Train Operating Companies: Sanctions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 21st March 2019.

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

The Department monitors operator performance closely through the franchise agreement. If performance falls below a predetermined level, we can require the operator to incur expenditure to improve performance for passengers. If an operator delivers consistently poor performance, the Department can intervene to act in passengers’ best interests, and this can include removing the franchise and acting as the operator of last resort.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

The Minister will be aware, as will anyone here who is a Southern commuter, that for the past three years Southern has been let off the hook again and again. He will also know that, from next month, train operators will switch to “on time” as a target. Southern is currently hitting that target only 72% of the time. At what point will he call for the company to be sacked?

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

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct to say that action is not being taken. We have held Govia Thameslink Railway, which is part of the bigger franchise, to account for its role in the disruption last year. I recognise that the quality of service that he expects for his constituents has not been delivered over the past few years, but GTR will not make a profit in this financial year and we have capped the profit that it can make for the remaining years of its franchise. GTR is also paying £15 million into a fund for tangible improvements, in addition to the £15 million that it contributed towards the special compensation scheme.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Further to the question from Tom Brake, not only should GTR not be making a profit; it should be making a whopping loss for the appalling pig’s ear it has made of our service. After all those sanctions and penalties, how on earth can the Minister justify GTR still having that franchise?

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

I recognise the frustration that people have experienced in parts of our network, but just bringing the franchise to an end could cause further and unnecessary disruption for passengers and therefore be an inappropriate course of action. The question should be how we can improve our network, and that is the action that we are taking. We are seeing this coming through in performance improvements.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

Poor performance is not just down to the operating companies. Peak-time trains between Sheffield and London are running slower than they were a year ago because of the botched timetable changes that the Department brought in. When is the Minister going to reverse those changes so that the journey times for peak-time trains between Sheffield and London can get back to being less than two hours, as they were a year ago?

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about Sheffield, so I will highlight the amount of work happening on the midland main line to improve journey times and passenger experiences up and down the network, including Sheffield.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

People in East Dunbartonshire experience an appalling rail service, particularly on the Milngavie line, where only 28% of trains arrive on time. Does the Minister know of any other train line on which performance is quite so poor, or could the Milngavie line be the worst in Britain?

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

The operation of the rail network north of the border is a matter for the Scottish Government, so I am not as sighted on the matter that the hon. Lady raises. If I start to become very excited about the issue, I may be treading into devolved territory, which may be inappropriate. However, I am aware of lines up and down the country on which performance has not been good enough, which is why we are investing at a record level to improve that performance.