Rail Electrification

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

What recent discussions he has had with Network Rail and train operating companies on plans to extend the electrified rail network.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

This Government are investing at record levels in our rail network as part of the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to provide reliability and capacity. Passengers expect high-quality rail services, and we are committed to electrification where it delivers passenger benefits and value for money. We will also take advantage of state-of-the-art technology to improve services.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It strikes me that a lot of official capacity is currently being sucked out of the Department by preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and that is slowing up projects that should be pushing ahead. What progress is being made on plans for electrification of the Chester to Crewe and north Wales line or, if not electrification, on the procurement of the electro-diesel trains that are the next best option?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The work on Brexit is not in any way changing the delivery of service improvements across our rail network, and one has only to consider how much is happening across the network to prove that point. We are delivering a £50 million project to upgrade the north Wales railway, including a new signalling system, and rolling stock will be picked up as the franchise is renewed.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Passenger numbers on the transpennine route are set to double over the next 20 years, but still it appears that the upgrade is being downgraded. Given that one third of transport spending in England is in London, will the Transport Secretary help to redress the imbalance by matching Labour’s commitment to Crossrail for the north?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The transpennine route upgrade is a significant project and we are modernising the entire route. We will be investing £2.9 billion in the first phase of this ambitious upgrade, between Manchester, Leeds and York. The work will commence in the spring. It is the biggest single project of rail enhancement in this country during control period 6. It is complementary to the work on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is also being developed.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Would it not make a lot more sense to electrify the whole of the midland line, rather than stopping at Kettering in Northamptonshire? If that happened, we could save some of the £56 billion that HS2 will cost us, and save about 30 to 40 houses in Derbyshire that are due to be knocked down. All those things could happen if the Minister electrified the midland line, and passengers would get to London 30 minutes quicker—not that I want that—which is one of the promises the Government have made. For God’s sake, make a big hole in that £56 billion and electrify the midland line.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Well, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will not be cancelling HS2, which is a positive project that will generate significant extra capacity right across our network. It is part of a modern, 21st-century rail network. With regard to the midland main line, we do not need to electrify the whole line in order to deliver the journey improvements, and we will see passenger benefits from a brand new fleet of trains from 2022.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

Labour’s commitment to electrification has been unwavering, yet the Government have pulled electrification projects across the country. Last month we learned that the transpennine route will no longer support future freight, meet journey time ambitions or, without electrification, deliver on reliability either, depending instead on heavy and polluting diesel bi-mode trains—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. The former Secretary of State is chuntering animatedly from a sedentary position about a period of time and a mileage—that is to say, about a length of track—but I can assume only that at this stage, albeit in a very amiable and jocular fashion, the right hon. Gentleman is talking to himself. There are some dangers in that.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

As I was saying, it is a downgrade of a downgrade, so why will the Minister not listen to the advice of rail experts, which I know the Secretary of State has had, and fully electrify the route in control period 6?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

That was absolute nonsense. Labour electrified 10 miles of existing network in all the 13 years it was in government. There has been more electrification in the north-west alone under this Government than in all those 13 years, so we will take no lessons from the Labour party on this. With regard to the transpennine upgrade, we are spending £2.9 billion. It is the biggest single project in control period 6, as I explained to Jeff Smith only a moment ago. Rather than criticising, Labour Members should be supporting this project, and perhaps asking why they did not do it. We will take no lessons whatsoever from the Labour party, which did nothing at all for our rail network.