Rail Franchising

Part of NHS Winter Crisis – in the House of Commons at 6:12 pm on 10th January 2018.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:12 pm, 10th January 2018

Like my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, I want to concentrate on my constituents’ concerns about their daily struggle to get to work, which is so unlike the rosy picture that the Secretary of State painted. They just want reliable services and affordable fares, which is not happening under the Government’s failed transport policy.

Key rail routes run through my constituency. Many people commute to Cardiff or Bristol and beyond. There has been remarkable passenger growth at stations such as Severn Tunnel Junction, where usage has risen by 297% in the last 20 years. Transport links to Bristol, one of the fastest growing economies outside London, are crucial for access to employment. The Government acknowledged that in the industrial strategy, which talked about better links between Wales and England.

However, the services to Bristol and beyond have for some years been plagued by reliability problems and chronic overcrowding. Commuters are completely frustrated. The Severn Tunnel Action Group, a fantastic local rail group, along with Magor Action Group on Rail, forensically survey commuters. They showed that, on half the commuting days at the end of last year, there was standing room only for those getting on at Severn Tunnel Junction, and on many days, only three carriages were available, not five. They also catalogued the delays and cancellations. Commuters, whose fares have gone up by 33% since 2010, feed back the daily occurrences of overcrowding: people being left on the platform, people fainting on the train and people being asked to stand in the toilets so that more people can get on.

At the same time, the Government announced last year that they would extend the Great Western franchise to March 2020 and maybe longer. Yes, we are getting electrification, but what was in the announcement that gave anyone faith that things would get better? As my hon. Friend Mrs Moon said, Great Western got the extension without any conditions. The Government are rewarding the company without any notion of things getting better for my constituents. Where the Government have had an opportunity to help, they have not.

There is currently a process for the Wales and Borders franchise, which is devolved. But the Government said to the Welsh Government in the agency document last year that

“for the purposes of this franchise competition, no cross-border paths to Bristol may be proposed.”

This is a missed opportunity, when the Welsh Government are planning bold infrastructure projects such as the South Wales metro, which will improve connectivity. The UK Government’s approach could not be in starker contrast to the Welsh Labour Government’s.

A constituent who complained about services to Bristol was told recently by Great Western, “That’s just how it is nowadays.” No, it should not be. The privatised rail system is not delivering, services are getting worse and fares are going up. We need the Government and rail companies to address these problems now and to take rail back into public ownership when the rail franchises expire.