Rail Services

Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 26 October 2023.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I regularly meet with Network Rail and train operators to discuss rail performance and services. Twickenham has seen positive results. In the past 12 weeks, an average of 88.1% of trains across the lines serving Twickenham have arrived within three minutes of the stated time.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the Minister for that answer. If we want to encourage more people to use our railways we need to ensure that our stations are properly staffed so that they are accessible and safe for all, and that all complex tickets can be purchased easily, yet the Government are backing South Western Railway’s plans to slash staffing hours at stations across my constituency, in some cases by up to 80% in very heavily used stations. Will the Minister heed the advice of the Transport Committee, which has said this week that ticket office closure plans are moving “too far, too fast”, and his own statement that he does not expect a material reduction in hours, and stop these plans in their tracks?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I always take onboard the advice of the Transport Committee, because it does a great job and always has done. On ticket offices, these are industry proposals, which, pursuant to the process set out in the ticketing and settlement agreement, are currently being consulted on between the train operators and the passenger bodies. We expect that consultation stage to conclude shortly. I have made it clear at this Dispatch Box, and the Secretary of State has also been clear, that this should be a redeployment and multi-skilling of staff exercise to enhance the passenger experience.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Serious overcrowding persists on Chiltern railway services serving my constituents, particularly at rush hours and weekends. The long-term solution is whole-fleet renewal, but there are some short-term fixes that Chiltern is asking for, such as being permitted to bring its extra set of Class 68s back into use. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he is doing everything possible at pace with Chiltern to improve rail services for my constituents?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend is another excellent member of the Transport Committee, and he always champions the need for more capacity on his busy railway lines. He is accurate: overcrowding is becoming an increasing concern for Chiltern, which is assessing options to mitigate the issue, such as further utilisation of the Class 68 units in and out of Marylebone to maximise capacity. There are issues with the diesel fleet, but we want to ensure that we can continue to provide the service for his Chiltern customers. In the longer term, I know that Chiltern is working with the rolling stock company providers to assess hybrid trains, with an aim to moving away from diesel.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport)

Fresh from slashing and burning HS2 while in Manchester and spouting crank conspiracy theories, the Secretary of State announced Network North. However, that dodgy sounding 1970s ITV franchise does not have a single project with an approved business case, and plans are valued at 2019 prices. There was no promise to my hon. Friend Imran Hussain a minute ago. Network North is literally not worth the paper it is written on, is it, Minister?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

It most certainly is. When the Prime Minister announced Network North, it was clear that we were going to see a plethora of rail projects and, indeed, wider projects. We will better connect the major cities of the north, we will invest £2 billion so that Bradford can finally get the new station that it deserves and, as I have stated, we will add £2.5 billion to the West Yorkshire mass transit system. There is a huge amount of projects that we should all be celebrating, across parties. It is interesting that the Opposition seem to be knocking these opportunities to better connect cities across the north and the country.

When it comes to business cases, the Ely and Haughley project, for example, has an outline business case of 4.6. We know that business cases are stronger when there are local transport opportunities. My question back to the Opposition Front-Bench team is whether they support these proposals, in which case they should ride behind them and be positive about them—or do they not want better transport networks across the north, the midlands and the rest of the country?