Railway Modernisation

Transport – in the House of Commons on 19th January 2023.

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Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of modernising the railways.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I agree with my hon. Friend that the railway is in urgent need of modernisation of both its working practices and the way in which it is structured. The lasting consequences of covid-19, industrial action and the financial challenges facing the railway have made the case for reform stronger, and I will shortly set out the next steps for that reform process.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

The South Western Railway line between Bracknell and London Waterloo is a really important link between Berkshire and London. Even though passenger numbers are now increasing back to pre-pandemic levels, South Western Railway’s own figures for November and December last year are that more than 90% of trains ran up to 15 minutes late. It is not acceptable. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State please outline to the House what he is doing alongside South Western Railway to improve the service?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The level of services remains constantly under review. As passenger numbers increase, both the Department and the operator can look at that to see whether more needs to be done. On performance, the operator is contracted to deliver our operational performance benchmarks, and it is penalised financially if it delivers below those benchmarks. The Department has a right to request a mitigation plan if it fails to meet those benchmarks consistently. Now that my hon. Friend has raised that with us, we will keep an even closer eye on the performance of that railway.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I understand the Secretary of State will be in my constituency later today to announce the successful £50 million bid, which I backed alongside Cardiff Council, for improvements to the links between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay—a crucial missing link in our rail infrastructure. It is obviously very welcome, notwithstanding the wider criticisms of the levelling-up scheme. One of the positive things about the bid is that it involves close working between the UK Government, the Welsh Government, the council and Transport for Wales. Will he assure me that he will work co-operatively with them to get that scheme up and running as quickly as possible, for the benefit of our local community?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful for the positive tone in which the hon. Gentleman has welcomed that announcement. Wales will receive the highest amount of funding per capita from the levelling-up fund under the announcement that has been made today. I am indeed visiting that scheme later today and I will meet officials from the council. I will of course continue to work closely with them to turn the money into effective transport connectivity as soon as we can.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

On average, how much do train drivers get paid and how many contracted hours are they required to do each week?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I think that about £60,000 is the average salary and the contracted hours are about 35 per week.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

TransPennine Express has been habitually using P-codes, which are for pre-cancelled trains. This means that trains are cancelled at 10 o’clock the previous night. In conjunction with on-day cancellations, this means that up to a quarter of all services, including for my constituents travelling from Greenfield, are cancelled; and on some days it is nearly half. Will the document that the Secretary of State just mentioned address these long-term issues, which we have had not just for the past year but for many years?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

There are two issues. The most important is the level of performance. The hon. Lady will know that one of the big issues is the overdependence, particularly on that service, on rest day working. One of the reasons why we want to modernise working practices—

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

It is very much to do with it. The fact that the rest day working agreement is not being delivered means there is a real problem, which fundamentally argues the case for reform to working practices.

On the hon. Lady’s narrower question about transparency in P-coding, the rail Minister, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, will be meeting the Office of Rail and Road to discuss exactly that issue, to ensure that passengers have a transparent understanding of rail performance.