I beg to move,
That this House
has considered rail services to Portsmouth and the South West.
It is such a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
We constantly hear about the northern powerhouse, but we hear little about the southern powerhouse. We hear how the Government are putting money into cities, businesses and infrastructure in the north, but where is the investment in the south? The south is an area of 3.6 million people that contributes 15% of the UK’s output, but when will we start hearing about investment in the southern powerhouse?
I represent Portsmouth, which is often referred to as a northern city in the south because of its background in heavy engineering, building and maintaining our Royal Navy. The immediate post-war decades took a heavy toll on our traditional industrial base, but the city has been transforming itself over the past 20 years—the Royal Navy is more technically advanced than ever before. We have diversified beyond defence and we have a brilliant entrepreneurial community, as well as new cutting-edge technological companies. However, we still have to fight hard for investment. Portsmouth suffers from the assumption in some quarters that all parts of the south and the south-east are prosperous and well provided with infrastructure. In fact, I represent a city with neighbourhoods that are among the very poorest in the country.
I secured this debate because of the poor rail service in Portsmouth, but anything that helps Portsmouth will help other cities on the Solent, the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, further west and points between that area and London. The train service from London to Portsmouth Harbour takes as long as it did in Victorian times: one hour and 40 minutes to travel just 70 miles. It is quicker for me to drive door-to-door to Westminster than it is for me to take the train. Compare that with Manchester, which is 217 miles from London and takes just a little over two hours on the train, as we all found out when we went to the Conservative party conference. Birmingham takes 85 minutes for a 125-mile journey, and it will take just 50 minutes when High Speed 2 has been completed.
The train between Portsmouth and Southampton, a journey of 20 miles, takes 65 minutes. Compare that with Nottingham to Derby, a journey of 15 miles, which takes just 23 minutes. Newcastle to Sunderland, 17 miles apart, takes just 18 minutes. The Solent local enterprise partnership, our local authorities and businesses do great work in trying to maximise the potential of the area around Portsmouth and Southampton, which is one of the largest distributed conurbations in the country, but the Solent has been left behind and will continue to be so unless we introduce new rail infrastructure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate. As she says, this issue affects not only Hampshire and Portsmouth but our stations in Dorset. From London, it takes two hours and eight minutes to get to Poole, and two hours and 21 minutes to get to Wareham—the Minister has seen that station. Increased capacity and speeds would help to encourage people to use the railway, rather than the roads, thereby reducing congestion on roads such as the A351 in my constituency.
My hon. Friend is right. As I continue, I hope that he will see some solutions. I am pleased that other places are behind me on this subject, because we must work together to show the Government why this is so important.
We often hear the area spoken of as the M27 corridor, but we need more than a motorway to make it a successful and competitive place to live and work in the 21st century. We need a sustainable transport policy that includes public transport and support for cycling provision, as well as making space for more cars. Other Members from along the route will highlight other areas affected by this debate, so I will concentrate on the Solent region, particularly Portsmouth.
Why are rail services important? The Chancellor is keen to increase productivity across the country, as he says in “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation,” published in July 2015. He acknowledges that improving infrastructure is one of the many steps that he can take to improve the economy’s productivity. The Solent local enterprise partnership extends from Havant in the east to Southampton in the west and includes Winchester, Eastleigh and Fareham. Local productivity in the area, as measured by output per job, lags behind the south-east average by 15%. Portsmouth has some of the country’s most deprived areas, with wages falling well below other cities in the south-east. We must improve connectivity if we are to improve productivity.
By improving the train service, we would help employers by providing a wider choice of potential employees and, conversely, we would help employees have a greater choice of potential employers. We would help businesses broaden their markets and their supplier base. We would provide greater access to social infrastructure such as universities and city centres. All of that would increase the region’s productivity and help to improve the UK’s overall productivity.
Congestion on the main motorway connecting the area, the M27, is legendary. It can take anything from 30 minutes to two hours to travel by road between Portsmouth and Southampton. Traffic into Fareham and Gosport moves very slowly during rush hour. Some £250 million-worth of investment is going into upgrading the M27 to smart motorway status. Data from the Department for Transport tell us that traffic in one direction on the M27 between junctions 8 and 9 has increased from 99,000 vehicles a day to more than 112,000 vehicles a day. Even with improvements, the road will always struggle to cope.
The Atkins study “Economic Costs of Congestion in the Regions” states that congestion in the Hampshire region costs £400 million per annum and a further £100 million for Portsmouth and another £100 million for Southampton. That is eroding our productivity potential, which if not addressed, will equal a loss in gross value added of 1.3% by 2025. The south Hampshire strategy document shows that total road trips are expected to increase by 11% in the period 2010 to 2026, which will increase time spent in queues by 53%. Business costs will increase, including the direct costs of drive time and fuel, but there will also be the indirect costs of logistics scheduling and general competitiveness and other costs such as increased pollution.
If there is no worsening of congestion within the Solent LEP area, we expect that the number of jobs will climb by 44,000 from 435,000 in 2006 to nearly 480,000 in 2026. If there is no infrastructure investment, we expect an increase of just 36,000 new jobs, a loss of 8,000 jobs. Figures from the last census show a flow of workers into Portsmouth of more than 40,000 a day, with 20,000 people leaving the city to work elsewhere. More jobs have been created since then, and the labour market figures every month show that the number of jobs is going up and up.
We need sustainable transport solutions to cater for those workers, but we need to ensure that we create the conditions that foster more high-skill, high-pay jobs, which requires investment. We have to build 75,000 houses in the Solent region over the next 10 years, so the congestion and infrastructure problems will just get worse. If we improve the rail service, we will be able to take traffic off the roads. We can improve the rail service by improving the speed and frequency of the service.
I believe there is a solution that will help not only Portsmouth and Southampton but the south-west towards Weymouth, as my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson has mentioned, by helping to alleviate the crowding on trains on all lines going from the area to London Waterloo. There are three routes from Portsmouth to London, but I will focus on just two of those routes, both operated by South West Trains at present. One route goes via Havant, Haslemere, Petersfield and Guildford to Woking and Waterloo, and the other goes via Eastleigh, Winchester and Basingstoke to Woking and Waterloo. Both routes suffer from overcrowding and capacity constraints. The rail system is unable to cope with existing demand.
Network Rail published the excellent “Wessex Route Study” in August 2015, and it describes the problem and proposes solutions. The report says that the system is experiencing demand that is 20% greater than it can cope with and that, within the planning period, the demand is expected to grow still further by another 20%. Network Rail’s solution is summarised as follows: junction improvements and platform capacity at Basingstoke; and, again, junction improvements and platform capacity at Woking. Those two projects will cost £175 million each.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I hope that the Minister has noted the A-team turnout from Hampshire MPs. It takes a lot to get this many Hampshire MPs in one room, so I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing that.
In the previous Parliament, nearly £4 million was spent in my constituency on an improvement scheme at the railway station, which included parking, a new footbridge and improved wi-fi facilities and staffing of the station. Those were all fantastic, but they were icing on the cake. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to turn our attention to the cake itself? Ultimately, it is about building a bigger railway. We can put on more trains and deal with the three-plus-two seating issue, but unless we build a bigger railway and deal with Clapham Junction and London Waterloo, the problems back down the line for us will never change.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very good intervention. I completely agree with him, and was about to come on to that point.
We need a new line between Surbiton and Clapham Junction to relieve capacity, and we strongly support the development of Crossrail 2. Those measures will help Portsmouth by cutting 10 minutes from the journey during peak times, as the train would not have to take the slow route avoiding Woking. However, it will still take about 90 minutes, the same time as it takes during off-peak times. The Wessex route study also proposes building an overtaking loop along the Havant to Guildford line that would enable faster services to overtake the slow services. If that was implemented, Portsmouth would be well on the way to having the same sort of services it had in the 1970s, when it was possible to get from Portsmouth to London in 75 minutes by train.
However, that is not all. That solution does not address the problem of connectivity within the Hampshire and Solent area. It is almost as fast to get from Portsmouth to Gatwick airport as it is to get from Portsmouth to Southampton airport, even though Gatwick is nearly five times the distance. To address the problem, all we need is the building of a chord at Eastleigh, or increasing the junction’s capacity to enable a train from Portsmouth to head south as well as north at the junction. That would enable a direct service from Portsmouth to Southampton airport and Southampton and save a lot of time.
The existing route to Eastleigh is made up of a number of single-track sections. Those have to be made into double-track sections, which together with upgraded signalling would enable service frequency to be improved, which would help to attract passengers. Network Rail estimated in its route utilisation strategy that that would cost £135 million. The improvements would not only help Portsmouth connect with its neighbours, but enormously improve the journey for passengers getting from Brighton to Bournemouth and Weymouth, and from Weymouth to Basingstoke, Winchester and London.
When high-voltage electrification of the main line takes place, train speed can increase and we can start getting the same level of service that the rest of the country enjoys. Overhead electrification in the region, as already partly allowed for in the electric spine proposals, would make a big difference to train speed, and I would like that included in any proposal. It would make technical sense. Modern rolling stock uses alternating current motors. Converting high-voltage AC from the national grid down to 750 V DC for the third rail and then converting it back to AC on the train to power it makes no sense at all. We already know that the South West Trains Desiro fleet is unable to operate on some parts of our lines at high speed because there is not the power capacity in the trackside equipment to permit it. High-voltage overhead electrification overcomes those problems.
Those measures would help improve productivity throughout the region. They would certainly help transform the economy in Portsmouth. In the “Rail Value for Money Study”, Sir Roy McNulty said that we should make best use of existing railways before considering new investment. The cost of the improvements as outlined is extremely small compared with that of new rail projects, such as High Speed 2 or Crossrail 2. There have been practically no major infrastructure rail projects on the line since 1967. The line from Portsmouth to Southampton was electrified only in 1989. In 2007, there was an expensive package of signal and power upgrades on the Portsmouth direct line. Not only did those works overrun, drawing a large fine for Network Rail, but we still have constant signal and power failures right from the point that the supposed upgrade was installed. That causes massive inconvenience for a large number of our constituents and damages our economic prospects.
Passenger satisfaction on routes from Portsmouth to London is among the lowest in the country. The latest national rail passenger survey shows that just 60% of passengers on the route think there is sufficient room. I am surprised it is that high, given the three-plus-two seating of the suburban stock on which my long-distance travelling constituents have to sit on their way to London. I am sure that some of my colleagues will talk about that. We now have no proper long-distance stock on peak services on the direct route from Portsmouth to London. Portsmouth passengers give a huge thumbs-down to the value for money of their ticket, with just 31% feeling satisfied.
Most of what I have covered is not new. It has been analysed, but nothing has been done. The measures would make journeys faster and have a major effect, taking people off the roads and making it easier to move around the whole area. The growth in passenger numbers on the Manchester to London line has increased by having services every 20 minutes. Increasing the number of trains an hour would be expected to help increase the numbers of passengers who travel by train in our area. The impact of faster trains on the economy along the Solent region, including a fast train from the south-west region and from Portsmouth to London, would be a massive boost to the southern powerhouse.
We must also remember our friends across the Solent. I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mr Turner is here. I know he will have a lot to say. There are commuters who travel from the Isle of Wight to London every day. The Isle of Wight is a vital part of the regional economy. Its trade passes through Portsmouth with Wightlink and Hovertravel, and through Southampton with Red Funnel. I am delighted that a new operator, Scoot, is coming on to the Portsmouth to Cowes route. Improving rail links to the ports will help the Isle of Wight develop as a place to visit and to do business, and it will help the ports, too.
The Chancellor, while looking at the opportunities that could make up the northern powerhouse, must not forget the goose that lays the golden eggs in the south. The south requires only incremental amounts of investment to continue increasing production.
Portsmouth would be transformed by having a fast train service to London and along the Solent region. Any investment in our infrastructure will have an immediate impact on the local area, not forgetting that South West Trains already contributes £374 million per annum to the Exchequer, which could be reinvested into making that investment happen. I know that other Members will be talking about the quality of trains and the impact on their areas, but I hope that this debate will put down a marker to ensure that our rail infrastructure is upgraded to the same level as the rest of the country.
I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond in saying that it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this debate, and I thank her for doing so at a timely moment in the region’s growth.
I am here to speak on behalf of my constituents in Havant where, because of a growing population, a strong economy and rising visitor numbers, we are looking for quicker, longer and better trains, as my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena has so often said. We are also looking for improved local and regional infrastructure. Many of my constituents travel locally in the Solent region, including to the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), both of whom are here and are passionate advocates for their constituencies. Many of our constituents travel to other constituencies for work and leisure, and it is important that they have that opportunity in the future.
I congratulate the Government on securing a railway network that is at its busiest since the 1920s and is one of the safest in Europe. In my constituency, we have experienced that growth, which is evident at Havant’s three stations: Havant, Bedhampton and in the coastal village of Emsworth. All three stations are served by two train operating companies—Southern and South West Trains—and we are pleased to have them as part of our local infrastructure.
At the beginning of my remarks, I said that we are experiencing a growing population, a strong economy and rising visitor numbers, and I want to take a moment to elaborate briefly on those factors. I hope that that will send a strong message to our train operating companies that we want them to invest in our railways, both in my constituency and across the Solent and Wessex line regions.
At peak time during the day, 19,000 passengers use the line that serves my constituency and the constituencies of other Members in the Chamber. South West Trains operates one of the busiest lines—if not the busiest—in the country. It is also one of the most profitable. Along with my hon. Friends, I am looking for sustained investment in an important and profitable area for that train operating company.
Havant itself has a rising population. We were the first local authority in Hampshire to settle and finalise our local plan and we have some exciting developments in place, including Cooper’s Grange in Havant town that caters for young professionals and families, and Redlands Grange in the coastal village of Emsworth, which will provide new housing for many families coming into the area or others coming from the south coast. We have a growing population, because Havant is a popular area for elderly people to retire to, for young professionals seeking to build their careers and also for families looking to settle down.
We also have a large commuter population who commute along the south coast to the constituencies of many hon. Members in this Chamber, as well as to London. Many of my constituents live and work locally, but many live locally and work in the City, the west end and Canary Wharf, and I am determined that they should get a good deal as well.
Alongside the rising population in Havant, we have a strong and growing economy. Havant is blessed to be a regional centre and leader for the defence and aerospace industry. We have Lockheed Martin and several defence contractors in the constituency. It is also a regional leader for light industry and manufacturing across a whole range of sectors. All those businesses need to be able to attract high quality staff and to ensure that supplies can get to them along the railway.
Havant is also a centre for regional regeneration. Market Parade, the gateway to Havant town, is being regenerated. Dunsbury Hill Farm is being regenerated in partnership with the Solent local enterprise partnership, which should create around 3,500 new jobs. All those people coming to work in Havant require a strong and effective railway network and good local infrastructure.
Finally, Havant is a popular resort and destination for visitors from the south coast, from across the country and from around the world. The coastal village of Emsworth plays host to an award-winning food festival. Hayling Island hosts a range of watersports festivals, such as the national watersports festival and the Virgin kitesurfing armada, where last week they attempted the world record for the largest number of kitesurfers. They were trying to beat their own record. My Havant constituency therefore boasts a number of very attractive resorts, both in Hayling and in Emsworth. It has a rising population and a strong and growing economy. All those factors mean that we are on the lookout for improved infrastructure and a stronger rail network. I hope that the new franchise opportunity in 2017 will be a good chance for the train operating companies to make sure that they meet demand in a very profitable area for the infrastructure that we need. I know that other hon. Members here have similar stories to tell.
I hope that the new all-party parliamentary group on Hampshire, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire has taken a lead in setting up, and in which many colleagues in this Chamber will participate, will play an important role in helping to secure improved infrastructure for the area, working together with Ministers, the Government and the train operating companies.
Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South for securing this important debate and for reiterating on behalf of my constituents in Havant the need for stronger local and regional infrastructure and for an improved railway network to secure our future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond on securing this debate? The issue is important for my constituents as well as hers, but perhaps for different reasons. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Mak for setting out what I will now say: we need quicker, longer and better trains on the south-western route. I will briefly outline why I think that will benefit the residents of not only my constituency, but beyond.
In terms of quicker services, it has already been outlined that there is a major capacity issue between Clapham Junction and Waterloo, and also between Woking and Waterloo. As my hon. Friend Steve Brine pointed out, the investment required is important and we must not lose sight of that. I would argue that there are quick fixes that would deliver some improvements now. We need to consider the planning for Crossrail 2 and how we can reduce the frequency of trains stopping at so many different stations, because dwell time at stations and braking and acceleration times are a major problem on the network, particularly between Woking and Waterloo where there are many stations, and it is important that some of the longer-distance trains do not stop at those stations in future. That would benefit everyone. It would speed up traffic on the railways and ensure that all trains—suburban or long distance—were more reliable. That would benefit us all here this morning.
Crossrail 2 is a major project for the long term that we must consider. I firmly support it because if we provide additional capacity through Crossrail 2, it would free up capacity on existing railway lines for the residents of the constituencies served by longer-distance services, so I urge the Department for Transport to take that up.
On longer trains, it is good to see some of the investment that has gone in. We must remember that the old Network SouthEast and the old services that existed under British Rail had huge underinvestment. Although services today are not perfect, it is important that we remember how they once were and that a multi-billion-pound investment has gone into the railways, not only into rolling stock but into stations. We now need investment in longer platforms to allow for longer trains in the years ahead, not only on the mainline but on some of the branch lines that connect to the Waterloo services at Basingstoke or elsewhere. For example, the line that connects the London south-western route with Reading is a key route linking to Crossrail 1, so that important point must not be lost sight of. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South will agree that it is right that we consider the branch lines that connect so many communities to London.
Further, it is important to consider longer trains. It is absolutely bizarre to see train services at peak times that are four or eight carriages long. The rail operators under the new franchise must be encouraged to ensure that we have 12 or even 15-carriage trains, using the longer platforms initiative, and they must ensure that more of the 444 class of trains are available in the years ahead. Those trains should be promoted and the infrastructure from Network Rail provided to enable that to happen.
I talked about better trains: potentially the quickest fix of all. It is good to see the investment to introduce wi-fi on some services. That is much welcomed, but we must do much better. It is not good enough yet, partly because of the mobile signals available trackside. Those should be improved, and I know that Network Rail was looking at that issue, but I am told that they are not looking at it any more. I hope that they will again. We need to ensure that wi-fi is available on all train services. It is currently available only on certain trains, but certainly not on the majority that run through my constituency. That situation should change.
Also, we must ensure that more station improvements are made so that the customer experience is better. I welcome the investment that has been put into Fleet railway station to increase the amount of car parking. That is very important and ensures that more people get out of their cars and on to the trains, but there is still work to do. That process has not been perfect. I hope that Network Rail will learn lessons from it, but it is an important investment. I suggest we go further.
I have previously talked about the need to invest in footbridges that connect communities divided by railway lines. At Bramley in my constituency there is a need for a footbridge, particularly since railways are the victims of their own success. Level crossings are down more than ever because there is more traffic than ever. That is a good thing, but we must ensure that communities are not left behind. Lastly, on better trains—I referenced this in terms of 444s a moment ago—as my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt has said, the three-and-two seating on trains is not suitable for passengers on long-distance services. The reality is that the third seat is rarely used, which is not a good use of space on those services.
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to our hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt for all her work in bringing this issue to the attention of the train operating companies and getting action and change so that our constituents can enjoy more comfortable and safer journeys?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Our hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North has done a very good job in raising the issue. I am looking forward to working with her and colleagues to ensure that we take this issue forward, because the solution is more two-and-two seating and more longer trains. We have not got there yet and there is more work to do, but I am sure that the Government are listening.
The reality is that none of the fixes can happen overnight. I recognise that the Department for Transport must balance many competing interests, but I urge the Department to hear the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North: that this bit of the railway network contributes more money to the Exchequer than any other part of the network. It has done that consistently, year after year. Indeed, the old Network SouthEast was the only bit of the network at that time that contributed to British Rail. It is important that, while improvements are made elsewhere to grow the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole, we do not let the south-east of England or the London and south-western route fall behind. We need quicker, longer, better trains and I hope that the Government will act in the years ahead.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond on securing this, her first Westminster Hall debate. She was fortunate in the ballot, but her constituents are also fortunate to have her representing them. I wish her a long and successful tenure in this House.
I would like to make a few points about the future of Island Line and then about connectivity to the Isle of Wight more generally. Under successive franchises, the physical assets of Island Line, which runs from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin, have been left to decay disgracefully. The rolling stock—former underground trains—is now 70 or 80 years old and in such poor condition that guards can no longer pass safely between carriages to collect fares. The track is also in a very sorry state. The staff are hard-working and do their best in far from perfect circumstances. They deserve better and I will continue to work with others to make sure they get it.
Following the decision to end the South West Trains franchise in 2017, there has been much debate about the future of Island Line. Indeed, earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Minister kindly met a delegation from the island and subsequently arranged for senior officials to meet council representatives, for which I am grateful. Decisions must be made to find a long-term, sustainable future for the service and that is what the majority of Island Line passengers want, so I invite my hon. Friend to put on the record again that she is committed to helping to find a long-term, sustainable and financially viable future for Island Line.
Last week, the council made the sensible decision to ask Christopher Garnett OBE to conduct an expert, thorough and independent review of opinions on Island Line’s future. I welcome his appointment and hope the Minister will join me in thanking him for taking up this challenge.
I want to make it crystal clear, that I want to find the best way to retain a service from Shanklin to Ryde Pier Head. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to recognise the importance of the Solent local enterprise partnership. I am looking forward to meeting the chief executive of the LEP, Anne-Marie Mountifield, with the leader of the council next month. One thing I want to discuss with her, is how best Mr Garnett’s work can be put into context in considering the wider needs of the island. I am sure it would be helpful if the Government’s support for that objective was placed on the record today.
The Isle of Wight is a wonderful place to live, but we face unique challenges. Connectivity is key to unlocking the island’s economic potential. I urge the Minister to remind South West Trains that it must work with the ferry companies for the remainder of this franchise period to ensure that their services dovetail effectively. Indeed, that should be a key requirement in the new franchise specification so that a new operator is under no illusions about the importance of connectivity. This is a joint responsibility, but I have been told that in the past train timetables have been altered without enough notice for the ferry companies to react. There needs to be much closer planning of services, so that islanders and visitors do not needlessly have to wait for the next ferry.
It is particularly frustrating if passengers have just missed a ferry by moments, as sometimes happens to those who catch the 9.35 train from Waterloo to Southampton Central, which arrives at 10.47, giving only 13 minutes to make the connection to the Red Jet terminal. There is no bus service at that time, so they must take a taxi, but if the train is a few minutes late they miss the Red Jet, which would have got them to West Cowes just before 11.30. Instead they must wait until 11.55 for the car ferry, which will finally deliver them to East Cowes just before 1 o’clock. If they had planned to catch the Red Jet and left their car in West Cowes, they cannot get across the river until 5 o’clock in the morning.
That sort of thing must be considered. It is one of the details that must be seared into the minds of those responsible for planning the rail service that links through to the Isle of Wight. The service from Waterloo to the island via Portsmouth is no better, with the last connecting service to Shanklin leaving Waterloo at 7.30. My plea to the Minister is that the new franchise operator is tasked with helping to find a sustainable future for rail services on the island, and also required to work more closely with the ferry companies to deliver better connectivity across the Solent.
Finally, I turn to a related technical issue that is of great interest to the operators and which I ask the Minister consider. Hovertravel has pointed out that some Isle of Wight stations do not appear as a destination for some parts of the national rail network. The Association of Train Operating Companies must ensure that all Isle of Wight destinations are included in national reservation systems and journey planning. To that end, will the Minister please ask the chief executive of ATOC to arrange a meeting with Hovertravel, Wightlink and Red Funnel to explore this problem and to consider how best it can be addressed?
I know the Minister appreciates the importance of good connectivity and how it contributes to economic growth, and I know she will do all she can to help to ensure the Isle of Wight is not excluded from that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I join other hon. Members in commending our hon. Friend Mrs Drummond on securing this important debate. I know that she is a tenacious campaigner in her constituency. I have seen at first hand how well she is respected by her local residents and we have heard today why that is: she has a tremendous grasp of this issue and all those facing Portsmouth, which is such an important part of our country. It is fantastic to see not only my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South, but my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt. The people of Portsmouth have a fantastic team representing them here.
An overwhelmingly powerful case has been made today for further investment in the rail line in our part of the country. The economic case is clear for all to see. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South referred to the southern powerhouse and I agree with her. Basingstoke has the 10th largest employment base in the south-east, and we are adding to that with the development of Basing View, which is right in the centre of town, next door to the station, and will create almost 3,000 new jobs in the coming years. Basingstoke has had one of the highest levels of house building in the country for the past 15 years. When others were not building, Basingstoke was.
When considering rail capacity and the capacity of the transport system in Hampshire, my concern is that north Hampshire is playing catch-up. We did not get the necessary investment in our roads and railways under the previous Government. I hope that the Minister will ally with us and advocate more investment. The south western main line has seen almost no significant investment since the 1930s despite having some of the most important towns and cities in our country along its route: Basingstoke, Guildford, Portsmouth, Southampton—the list goes on. We need to ensure that we have the right transport in place for not only business, but our constituents. We have made some progress, which I am sure the Minister will detail in her summing-up. I pay tribute to her for the interest and support that she has shown us as a group of Members of Parliament over the past few months.
I welcome the investment that is being made, but, as I said, we are playing catch-up. Waterloo is one of the last unmodernised stations in London, despite it seeing almost 100 million passenger movements every single year, a number which has doubled since privatisation. Peak commuter trains out of Woking are running at 173% of capacity, which equates to 500 extra people on a train, making it almost impossible to describe it as a comfortable journey. It is little wonder that the national passenger survey reports that just one in three passengers in our area feel that they get value for money when travelling by train.
My hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena discussed getting more trains into his constituency, which neighbours mine so we share the same problems. I agree that we need more, faster and longer trains that need to be delivered not only in the next control period, but as part of the refranchising. We need more trains because there are further developments in signalling not only in Basingstoke, but in Woking. We need longer trains, because we still see trains that are not full length, such as the one that I caught to get to this debate today that could have been two carriages longer.
We are also not seeing trains in shoulder periods at anything like their full length. I particularly want the Minister to respond to that point, because we should be pressing South West Trains right now to increase the length of shoulder period trains, so that those who try to do the right thing and travel off peak are not rewarded with hideous overcrowding. My right hon. Friend Anne Milton asked me to make one or two remarks on her behalf on that point, because she, in her own inimitable style, wanted to ensure that people were made aware of the overcrowding experienced by her constituents on peak-time trains. She asked that such trains should carry the maximum number of carriages in order to avoid her having, as she says in her note to me,
“to occupy her favourite spot sitting on the floor by the loo”.
Us regular commuters have all been there, because not only are no other seats available, but there is nowhere even to stand. Overcrowding on morning trains into London from Guildford starts at 5.50 am and continues until at least 9.45 am. The problems are chronic for my right hon. Friend’s constituents and I am happy to raise them on her behalf. I hope that the Minister can respond.
We have two clear opportunities here to get some change for our constituents and to ensure that they can see some light at the end of the tunnel—excuse the pun. The refranchising of South West Trains is coming up and we as a group of MPs will be working together to ensure that we get longer trains and that re-signalling work is brought forward so that more trains can be delivered for our constituents. There is also a much bigger opportunity, as referred to by my hon. Friend Steve Brine, in the next control period—beyond the current control period 5—to get the economic message across to the Chancellor and the Treasury team. They need to understand that they must invest in the future of trains in our area so that we can continue to deliver the sort of economic growth that the country so badly needs. All the evidence shows that doing nothing is not an option.
My local enterprise partnership, enterprise M3, which does superb work and has already been incredibly successful in securing additional funding for local roads, has expressed concern about the lack of ambition in the plans set out in the Wessex route study. It also challenges what it describes as an excessive time period to improve an already chronically poor service.
I have two further points before I finish. Is the Minister content that the current Network Rail planning process for future capacity adequately takes into account the projections for house building in our area? While I certainly gained a clear impression that some growth in housing was being considered, I would like the Minister’s reassurance that the full scale of development is understood by Network Rail in its projections.
My final point builds on a comment made by my hon. Friend Mr Mak about safety. Through questions that I have asked, I believe that there are no concerns regarding overcrowding on trains. The Office of Rail and Road deals with health and safety, but my concern is slightly different and is about accidents on the line. Will the Minister give us her thoughts on the work being done by rail operators and by Network Rail to ensure that we see fewer fatalities on the line? We have had a spate of fatalities on the line between Waterloo and my constituency that are tragic due to the loss of life and the dreadful nature of such events. I want to be assured that train operators are doing everything that they can to minimise the issue and hopefully to remove it completely in the future.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South on securing this debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. This represents the continuation of an important debate for our constituents throughout the south-east, and I know from the Minister’s great work that we need to secure her undoubtedly important support.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond on introducing this important debate.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson on how the issue not only affects Hampshire, but is a vital one for the west country as a whole, including my constituency. Furthermore, as I mentioned in last week’s broadband debate, my constituency is one of the least connected in the country. At a time when our digital arteries are furred up and clogged, the provision of physical infrastructure, including rail services from Somerset to London, is that much more important. It is therefore something of a joy for those of us who represent constituencies in the south-west to have the opportunity to shine a torch on the literal disconnectivity that continues to prove such an obstacle to inward investment. Hon. Members will recall George Eliot’s claim that
“you can’t hinder the railroad: it will be made whether you like it or not.”
Many in Somerton and Frome would wish that to be translated into reality, rather than remaining a distant aspiration, 150 years after the words were written.
All hon. Members welcome the Government’s support for the peninsula rail taskforce, which is a productive part of this Administration’s obvious commitment to bridging the gap in infrastructure investment between the south-west and other parts of Britain. Treasury figures show that, until recently, the people of the south-west, including the robust people of Somerton and Frome and other constituencies represented in the Chamber today, received the second-lowest rail funding per head in the country. Predictably, our funding is more than eight times less than that for Londoners and half that for the people of the north-west, and there is a yawning financial chasm between our funding and the funding for the north-east.
We need that to change if the south-west is to begin to realise its potential. Moreover, we need to be connected to what is already there. The unelectrified, 27-mile line between Castle Cary and Taunton is the longest stretch of track without a station in the entire west. Many of the residents of the inaccessible wilds around the towns of Somerton and Langport will be eagerly foraging through Hansard in the hope of discovering that they will be the ones to benefit from the Treasury’s renewal of the new stations fund. This week, however, their hopes have careered towards the buffers as Somerset county council has announced its unwillingness to submit a bid for a new station, apparently owing to the cost of putting it together. I will welcome any reassurance that local authorities and other interested parties such as local enterprise partnerships will be able to receive constructive support with the bidding process. To fall at that fence seems rather absurd.
Alongside new stations, I am also acutely aware of and, I must say, rather disconcerted by, the threat to the existing direct trains from Frome to London. It is good news to see that South West Trains is looking to steam in and open up the route but, from May 2017, Great Western Railway is planning to remove its direct trains from Frome to London. As the south-west refranchising process takes place, I hope such lack of investment is fully taken into account.
We must keep Frome fully connected. The removal of services would be a hugely retrograde step, in particular for a town enjoying such an extraordinary period of economic and social development. Since its creation, the railway has been instrumental in the march of social progress. The Government’s commitment to rebalance the economy and equip the south-west with the tools it needs to attract investment, grow business and assemble its own future success is therefore all to the good. In fact, the only thing that could act as a greater brake on the south-west’s development than a lack of infrastructure would be a paucity of ambition. That, I am happy to report, is not a problem with which we need to contend.
Today’s debate is a timely acknowledgement of the importance of rail services in realising that ambition. I look forward to working with others to foment the overflow of capital investment and deliver the connectivity that the west of England needs.
I echo my colleagues’ sentiments about highlighting the importance of the debate, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond. It is a vital debate in the light of the new franchising process.
We have heard about the importance of the Eastleigh chord—I am the Member for Eastleigh. It is exciting to hear because that could unlock connectivity for us in the south. I have certainly had many letters from upset, abject commuters who feel that Eastleigh has long not had the strong voice that it should have in discussions of productivity and added value in the Solent region. Eastleigh needs a strong voice among the voices of Winchester, Portsmouth and Southampton to secure better train links, and to ensure that the big cities of the Solent region continue to bring in key investment for our constituencies to reflect the £374 million that our region gives to the Exchequer through our rail services. Frankly, many of us in the south-east parts of the south-west feel taken for granted. The debate is a chance for us to be heard by the Minister, who has visited Eastleigh. She has seen its importance as a railway town and what the railway gives to the local economy.
We must take notice of the Wessex route study, which reports 20% higher-than-expected demand. The new franchise gives us the investment opportunity. The Waterloo throat has long been the subject of conversation on the doorstep with my constituents, because it has an impact on their commute to London. We must all reflect on the fact that commuting is now longer, harder and more difficult, with people having to consider their home situations and to travel further than they might like.
I should also reflect on the comments made by my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller about house building, which greatly concerns me, too.
I already have a constituency of almost 80,000 residents. The 17,000 new homes likely to feature in the long-awaited new plan for the Eastleigh constituency could take the population to about 120,000. Frankly, our rail services will not be able to cope with that. That is only one little picture of hard-pressed commuters in the south.
I welcome the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena about branch lines. I find it baffling that we have so many empty trains heading along the track when people do not need them. Commuters, in particular those of Hedge End, feel that their voices should be heard more clearly.
Getting around Eastleigh is difficult. The Secretary of State for Transport came down for the election campaign. I told him that the roads are extremely bad and he said, “Everyone tells me that,” but he experienced it for himself. Many of my constituents have to head to Portsmouth, Southampton or Gosport in the morning. The train between my constituency and Portsmouth and Southampton takes well over an hour, so people take to their cars. The M27 simply cannot cope. We have heard that more than 100,000 people travel between junctions 8 and 9—I say “travel” but most of them spend a lot of time just sitting there. During the election campaign, there was an incident on the motorway and, for 12 hours, nobody could move. That is a big problem because our acute hospital services for Eastleigh are in the major cities. Travel is a problem for people to get their health services. We have no escape routes. We have narrow, old-fashioned rural roads, which are absolutely chocker. When I left my office on that particular day in the campaign at 11 o’clock at night, it took me about an hour and a half to go two miles. There are so many cars on our roads. The M27 corridor is creaking and the M3 is suffering.
My hon. Friend and I share a bit of the Eastleigh borough—I represent the Chandler’s Ford and Hiltingbury part of it—and the local roads are such a nightmare. Does she agree that it might be helpful if Eastleigh borough council got on with its local plan, which is currently a complete disaster zone?
Absolutely—that is music to my ears, given that we are going to be waiting until November next year for a plan. Consistently, there is hostile development on green spaces. Those are not sustainable places on which to be building, and at the moment, a planning application for a car lot and a drive-through restaurant is going through for the old council offices. That is a sustainable place for more houses that would be within walking distance to Eastleigh train station.
In Eastleigh, we have Southampton airport, which is an important regional airport and a hub for passengers coming into the area from Guernsey in particular. It has been highlighted, however, that it is sometimes easier for people to get to Gatwick than to Southampton, given that they can take a train from Swanwick heading up towards Gatwick and fly out that way, rather than trying to get from Guernsey or the island into Southampton to fly. That is a big concern for me. We have many short commutes that should be eminently doable, but they are a major problem because of the amount of people doing those commutes on a struggling motorway, with no rail option. We have an extremely important enterprise zone bid based around the airport. The local enterprise partnership is backing that, but it can work only if we get better rail services. We need bypasses and link roads, and I have been making the case for those very strongly.
In conclusion, as we have heard, the Transport Secretary has kindly visited my patch. He knows the importance of Eastleigh. It is a great place to work, live and do business, but it is a terrible place to get around. The new franchise in 2017 is a vital opportunity for all of us across Hampshire and the south-west to seize the opportunity and stand up for the Solent and the south-west corridor. We must deal with capacity, power supply and the Waterloo throat issue. We must fight for investment, recognise the demand increase and ensure that we enact as much as possible, as soon as possible, from the Wessex route study.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Having taken trains from your constituency in my youth, the only overcrowding I ever experienced was when The Guardian newspaper started to advertise Whitstable as a great place to go, and there was an overcrowding of hipsters in skinny jeans on the train on a Sunday night, getting back up to Islington.
In any event, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond. It appears that the problem at her end of the line is the amount of time journeys take, whereas the problem at my end of the line, in Kingston and Surbiton, is the terrible overcrowding we suffer. The problem was aptly set out in a detailed Wessex route study, which referred to a predicted 40% growth in passenger volume over the next 30 years. That assumes we are at capacity now, but the reality is that we are not; we are 20% overcapacity on peak services. I am assuming that the 20% must be averaged out across the whole line, because if Members were to come to Surbiton station, they would see what looks like a lot more than 20% overcapacity on peak services. I invite the Minister, if she wants to see what it looks like, to accompany me to Surbiton station of a morning and see dangerous overcrowding on the platform and commuters having to be packed in like sardines. I note that I have to get on a train at 6.35 am to avoid that, and even then, I am not guaranteed a seat.
The people getting on these trains are taxpayers. In fact, many come from the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Raab, where residents of Elmbridge account for the highest amount of income tax paid to the Exchequer in the entire country. These people are taxpayers who pay for their tickets, but they have to be packed in like sardines to get into London in the morning, even if they get up at the crack of dawn to avoid it. Unlike the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South, there will be no complaints from Surbiton residents about the nature of the seats they have to sit on trains to London. Their complaints will be about not getting a seat at all. The nub of the problem is that at peak times, Waterloo station is at capacity. The Waterloo throat means that simply no more services can be run into Waterloo at peak times.
So what is the solution? The Wessex route study makes several suggestions, all of which I commend, but a number of them are simply sticking plasters. Extending the old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo station is happening, but those will not be ready until 2017 or 2018. That will allow 10-car trains from my constituency into Waterloo, but it will only deal with the existing overcrowding and not with the projected growth in passenger volume.
In fact, the Wessex route study concludes that the only solution that will come close to dealing with the expected volume of additional passengers is Crossrail 2. Crossrail 2 would allow our existing commuter services to continue as they do now, while operating, in parallel, an entirely different route through a tunnel at Wimbledon and on to Victoria, Tottenham Court Road and King’s Cross. It would therefore connect this new concept of a southern powerhouse to the slightly older concept of the northern powerhouse. It would be a massive boon for commuters on the whole Wessex route, but particularly, for commuters in the incredibly overcrowded suburban stations, including all those in my constituency.
In conclusion, the overcrowding on peak services from my constituency is an absolute disgrace. The situation cannot be allowed to continue and I urge the Minister to support the proposals in the Wessex route study and to ensure that they are fed into the tender to make sure that overcrowding is dealt with and that passengers get value for money. I urge her to support Crossrail 2, which the Chancellor has hinted at his support for in recent weeks and months. I also urge the Minister to work with colleagues here, as she already has been doing, to ensure that between now and 2030—when Crossrail 2, if it is approved, will go online—there is a solution to the overcrowding that will plainly continue over that time, and which, unfortunately, is not addressed by any of the sticking plasters that we have seen proposed so far.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your stewardship in this Chamber, Sir Roger. I begin by congratulating Mrs Drummond on securing today’s debate. Having previously brought similar debates to this House for my own area in Greater Manchester, I know just how important rail travel and public transport are to constituents and how appreciative they are when their Members of Parliament raise such matters.
I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Claire Perry responding on behalf of the Government. When this debate was first announced, it caused considerable excitement in Her Majesty’s Opposition’s transport team. Would, we wondered, the debate be responded to by the rail Minister or the Minister for Portsmouth? I can only conclude that that decision was made at the highest levels of Government, but I am delighted to see the rail Minister here today.
As the hon. Member for Portsmouth South made clear in her opening speech, rail services in Portsmouth and the south-west face several issues. When the Minister replies to the debate, I am sure that she will have been left in no doubt about where improvements are needed, and I hope that the hon. Member for Portsmouth South receives the answers that she requested.
Some of the problems that have been raised in this debate are simply down to poor levels of service, whereas some are down to poor decisions that the Government have made. Others, however, are due to the poor system we have for running rail services in the UK, and I will say something about all those issues in my reply.
The record of this Government, and indeed, of the previous Conservative-led coalition Government, is much less favourable than they like to make out. I often find that the rhetoric that we hear in the House of Commons on rail matters simply does not match the experience of our constituents and passengers, and often shows a real disconnect from their everyday commuting reality. It is one thing for us to sit here in Westminster and debate the performance of rail services in Portsmouth and the south-west, but perhaps those who are best placed to judge it are the rail users themselves. Unfortunately, the results do not make for good reading, with a steady decrease in passenger satisfaction, which the hon. Lady referred to, and which I hope the Minister will address in her reply. We have seen decreases in passenger satisfaction across the board in Portsmouth, with perhaps the most striking statistic being that just 21% of commuters believe that their services are good value for money. When taxpayers are making a net payment of nearly £4 billion a year to the railways as a whole, on top of ever rising fares, the fact that passenger satisfaction is decreasing should cause great alarm to the Minister. I look forward to hearing how she intends to rectify that.
Rail users in Portsmouth and the south-west have not been immune to the trend of rising fares either, with commuters in particular being hit hard. By next year, the cost of a season ticket from Portsmouth to Eastleigh will have increased by 25% since 2010, and the cost of a season ticket from Portsmouth to London by 26%, a rise of more than £1,000. The mixture of rising fares and decreasing satisfaction in Portsmouth is clearly not a good combination and suggests that real change is needed.
The Government have announced plans to increase fares only by inflation during this Parliament, with the Minister herself saying recently that that policy would cost about £700 million a year in lost revenue, but we have not been offered an explanation of how the Government will make up that significant fall in revenue. My fear is that it will be another broken promise after the electrification fiascos. I hope that at the very least she can give us a guarantee today that services will not be cut to pay for that panicked pre-election announcement.
Labour Members think that passengers should simply have access to clearer ticketing and be able to get a better deal than they can currently. Fares and ticketing structures in this country are some of the most complex in Europe, and it is passengers who often pay the additional price.
There is, of course, as we have heard today, another scourge of train passengers in the south-west—overcrowding. That problem is faced by many services around the country, including in my own area in Greater Manchester. Clearly, extra capacity is desperately needed. The previous Labour Government invested more in the railways in real terms, especially in Portsmouth and the south-west, than any previous Government. In 2013, two Portsmouth commuter trains were named as among the 10 most overcrowded rail services in the country; both had load factors of more than 150%. Since then, services to and from Portsmouth have not featured in the top 10. However, before we start celebrating, it would probably be safe to assume that Portsmouth’s non-inclusion reflects greater levels of overcrowding elsewhere rather than better services for Portsmouth commuters.
Franchising fiascos have also become a theme under this Government, as they were under the previous, Conservative-led Government. We saw the shambles of the west coast main line franchising process, which had a knock-on effect on other services, and the disappointing decision not to keep the profitable east coast service publicly owned. Yet again, Portsmouth and the south-west have had experience of this problem. In July of this year, just two months after the Government took office, the Minister’s Department announced that negotiations to agree a direct award for South West Trains with Stagecoach had broken down. As a result, the franchising timetable has had to be redrawn. Most concerning of all is that the Department for Transport spent more than £800,000 on contract negotiations with Stagecoach, yet failed to reach a satisfactory outcome. I hope that the Minister, in her reply, can confirm whether the Department has recovered those costs and can expand some more on why the negotiations broke down.
It appears that the Minister has not seriously considered the possibility of using Directly Operated Railways. She should need no convincing of DOR’s record, given that it delivered record passenger satisfaction and punctuality scores on east coast services and there was a public outcry when the franchise was handed to Virgin. The Government simply do not have a good record on franchise negotiation. I suggest that to avoid the problem, they could simply come round to the Labour party’s way of thinking, which is that we should bin the franchising system altogether, because it is simply too costly and inefficient and creates an inflexible railway unable to meet the needs of passengers.
Another recurring theme under this Government has been the troubled approach to electrification—something that the south-west has also suffered from. The Labour Government committed to the electrification of the Great Western main line in the south-west back in 2009, but under this Government the cost has escalated drastically and the project is now delayed. Labour Members have repeatedly warned that the Great Western main line electrification is in danger because of rising costs. The estimate cost is now three times higher than in 2011. It is currently a staggering £1.74 billion. The Government have attempted to lay some of the blame at Network Rail’s door, but the Minister must also take responsibility for not confirming the project until July 2012, meaning that essential planning work was delayed. Even Network Rail’s head of long-term planning and funding has alluded to that, saying that it did not have the level of confidence that it might have wished at the start.
All this is becoming too usual, and it is rail users who will suffer because of the delays and cost increases. The faster trains and increased capacity that south-west rail users want and hon. Members have requested here today will not be delivered on time. What will particularly irk passengers will be not seeing improvements in rolling stock. The Government’s plans to replace uncomfortable and inaccessible Pacer trains on branch lines in the south-west depend on the success of the electrification programme. If the Great Western electrification project is significantly delayed, passengers in the south-west are likely to suffer with poor rolling stock for years—stock that the Government have agreed is unacceptable for my constituents in the north of England.
I do not expect the Minister to offer any solutions to that today, as the Government have previously said that until the Hendy report is published they cannot give any credible promises on the delivery timetables of any other projects. I would be grateful, however, if the Minister could confirm in her reply the date on which the Hendy report is due to be published, as one would hope that it would be available in time for the comprehensive spending review.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth South on initiating today’s debate. I completely understand why she and her constituents are unhappy with aspects of rail services in Portsmouth and the south-west. Clearly, the Government have much work to do to tackle overcrowding, to stop drastic fare rises, to improve rolling stock, to combat decreasing passenger satisfaction and to deliver planned infrastructure projects. Labour Members want answers from the Minister as to how the Government intend to address those matters. In the Labour party, we believe that there is a better way of running our railways—we put passengers at the centre of the network and learn lessons from successful rail networks in other countries. I look forward to continuing this conversation with all hon. Members in the future.
It is, as always, a pleasure to be part of a debate that you are chairing, Sir Roger. I extend thanks to my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond. I will go on to give a detailed response to her questions, but first I want to welcome Jonathan Reynolds, who I believe is my newly confirmed shadow, to his position. I will not try to answer most of his questions today; I would rather focus on the subject of the debate. I would be delighted if he called an Opposition day debate on the railways. I would be delighted to have a conversation over the Dispatch Box about the Labour Government electrifying less than 10 miles of track in 13 years. We will do many times more than that in this Parliament. Indeed, the Labour Government had the chance to get rid of the Pacers that so upset his constituents in 2003 and 2004 and chose not to. It is this Government who will take the railways forward. I would be delighted to have that conversation with him in more detail on a more generic level.
This was a fantastic debate. These debates are often hard to listen to and respond to because they are full of superb facts. Before getting on to the meat of the conversation that my hon. Friend started, I want to talk about some of the other questions that were raised. My hon. Friend Mr Mak highlighted extremely well the fact that this is about not just London-based connectivity, but east-west connectivity. In fact, regional rail now has the highest growth rates across the rail network. People are increasingly choosing to use rail for short journeys as well as long ones, and I think that it is incredibly important that that is recognised in future investment planning.
I have already had many good conversations with my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena on this subject. He likes to analyse the economics of the railways, which is always very welcome. I was pleased that he recognised that a lot of investment is going into these services. Indeed, the works at Waterloo, costing more than £350 million, are designed to alleviate capacity problems. That, plus the new rolling stock commitment that will apply to some of the lines in the South West franchise area, is designed to deal with growth up until the mid-2020s and is a necessary precursor to additional work that needs to happen to lift capacity further on the Portsmouth line. My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of wi-fi on trains—a personal commitment and interest of mine. I can assure him that the Government are committed to introducing free wi-fi on all classes by 2018, either through the franchising process or through in-franchise changes. It is extremely important, particularly on longer distance journeys.
My hon. Friend Mr Turner, once again, made very telling points. I am happy to confirm again my commitment and the Government’s commitment to finding a long-term sustainable solution for Island Line and to pay tribute to Mr Garnett, who has worked so hard on this. I am also happy to ask ATOC to look at the issue of ticketing and joining-up of timetabling. There may be some technical issue, but I am happy to ensure that we explore that further. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done for a line that is lovely to look at, but perhaps is not delivering some of the benefits that could be delivered. I urge Isle of Wight Council to continue its good work on that process.
My right hon. Friend Mrs Miller spoke very eloquently, as always, about the importance of dealing with crowding, particularly in fast growing areas. She raised the issue of trains during the peak shoulders. The challenge with that is that if we buy lots of trains to run into London during the peak, they are in London, not in Basingstoke, when we want them to be full of people—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the microphones in this Chamber are rather more directional than those in the main Chamber. The hon. Lady is off the microphone, which is making things difficult for those responsible for the sound.
I am so sorry. I was trying to address Members, but you are quite right, Sir Roger.
This is an important point about how we maximise the capacity of the existing rolling stock. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for raising the points made by my right hon. Friend Anne Milton, who often shares those views with me by text when she is in her favourite seat. I am grateful for the work that my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt has done assiduously over the years, focusing on the challenges of the different sorts of rolling stock.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked me two questions. First, she asked whether I am content with the planning process, and whether I think that it joins up growth projections and challenges sufficiently. My answer is, “partly”. I know that local authorities feed into the Network Rail route study work, but I am unconvinced that we have got things right across government in terms of the economic value added that a well-designed transport network can bring. We are really working to solve that challenge. It is important that we get representations from local Members, local enterprise partnerships and communities so that we can see where that growth comes from.
My right hon. Friend raised the sad challenge of reducing fatalities on the railway. I am happy to confirm that we have the safest railway in Europe, but she is right to say that the number of fatalities is growing, with people often choosing to end their lives on the tracks. There is an enormous amount of work going on with operators, Network Rail and Samaritans to try to reduce that. I want to mention how dreadful that experience can be for the train drivers who witness it. It is a terrible problem, which is a source of enormous delay on the network and of terrible trauma for the victims’ families and the drivers.
Everybody, including me, hates three-plus-two seating. It is awful, and we all know that. The challenge on the lines we are discussing is whether you design for inner London routes, such as those in the constituency of my hon. Friend James Berry, or for long-distance routes. At the moment, the franchise has been doing its best with the rolling stock to try to design a system that minimises crowding, although I know that it does not always feel like that. It would be possible to remove the seats, as has been done on trains on the Great Western network, but then more people will be unable to sit. It is a conundrum, and I may be able to mention some of the solutions later.
Many hon. Members who are present today have taken me around their constituencies and showed me the trains, and they continue to campaign assiduously for transport improvements. My hon. Friend David Warburton managed to include in his speech furred-up arteries, George Eliot and Somerset County Council, which was an impressive achievement. I am happy to ask my officials to work with Somerset County Council on how to get a bid for a new station together. That is absolutely imperative, and we know that it has been done very successfully by Taunton, just down the road. The money for that project came out of a growth fund deal, but it is possible to bid for a new station and doing so would be valuable. I would be happy to see how we might be able to help.
My hon. Friend Mims Davies talked about the importance of the Eastleigh chord, and described well the need to join up transport. We need to think not about road or rail in isolation, but about what is best for the local communities. My hon. Friend Steve Brine was right to say that the local plan is the way to encapsulate that, and I know that he will urge the local authorities to get on with it.
We have covered many subjects over the past hour and a half, but we have not talked about the Government’s commitment to smarter ticketing and part-time season tickets, which might have a significant impact by alleviating some overcrowding, although only some. Does the Minister still have her passion for that?
Yes, and I will race through my final comments and come on to what I think are some of the solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton pointed out what a balancing act we face, because train usage across the country is rising, and trains that start off empty become crowded. Indeed, I have travelled on some of the top 10 most crowded trains, because I tend to go out and mystery shop them. It is not encouraging to be unable to sit down on the journey into London at 6 o’clock in the morning, work for 12 or 14 hours and then go home. People deserve better.
What are the possible solutions? I will abandon my speech now—when I do so, it always makes my officials incredibly nervous—and talk about what could be done. There is a cascade of things that can be done to increase capacity. We can work on existing lines, and do the sorts of work talked about in the “Wessex Route Study”. Such work is important, and it is being looked at, reviewed and prioritised. We need to ensure that everybody understands the costs and benefits of such work for economic value added, not just for transport users. Such works are always expensive and difficult, because they involve so much disruption.
We can do things such as digital enhancements on the railway. When it comes to the number of train paths, the railways are now full, but if we can use digital technology to reduce the time between trains, we will be able to run more of them. That is a big long-term investment plan for Network Rail. Building new lines is often cheaper than expanding existing lines. We heard a lot of mention of Crossrail 2, a vital project that will help to alleviate congestion—as will Crossrail 1—in the metro and suburban areas.
We can buy new trains. Indeed, many new trains are being delivered to the South West franchise, but what tends to happen is that they are built to satisfy demand at peak times, and they run empty for much of the day. Is that an effective thing to do? Would it be possible to use those trains better? That brings me to the point about part-time season tickets. Providing incentives for people to change their journey patterns and move around outside peak time can be cost-effective and help us to use train capacity better.
Finally, we can, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire mentioned, change stopping patterns. It is completely possible to run a very high speed, non-stop train to Portsmouth if it does not stop anywhere else. As we move forward and consider the consultation, we have to ask ourselves that sort of question. What is the right journey pattern for the demand? Is it right to devolve more services to TfL, to deal with some of the inner-London metro demand and outer-London demand, in order to run services that are better fitted for long-distance users?
What are the right solutions? I do not know, and I do not think that we, individually, know. Part of the problem in the industry is that people work in silos when they make decisions, so there will be an operational solution, a solution for passengers and perhaps a political solution. We need to get the right people in the right place to make those decisions, to make sure that the money is there and that organisations can deliver. That is why the Hendy review is so important. We need to take politics out of the process, which is why I so welcome the appointment of Lord Adonis; I think he is a good man to do the long-term infrastructure planning. We need to work together to solve some of the knotty problems. There is a huge amount of financial commitment to the railways, and we are committing to the biggest investment programme since Victorian times, which is a vital part of delivering economic growth. Collectively as Members, working with our local communities, local businesses, my officials, Network Rail and the operators, we can come up with the right solutions.
What do we need to do? First, we need to keep all the information coming in in response to the route study. That will determine the near-term investment plans, which cover the next five to 10 years. Secondly, the consultation on the franchise process will start before Christmas, and it is absolutely vital that we have a real, in-depth analysis of what we want. Is this the right time to start putting in some express services that do not stop between some of the big conurbations, with a consequent possible loss of services in terms of stopping patterns? Can the network collectively work that out? Following that consultation, the invitation to tender will go out before April 2016, and the franchise will start in 2017.
I do not know what the right solution is, and I do not believe that any individual holds it. Collectively, however, working together across the boundaries that have built up in the railway sector between operators, the network and regulators, we can come up with a better solution. The experience of passengers must be put front and centre, because the railway is not about boxes running about on rails. I was told by somebody who has left the industry that if it were not for the passengers, the timetabling would be perfect. I found that both amusing and incredibly offensive, because it suggested that we were talking about somebody’s train set rather than a transport system that millions of people rely on to get to work and to get back home to their families.
My plea to team Hampshire—I am delighted that it has an identity—and also to team Somerset, team Wiltshire, team Stalybridge and Hyde—
And to team Isle of Wight. My plea is that I hope that, by working together, we can come up with a better solution. We want to invest in the railways. They are a vital part of delivering local, regional and national economic growth. We are in an exciting place, because we have finally realised the importance of railway investment in delivering the economic growth that we want for our constituents.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South once more. With her eloquent and intelligent speech, she auditioned extremely well for my job. I commend her on securing the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend for turning up. I think that there are solutions to the problem. I will be pursuing it, and I am sure that we will all work together on that. As part of that, I will write a report to the Chancellor to see whether we can get some funding as well. Thank you, Sir Roger, for your chairmanship of the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered rail services to Portsmouth and the South West.