.
I welcome the news that the GTR franchise is to be broken up. It is too big to be managed and has a management incapable of managing it, but given that it has frequently been unable to live up to its performance indicators, why do we have to wait until 2021 to get a competent operator in charge of a manageable franchise area?
The real thing we have to achieve is to get through the rest of the Thameslink investment programme. In the coming months, we will also do some significant works on the Brighton main line, spending the £300 million I committed last year to doing the big parts of the project around Balcombe, for example. I would not wish us to destabilise things during that period, but once that is done we will need to get on with making the change.
Alliancing and joint teams can improve dialogue between Network Rail and operators, but that is not a fundamentally different proposition from what has happened before and what is happening now on certain segments of the railway. The underlying factors that contribute to the misalignment between operators and Network Rail—namely, separate performance regimes and financial incentives—simply do not appear to have been addressed. Will the Secretary of State set out the specific steps he intends to take to tackle those fundamental structural shortcomings, so that we finally have a railway that drives co-ordinated performance, cost-reductions and improved reliability?
We are already, in the alliance areas and, indeed, elsewhere, moving to aligned performance incentives and aligned key performance indicators. That work is already happening on routes such as great western, where a route board and key performance indicators are being increasingly aligned, so that Network Rail has an incentive to look after passengers in a way that has not always been the case in the past. When it comes to a joint venture on the east coast main line, the KPIs will be the same, because there will be one team doing it. That is the benefit of having somebody in charge, a joint brand, joint planning of budgets and joint KPIs in the same team. That is what is different from the past.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, this Government’s continued investment in our railways and the success that is possible only because of the partnership with the private sector. He will be aware that concerns have been raised about the break-up of the great western franchise. May I seek his reassurance that any proposals will not leave Devon and Cornwall isolated and that they will be introduced only if they are in the best interests of improving services to and from the south-west and provide value for money for the passenger?
First, let me be clear: I do not envisage a Devon and Cornwall-only franchise. That is not part of the plan. I am asking a legitimate question: should we go back to having, in effect, something like Wessex Trains and a franchise with its headquarters in the south-west, that provides regional services in the south-west and that could theoretically even do some of the long-distance services up to Paddington from Penzance? There are pros and cons to that. This is a consultation to ask the south-west what it thinks. It is no more and no less than that, and I want to get the right answer for the south-west.
I welcome today’s big message that our railways work better when track and train are operated together and the fact that the Secretary of State is now trying to correct the big mistake in the original rail privatisation, when his party separated track and train ownership. May I ask him, on behalf of my constituents in Surbiton, to consider the urgent safety case for a new staircase at platforms 3 and 4 at Surbiton train station, given how dangerously overcrowded they can become during the evening peak?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for bringing back together the operation of track and train. If he wants to catch me offline, I would be happy to look at the issue he raises.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. He mentioned smaller railway operators. Will he clarify whether that includes open-access operators, and if so, does he foresee that leading to an extension of services such as those in my own area of northern Lincolnshire?
I am a strong supporter of open access, which plays an important part in the railways. The east coast main line has been a significant user of open access, or is a route on which there has been open-access operators. As we move into the era of HS2 and as we move express trains off some of the other routes, I expect there to be more, rather than less, scope for open access in the future. It is certainly not my intention for the open access available to my hon. Friend’s part of the country to be changed in coming years.
The east coast main line was run for many years by a not-for-profit company and it made a profit for the Treasury, but that is not what I want to ask about. I have been campaigning for 30 years to reopen the Blyth and Ashington line. Now that that is on the cards, will the Secretary of State tell me when it will happen, so that I can tell my constituents? I do not want to have to wait another 30 years, because I will be dead.
I will do my very best to make sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait that long. There is real short-term potential to reopen that route. I am not going to put a date on it today, but it makes a lot of sense to integrate it with the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Metro. We will push the project forward with feasibility and development plans.
We are going to press ahead with it in the immediate future and look at what will not happen. I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman an exact date—I never do that.
Eastleigh is a historic railway town, and transport issues really matter in my thriving but getting-more-busy-and-congested constituency, which hosts Southampton airport. East-west connectivity between Portsmouth and Southampton on a railway line takes an hour. Will the Secretary of State commit to working across Departments to make sure that there is a joined-up approach for constituencies that not only provide housing, but are blighted by air pollution, congestion and a historic lack of investment in railway lines?
I give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is really important that, as we seek to develop more housing, we make sure that infrastructure is in place to cope with it, whether road, rail or cycle routes, or different forms of public transport in different parts of the country. I assure her that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who is in charge of the housing infrastructure fund, will look supportively at those parts of the country that are being asked to take on housing development and see how we can best provide infrastructure for them.
I echo the concerns expressed by Steve Double about the idea of breaking up the great western franchise because of the loss of ability to cross-subsidise from the more profit-making parts of the region to the more expensive parts in the far south-west. Exactly how much extra taxpayers’ money is he handing over to Stagecoach as a result of the Government’s botched and ideologically driven reprivatisation of what was a perfectly good and profitable publicly owned company?
The answer is that at this stage we have not yet reached final arrangements. My intention is not to hand over money, but to get the railway line in a preparation stage for the establishment of the east coast partnership. With regard to the great western franchise, this is genuinely a consultation. There are two options: we could continue with the great western franchise as it is, or we could create a second franchise that is focused on the south-west. I have heard both arguments. I am committed to having more accountability and better transport in and around the south-west, which is why we are finally dualling the A303, for example. This is a genuinely open consultation and I want to hear views about it.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I totally support greater unification of train and track. For my constituents, it is absolutely maddening that when we have problems on the railway—unfortunately, we frequently do on the great eastern main line—Network Rail and the train operator can argue about who is to blame, because our constituents want a single body to point a finger at. Will he confirm that there will be far simpler accountability under these structures, and that when our Greater Anglia franchise expires, we will have the opportunity to look at this sort of regional arrangement?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that this approach should spread across the whole rail network, with clearer accountability, clearer integration, clearer joint working when something goes wrong and better joint planning for maintenance works and affected services. That is a really important part of ensuring that the railways work for the future.
Why did the Secretary of State not use this opportunity to say that there would be electrification of the whole of the midland main line, instead of it stopping somewhere in Northampton to suit commuters travelling into London? The other business is that people in my constituency have been asking him for a meeting to try to put to him an alternative to the HS2 spur that will wreck 30 houses in a tiny village in my area. When will he answer their letter? He can tell me now.
On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister has already extended an invitation to that meeting, so we will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman’s office this afternoon and fix a date. With regard to the midland main line, we are in the early stages of what is the biggest investment programme in the line since the 1870s. It will mean faster journeys and brand new trains, years earlier than would otherwise have been the case. We can deliver those new trains in 2021-22. We could wait several years more for those new trains. We could spend £1 billion more, but all we would be doing is saving a minute on the journey time to Sheffield. I could be wrong, but I do not think that would be a terribly good use of taxpayers’ money.
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister has made improving accessibility on the rail network a particular part of his work. We will continue accessibility funding in control period 6, and the opportunity will be there for individual stations and areas to come forward with proposals on how we can do better in what is an extremely important challenge that the rail industry faces.
It is a year and a half since the then Under-Secretary of State responded to our calls to look at extending the borders rail link—incidentally, it was delivered on time and under budget by the Scottish Government—to Carlisle, and she said that she was interested in looking into that. Will the Secretary of State now take those discussions forward with the Scottish Government?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the Isle of Wight there might be interest in extending the island line to the beautiful seaside town of Ventnor and the county town of Newport—the latter has been made possible in part due to the foresight of the Isle of Wight steam railway in securing track in decades past? Will money be available for feasibility studies to assess the costs and benefits of opening up, for economic regeneration purposes, former branch lines that were closed in the ’60s?
In the new year we will publish a new process for evaluating new projects and moving them into development. I will happily talk with my hon. Friend about how that process will work and how he can have his project on the Isle of Wight considered.
I have written to the Secretary of State about Kirkstall Forge railway station in my constituency. It opened just over a year ago, but only one train stops there an hour. If we are going to open new railway stations, we must have trains stopping at them. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet with Arriva Rail North and myself to talk about the frequency of services at Kirkstall Forge, so that we can get maximum benefit out of this housing and business development?
I am happy to have that conversation. When a new station opens, it is not unusual for it to start with an hourly service while the passenger ridership builds. Of course, as demand grows, services tend to grow. I am just delighted that we are able to invest in better station facilities in the hon. Lady’s constituency, which I am sure she will agree were long overdue.
I welcome the overall thrust of this plan. As the Secretary of State will know, it is probably no coincidence that the current GWR franchise covers roughly the same area that the railway company did back in the 1930s, so it is interesting to note the proposal to split. Can he reassure me that in any consideration of this the top priority will be services to passengers, particularly maintaining direct links between London Paddington and Paignton?
I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that we want to see those services protected. Again, this is a genuine consultation. I do not have a pre-set view; I am relaxed and I want to listen to those people who represent the south-west and ask, “What works best for the constituents you represent?” We will listen and respond accordingly. There is certainly no prejudged view in the Department about what the right way forward is; we are simply asking the question.
The Secretary of State’s U-turn on his promise to electrify the line from Cardiff to Swansea included all the safety improvements that were part of that work, including the plan to close the level closing in Pencoed in my constituency. Can he set out, as part of his grand vision for the railways, how he will now invest in closing dangerous level crossings? While he is at it, will he explain how he will keep the promise on highway improvements in the same town, which were linked to rail electrification?
Safety remains fundamentally important for Network Rail. We are fortunate enough to have the safest rail network in Europe. Network Rail has a rolling programme to replace dangerous level crossings, which will continue in all circumstances. I think that the Welsh Labour Government are rapidly reaching the same conclusion that we are reaching, because the versatility of bi-mode trains means that we do not always have to erect overhead cables. The hon. Gentleman talks about us making the wrong decisions, but I caution him to wait and see what the Welsh Government decide to do, because he might find that the Labour party agrees with us on the best way forward.
I welcome the announcement that the southern and Thameslink franchise will be broken up—it cannot come soon enough for my constituents. Can I ask specifically about the line reopening, because we have the Lewes to Uckfield line in my constituency, with the BML2 scheme, which could be opened very easily, improving connectively and putting towns such as Seaford and Newhaven on a main line for the first time? We have private investors willing to put up over £15 million to fund that. Will the Secretary of State use that scheme as one of the first to illustrate what can really be done?
My hon. Friend knows that I have met the investors who are interested in pursuing that project, and I have said that I am very open to doing so. I am waiting with interest for them to come back with the first stage of their work. I would be delighted to see the route reopened, and I hope that the consortium pursuing the project will prove successful.
There was little mention of Wales in the Secretary of State’s letter to hon. Members on the great western consultation, yet key services run through my constituency. Just this morning, commuters to Bristol and beyond have yet again had to highlight the chronic lack of capacity as demand grows. Can he tell my constituents when they will see real action and improvement?
Of course, much of the responsibility for local services in the hon. Lady’s constituency lies with the Welsh Government, and I am looking forward to seeing the outcome of their work in delivering new trains and better services as part of the new franchise. As for what we are doing in her constituency, there is the electrification programme into Paddington and the investment in the intercity express trains, which are providing faster and better journeys, but I am expecting and hoping for a significant increase in services from Cardiff eastwards as part of the Wales and the borders franchise, which is one reason why we support the plan for Cardiff Parkway station. I am hoping for a significant enhancement, as part of that franchise, to the connections from Cardiff to Newport and Bristol.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The east Suffolk line, which runs from Lowestoft to Ipswich, dodged the Beeching bullet and is now going from strength to strength, with a regular hourly service. Will he give an assurance that his improvements will provide the framework for further improvements, including a more frequent and faster service?
One of the things I am pleased we are doing in partnership with the private sector is the complete transformation of the train fleet across East Anglia. Every single train will be replaced with brand-new trains that have more capacity for passengers. As demand grows, we will have to look again at routes such as my hon. Friend’s to see whether there is a need for more services. In the immediate future, however, I hope that his constituents will be delighted to see the brand-new trains arriving to deliver a better journey for them.
I am struck by the contrast between, on the one hand, the strength and wisdom of the best Select Committee report of my time in Parliament, the unanimous 1993 report by a Tory-dominated Committee chaired by the Secretary of State’s late colleague, Robert Adley, which forecast accurately all the problems that privatisation would bring, and, on the other hand, today’s statement, which seems nothing more than a piece of vacuous window dressing designed to distract us from the Government’s collapsing policies on Brexit.
There is nothing like trying to shoehorn every issue into one question, is there? The simple reality is that back in the 1990s our railways were in a state of decline—routes and stations were being closed, and there was even a plan to turn Marylebone station into a coach station. That was the reality of the days of British Rail. In the past 20 years, we have seen new trains, new routes and double the number of passengers. The problems today are the problems of success, not failure. That is why the approach in today’s statement is the right one. It is not designed to tear everything up and start again; it is designed to evolve the railways so that they are better placed to deal with the challenges that result from success.
The last Labour Government halved the mainline northbound service from Kettering from a half-hourly service to an hourly service, but since then the significance of Kettering on the railway network has increased: there are now more passengers; it is effectively the hub between the commuter service to Corby and the main line northwards; and it is now to be the interface between the electrified part of the line and the diesel-operated part of the line. Will my right hon. Friend agree that Kettering would therefore be the ideal base for the new train and track operating team?
Kettering is a fine town and a well represented constituency, and I can absolutely understand the case that my hon. Friend and Kettering would make for its hosting the operating team. He is absolutely right that it is at the heart of the midland main line. It might have some competition from Derby and others, but he makes a strong case.
Actually, it was my suggestion that we look at the project. I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman and understood the argument, and the Chancellor has provided development funding so that we can take that work forward.
Building alliances and closer working between Network Rail and train operating companies into franchises is a welcome move, but I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could advise us on how Network Rail will ultimately be held accountable for meeting the terms of future franchises or contracts, just as the train operating companies currently are. Also, will that mean that infrastructure improvements will now be considered as part of the franchising process?
On the latter point, they can be now—there is nothing to prevent train companies from coming forward with small-scale infrastructure proposals. I would be happy to see the private sector come forward with plans, for example, to introduce digital signalling on routes, but we will not move the infrastructure itself out of public ownership. The accountability comes from the performance measures we put in place for Network Rail and the people who lead it, but I think that devolution to individual routes will mean better services, a more local focus and more out-of-the-box thinking, which Network Rail needs to do if it is to deliver best value for everyone involved.
My constituents will be listening with avid interest, because prior to the general election, the Transport Secretary visited my constituency and said that the reinstatement of the Burscough curves between Burscough, Preston and Ormskirk would be a “quick win” to help improve rail services in the north. When will we get this “quick win”? When will funding for that project, for electrification in the area and for the Skelmersdale railway station be forthcoming? My constituents look forward to him keeping his promise.
Of course, the people of West Lancashire will be getting the benefit of the investment programme in the line from Manchester to Blackpool. It is a huge investment in improving the services on that route. That, right now, is our priority. After that, I hope we will move forward with other projects that can make a difference to passengers in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north-west.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the focus on passengers in particular. He will know that 30% of passenger improvements on Abellio Greater Anglia were due to the new fleet, but that 60% were due to the track. The Oxford-Cambridge line does not end at Cambridge, but goes through to Felixstowe and carries most of the freight for this country, so may I urge him to make Horley junction and Ely junction key priorities in order to deliver better services for both passengers and the freight industry?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance and reiterate the commitment I have given to people in East Anglia that in control period 6 the work on Ely junction will free up both freight and passenger access through that important junction and open up all kinds of opportunities across East Anglia. That will be an early priority for us.
My constituents are used to travelling on trains where there is a link between those who run the track and those who run the rolling stock, but that body is the publicly run Transport for London, and the Secretary of State refuses to allow it to have anything to do with the south-eastern franchise based on the fact that we have a Labour Mayor. My constituents deserve better than his petty political grievances. Will he allow TfL to demonstrate that it is capable of running the franchise more efficiently than the private sector has done hitherto?
I would make two points. First, Transport for London does not run the track and the trains. The trains are run as part of a franchise by Arriva. Secondly, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that what we have outlined today—more services and longer trains on the south-eastern line—is a lot better than what TfL offered in its business plan. My concern is to deliver a better service for his constituents rather than unnecessary political shuffling.
Absolutely. The key point about the trans-Pennine upgrade is that we have already electrified it from Manchester to Liverpool. That bit of the project has been done. The next bit is from Manchester to Leeds to York. I have said that that will be a £3 million programme. It is the next big rail investment project. I am expecting Network Rail’s detailed proposals shortly. It will be the next big project we go ahead with and will make a big difference to the north.
I warmly welcome the announcement today of a consultation on the great western franchise and the improvements it will bring to passenger services in Devon and beyond, but may I seek my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that there will be a focus in that process on the one rail service that serves my constituency—that between Exeter and Barnstaple? It is not just a quaint tourist line used in August; it is a vital part of north Devon’s economic infrastructure.
It certainly is, and I do not want that service to be diminished in any way. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that one of the routes on which we intend to start passenger services again—and we are actively engaged in that work—is the line from Okehampton to Exeter. I think that has the potential to ease congestion at Exeter, and to provide a better commuter route.
Will the Secretary of State tell us why he is not electrifying the midland main line even though every single business organisation, Member of Parliament and local council is telling him that that is what he should do? Why is he ignoring the wishes of local people and local representatives, saying that he knows best, and simply offering them a “joint team approach”, whatever that is?
The answer to that is very simple. Over the next four years, we will deliver the biggest upgrades to the midland main line since the 1870s. We are straightening tracks to improve line speeds, and resignalling in places such as Derby. The programme will deliver faster journey times—it will take 15 to 20 minutes off the journey to Sheffield—and we will deliver brand-new trains on that route in the early 2020s. I could then go further and electrify the route all the way to Sheffield, but all that I would be doing is delaying the arrival of new trains and saving one minute on the journey time to Sheffield, at a cost of £1 billion. I think that we should deliver what passengers want—better journeys, faster journeys and new trains—more quickly, and that is what we are going to do.
On my own behalf and that of my neighbour and right hon. Friend Amber Rudd, I thank the Secretary of State—who has visited our area and seen the potential there—for the proposals on page 31 of the south-eastern rail franchise stakeholder briefing document, which will deliver faster trains from Hastings with fewer station stops, and, crucially, require any bidder for the franchise to pay attention to the potential for high-speed rail to be extended to Hastings, Rye and Bexhill. Does he agree that that will unlock regeneration in our constituencies?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We get caught up in the biggest projects, but sometimes the smaller ones—even a bit of track realignment in places—can make the biggest difference. I hope to do big things, such as the trans-Pennine upgrade, but also smaller things at, for instance, Ashford, where we are trying to improve the situation for passengers.
As the Secretary of State will know, the Cumbria coastline and the Furness line are giving a dire performance at the moment. It is disappointing that Cumbria was not mentioned in the strategy. Will he ask the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, to meet us to discuss what can be done about the 50-year-old locomotives that are breaking down and annoying residents, the terrible state of the rolling stock, and the awful standard of reliability? There is an urgent need to fix all that, otherwise there will be significant damage to the economy.
I am delighted to be able to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are scrapping all those trains on that route and getting new ones. We are also introducing better services, including Sunday services. All that is being rolled out now. We have a partnership with the Labour leaderships in the councils of the north and Transport for the North, and we have been working side by side to shape the new franchise and the replacements for the rail fleets, for which the Government are paying. Those trains are on order, and the first new trains are now entering service in the northern networks and the trans-Pennine network. Every single train in the north of England on every single route is being replaced—either completely refurbished as new, or scrapped. The old Pacer trains on the Cumbrian coastline, which should have been scrapped years ago and were not under Labour, are being scrapped by us now.
I noted, both in the rail strategy—which I welcome—and in the Secretary of State’s reply to my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, a reference to improvement works at Ely North junction. Can the Secretary of State assure me that when those works—which will benefit the entire region and take freight off the road—are completed, my constituents in Queen Adelaide will not be disadvantaged?
Our aim is always to minimise the impact of improvement works as they are happening, and also their consequences. I assure my hon. Friend that we will work with her and her constituents to ensure that this is a beneficial investment for her part of the world, and that where it has any impacts, we will minimise them as far as is possible.
I noted what the Secretary of State said about compensation for passengers when things go wrong. He is aware, I know, of the appalling service that Northern Rail is currently providing in my constituency. Could a more flexible compensation system be introduced? Delay Repay does not capture the full experience that my constituents are having.
My hon. Friend the Rail Minister and I are working to create a passenger ombudsman, because we recognise that there are circumstances in which a conventional repayment system does not reflect the problems that someone has experienced, and that will happen shortly.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement, and particularly for what he said about the south-eastern franchise. It is necessary because of the significant amount of house building that will take place in north Kent over the next 20 years, and because there will be extra capacity and more seats for my constituents, who have been complaining about the service for a long time. Are there any further plans to increase capacity on the wonderful High Speed 1 network? My constituents who want to use that service often complain about the lack of seats and the inadequate number of trains available.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The high-speed trains to St Pancras are pretty full at peak times. We have talked to the bidders about that, and I know that they are thinking about how best to tackle the capacity challenge. We will see what happens when the bids come through, but I know that the issue is on everyone’s radar.
In 2014, the last Tory Prime Minister described electrification of the great western main line across south Wales as ”transformational for communities” and “huge”. Given that the Government have now cancelled electrification from Cardiff to Swansea, why should my constituents, or anyone else, believe Tory promises on rail again?
The answer is that we are delivering much faster connections to south Wales. The huge investment in the great western main line, not just in electrification but in improving the track and the signalling, will make a transformational difference to the south Wales economy. We are spending money to ensure that the new intercity express trains can go west of Swansea, and brand-new intercity express trains are already travelling from Swansea and delivering better conditions for passengers. If we erect overhead cables between Cardiff and Swansea now, it will cost several hundred million pounds and deliver no extra benefits to passengers—not even a minute off the journey time—which is why that does not make any sense.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not attend the debate on transport in the north on
The journey from Paddington to Cardiff is regularly a version of hell. Trains are frequently cancelled, and then everyone has to pile on to the next train, often an hour later. My constituents tell me that it is often announced that a train will not set off for another 20 minutes because it is too overloaded to be safe. At the weekends, instead of putting on extra trains after international matches, the company puts on fewer trains, which means that hundreds of people are standing for four hours. That is simply unfair and wrong. When will the Secretary of State put it right?
The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to see the arrival of the new Hitachi intercity express trains, which will have more seats and more capacity. They will replace trains that are well out of date, and will provide a faster, better service for passengers.
I thank the Secretary of State for helping to secure extra money for north Wales in the Budget, but that was for the development of a business case for the Wrexham-Bidston line, which is merely a taster. Will he please help to deliver the main course of the north Wales growth deal, which will unlock growth in one of the most effective and forward-looking areas of the national economy?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is after not just the hors d’oeuvre but a second course. That second course will probably be the Crewe hub, on which we are working carefully at the moment, but I thought that he at least deserved an appetiser. I buy the argument that the present situation as trains head north from Wrexham is not right, and I am therefore delighted that the Chancellor agreed to fund the development work for that scheme.
I give the Transport Secretary credit for acknowledging the failure on at least two occasions of the private franchise running the east coast main line. My recollection is that when it was operated by the UK state-owned Directly Operated Railways it generated more than £100 million in profit for the Treasury, which could be used for vital public services. What assessment has he made of the additional costs of the private-public sector partnership, and would it not be better to use the profits to extend the Tyne and Wear Metro into Easington rather than swelling the coffers of privately operated train companies, often German, Dutch and Spanish Government-owned?
There is a curious conundrum in this. We hear so much uncertainty from Labour about what they think about Brexit: they seem to want to stay in the single market and continue to operate in the traditional way, but they do not want to work with train companies from other countries. That is a bit illogical.
I am delighted that we as a Government are finally investing—in a way that the hon. Gentleman’s party did not—in rail in the north-east. The investment in trains on the Metro and the plans to extend it are the right things to do to help his constituency and the economy of the north-east, and I am very proud to be able to deliver them. It is also worth saying that the private sector franchise on the east coast main line has been contributing more to the Treasury than the public sector one did.
I wrote to the Secretary of State on
The good thing from the hon. Lady’s point of view is that, although she is right that her constituency has old, overcrowded trains that are not long enough, we are replacing them with new longer trains. That will make a transformational difference to the travelling experience of her constituents and others right across the north.
I have read the Secretary of State’s document published today and was perplexed that there is no reference to mutual operators. I can only assume that that is an oversight, given that they provide democratic control, work within the existing framework he has laid out in this document, and reinvest their profits for the value of all passengers. Given that, will he or his Rail Minister commit to a short meeting to talk about the barriers faced by mutual operators?
I can only say that I will be very happy to see an employee-owned bid come forward. There is no barrier to that happening at all. I will be very happy to see a partnership between employees and investors come forward, and if there are artificial barriers to that happening, I am happy to see whether we can remove them.
Every line that could be reopened, as outlined in the Secretary of State’s strategic rail vision, appears to be in England. The Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line was closed under the Beeching cuts, and reopening it not only enjoys considerable support in Ceredigion but could serve to significantly boost the economy of west Wales. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and the campaign group to discuss ways of adding that line to his map of lines that could be reopened?
We have a clear responsibility for Welsh infrastructure, and I want it to improve in a way that provides extra services for passengers and better routes, hence the Wrexham to Bidston investment that I expect us to make. The Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, will be very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman and the campaign group about that route; I am aware of it, and was, in fact, talking about it the other day to people in Wales. I am well aware that people want that project to be opened, but I should also make it clear that, as we invest in reopening routes, they have to either unlock economic opportunity or housing opportunity or break up a real point of congestion. We cannot simply recreate old routes that no longer have a commercial purpose.
The Secretary of State will be aware from my communications of the importance of rail connectivity in my constituency of Leigh, which is the fifth largest town in the country without a railway station. Following the publication of his report today, the industrial strategy and the social mobility reports, which all highlight the importance of connectivity for social and economic purposes, will he confirm that my constituency will be, or has been, considered for the reversal of the Beeching cuts?
The hon. Lady makes a good point, and of course I want significant towns to be well served by the railways. I know she is meeting my hon. Friend the Rail Minister a little later this afternoon, and we will listen very carefully to what she says.
My constituency is on the brink of daily gridlock due to welcome but significant developments in housing and travel-to-work routes that are not fit for purpose, so I welcome the reference to the Portishead line and the Henbury line in this strategy, but the solution is the Henbury loop line. Will the Secretary of State commit in his conversations with the Conservative metro Mayor for the west of England to reiterating the advice given by his Department to my predecessor—that an independent business case study should be funded for delivery of the Henbury loop line?
I spoke to the metro Mayor this morning about this and the investments we need, and also about North Filton railway station. He clearly has a strong agenda to take forward investment in the suburban service around Bristol. I have also been to the port and looked at the point on the putative Henbury loop that would be the issue. We need to resolve that, and I absolutely understand the need to get those services working well.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Fragmentation of the great western franchise risks locking in a poor deal for rail for the far south-west, so will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to match the commitment given by the shadow Secretary of State for Transport to fund the peninsula rail taskforce recommendations for faster journeys and a more resilient railway, and to ensure that we can unlock the investment we need for Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall?
I reiterate my point that this is a consultation, and I want views from all sides. We will make a change only if it is the right thing to do. We are not going to create a little fringe franchise just for Devon and Cornwall, cutting them off. If we make a change, it will be to have much more of a south-western franchise serving the region, providing good links locally.
The peninsula rail taskforce’s top recommendation was that we need to deal with the issue of the cliffs at Dawlish. The work on developing the solution to that is happening now, and that is critical to making sure that the route is resilient. That is my No. 1 rail priority for the south-west, and I give an absolute guarantee to the House that, as long as I am Transport Secretary and beyond, my party is committed to delivering a solution to prevent the real risk that those cliffs represent.