Network Rail: Accountability

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 13th June 2019.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

What steps he is taking to ensure the accountability of Network Rail to its customers.

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

The Department sets the strategy for Network Rail. Its priority is to deliver a safe and efficient railway for passengers, freight customers and the taxpayer. The Secretary of State and I meet regularly with Network Rail on its financial performance and progress against the aims set out in its delivery plan. The “Putting Passengers First” programme is built around issues facing the industry. We are engaging with Network Rail as it implements this programme.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

Can the Minister tell me of any other publicly funded body that provides a service to 500 people every day that can decide to close that service, as Network Rail has with the Suggitt’s Lane crossing, without any consultation whatsoever?

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

We had a very good debate on the Suggitt’s Lane level crossing only last week in Westminster Hall. Network Rail is accountable to the Secretary of State, but that does not mean that we can interfere or overrule its operational decisions. However, I have undertaken to meet Network Rail to ensure that it is aware of the views of the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend Martin Vickers. I met with some of the people who had travelled down from the area to understand their views and will ensure that Network Rail is fully sighted on those views.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

Network Rail made a mistake when it demolished the Leyland bridge, which links my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Mr Bone. I am pleased to say that, with the Minister’s help, it is going to be rebuilt, but will he help us to keep the pressure up and ensure that those works are completed as soon as possible?

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

I will be happy to keep up the pressure. I recognise what a long-standing issue this is for my hon. Friend’s area and how hard he has campaigned on it, and I would be very happy to help.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line is a successful train service, but future improvements will require joint working between the Welsh Government, Network Rail and the Department for Transport, so will the Minister agree to meet me to help to secure extra investment for this crucial Valleys line?

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

I will of course happily meet the hon. Gentleman. The “Putting Passengers First” programme is all about greater collaboration and customer focus in the industry. I am happy to take that matter forward with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

As Melanie Onn pointed out, and as the Minister is well aware, residents in Grimsby and Cleethorpes are very angry about the closure of Suggitt’s Lane level crossing. I appreciate the Minister’s help and assistance, but the reality is that there is no real accountability on this issue. If the community cannot hold Network Rail to account through their elected representatives, surely it is now time to look again at the existing legislation.

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

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously on this issue, and I know that he chaired a meeting on 31 May between Network Rail and North East Lincolnshire Council to discuss the issue and options for alternative provision, with specific reference to the Fuller Street bridge. I understand that Network Rail has agreed in principle to contribute to the enhancement of that bridge, should it prove viable. The key point is to make sure that the views of all those involved are considered and that we come to a happy conclusion as quickly as possible. I am happy to work with all sides to help to achieve a positive outcome.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

One thing that would help with Network Rail accountability would be the devolution of that responsibility to the Scottish Government. If the Conservative party is committed to devolution and strengthening the United Kingdom, when will it devolve control of Network Rail to the Scottish Government?

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

Devolution was not recommended as part of the broader review of powers, but I will of course make sure that the hon. Gentleman’s views are considered by the Williams rail review.