Union Connectivity Review

Transport – in the House of Commons on 19th May 2022.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

What plans he has to implement the Union connectivity review’s recommendations on rail transport.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked me to pass on his apologies; he is absent from oral questions as he is attending the International Transport Forum annual summit, the world’s largest gathering of Transport Ministers, where the UK is assuming the presidency. We are carefully considering the recommendations of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review and intend to respond later this year.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

Mr Speaker, if you want to go from anywhere in Scotland or northern England by train to anywhere in north Wales, chances are you will have to go through Chester. Will the Minister please hurry up with the consideration and get us a positive decision on the electrification of the line from Crewe to Chester, and on the remodelling of Chester station to increase capacity for signalling and passengers?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not passionate about the city of Chester and the region. I am very conscious that the strategic outline business case for improvements in and around Chester station was submitted, and that the document has been reviewed. My understanding is that work is still ongoing.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Does the Minister agree with me that the biggest impediment to rail connectivity between Scotland and England is the ongoing dispute between the rail unions and TransPennine Express, which has caused huge disruption to my constituents who use Lockerbie station. Is there anything the Minister can do to bring to an end these unwarranted cancellations and disruptions to services, particularly at the weekend?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am very conscious of the disruption, which is really disappointing because of the distress it causes to passengers. It is important to recognise that from the start of the pandemic, the Government earmarked more than £16 billion for taxpayer-funded life support for passenger services. We absolutely urge the unions to work with TPE to identify ways of restoring rest-day working.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

According to a written answer I received yesterday, the now publicly owned ScotRail pays the highest track access charges of any train operator; they are more than double the next highest figure and make up nearly a quarter of the entire total. The charges have increased by over 320% in the last five years. Does the Minister accept that those punitive charges reduce the Scottish Government’s capacity to boost even further the substantive investments made in transport decarbonisation, and will she commit to rebating ScotRail and the taxpayers of Scotland for those unjustifiable and exorbitant charges?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport)

These are charges that all train operating companies pay, right across the country. I will not get into the detail of how they are worked out, but let us be absolutely honest: this Government are making a massive investment in the railways. That includes the £96 billion in the integrated rail plan. I know, Mr Speaker, that you are very keen to see investment and improvements in Chorley. No doubt we will have a conversation about that in future.