Thank you for allowing me to speak briefly in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also thank Mr Wragg for letting me do so and congratulate him on securing the debate. I promise to be brief, as I did when securing the opportunity to speak. Let me try to distil how urgently we are calling on the Government to intervene on the issue of Northern Rail. The timetable issue is very significant and the hon. Gentleman set it out cogently. It is simply not acceptable that Network Rail’s failure to deliver on time is causing such carnage right across the north of England, for his constituents and mine.
Let me briefly set out the situation we have seen this week as a result of the change in the timetables. This May was supposed to be the moment when, after the months of suffering that my constituents have been through because of totally inadequate services from Northern, all of the jam arrived. We were supposed to have new carriages and an improved timetable, and then it would all have been worth while.
Yesterday, however, constituents were getting in touch with me to show the situation at Ulverston station. At school leaving time, 3.15 pm to 3.20 pm, children who now have to leave school early to get on to these services because of the changed timetable—that damages their education—turned up to find a single-carriage train coming from Lancaster. It was already full, but there were an estimated 200 students at Ulverston station, at least 50 of whom were left behind. The following train was cancelled. There is a clear safeguarding issue here.
It is vital the Government take heed of the situation. We have been urging the Minister’s colleagues to take this up for months. There are finally signs that they are waking up to the travesty of Northern Rail’s services, but will the Minister please take back the message that we are experiencing a truly dire situation on the Furness line, up the Cumbria coastline and on the Windermere line in Cumbria, all of which are now operated by Northern? Not only are schoolchildren affected, but passengers are absolutely at their wits’ end and local businesses are clearly being damaged by the lack of reliability.
I understand that the Secretary of State said this week that Northern Rail’s failures were now his No. 1 priority—well, okay, after all this time we will take him at his word, but it is vital that he delivers on this. There are things that can be done, not least because the performance is so bad that it is surely time for the Department formally to investigate whether Northern is meeting its basic customer service obligations. What can be done to unlock this deadlock with Network Rail? How can we get back to the kind of service that people pay top whack for and are simply not getting?