Public Transport: Boxing Day 2018

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:14 am on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Transport), Minister of State (London) 11:14 am, 24th January 2018

I thank John Grogan for his interest in this matter. I also the chair of the all-party rail group, my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, and my hon. Friend Douglas Ross, for their contributions.

Public transport must have at its heart the needs of the travelling public. I am clear that we must continually strive to meet those needs as they change and evolve, and I will do my best to answer some of the points made during this debate. If I cannot answer them in full, I will happily write to the hon. Member for Keighley afterwards.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the issue of Boxing day services principally affects the rail sector—he noted that bus services by and large continue to operate on 26 December—so to that degree I will focus my remarks on rail. As he rightly noted, our rail network is part of the lives of many people across the UK and important to addressing social needs—he rightly highlighted the issue of loneliness—which is why the Government continue to invest at record levels to ensure that the service across the country is delivering reliable and punctual rail services to meet the needs of our economy and society.

Indeed, on 12 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced our intention to commit some £47 billion—a record sum—to our rail network in the period 2019 to 2024. That is on top of a previous record level of investment, which will see about £50 billion spent on reliability and major transformational infra- structure enhancements up to 2019. All that is in addition to HS2, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned and on which we are spending about £55 billion.

That means that, since 2010, more than 7,000 new carriages have been ordered to provide extra space for passengers and to replace many outdated trains. We are setting challenging targets for passenger experience in operators’ franchise agreements that cover passenger satisfaction and standards of service quality. Increasingly, we are including financial incentives to ensure that they deliver on those targets. That can include requirements to reinvest penalties in improvements for passengers. We are committed to making the railways accessible to all. For the first time, we are introducing a specific delivery plan in our franchise competitions that will require bidders to set out how they will meet the needs of passengers with disabilities. That reflects our commitment to delivering a rail network that is centred on the passenger—providing the services, capacity and experience that rail users want.

To come to the heart of the debate, Boxing day services are just one of many passenger needs that we are seeking to fulfil. I will say a few words about our approach to Boxing day services, which has evolved over time, as the hon. Gentleman noted, and no doubt will continue to evolve.

Our franchises have always had the discretion to explore the operation of Boxing day services on a commercial basis. Since 2015, we have required franchises to, at a minimum, maintain current levels of Boxing day services. In addition, our invitations to tender include requirements to consult passengers and user groups on the demand for Boxing day services. That is reported back to the Department, along with the commercial viability of any such proposals.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is particularly interested in the consultation and associated reports prepared by the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises. I can confirm that those have been submitted and are being considered by the Rail North Partnership. I appreciate that he would wish me to confirm that we will be running services on both franchises, but I am sure that he will also understand that we should allow Rail North, the franchises and Network Rail the opportunity fully to consider and assess the feasibility of the proposals first. I also note that, in focusing on the needs of our passengers, we must look at the needs of the widest number of the travelling public. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the rail network uses periods of lower demand, which will usually include Boxing day, to complete essential engineering works—essential, as he knows, if we are to undertake maintenance work that is critical to the reliable performance that passengers demand, and essential, too, for major upgrade work, delivering the additional capacity on the network that passengers want.

The hon. Gentleman focused rightly on the north of England. I gently remind him that we are spending £13 billion on northern transport—the largest investment in a generation—£3.8 billion of which will be invested in rail schemes. By 2020, the great north rail project will see the arrival of brand new trains for customers across the region. Northern and TransPennine Express will deliver more than 500 new carriages, with room for 40,000 extra passengers, as well as 2,000 extra services a week. We hope that this will help transform the passenger experience and improve reliability.

Elsewhere, recent rail franchise awards will deliver brand new, more reliable trains for passengers travelling on South Western, East Anglia and London Midland services. This year will also see the completion of Thameslink and Crossrail, which will deliver desperately needed new capacity, thereby improving performance reliability for passengers and freight. On the Great Western network, we are investing an unprecedented £5 billion to deliver faster, more reliable services and new trains with thousands more seats.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. Our railways clearly matter tremendously to those who use them, and passengers rightly expect that we will respond to their changing needs. We have a clear vision for delivering on this in future. This means a relentless focus on meeting the needs of passengers; awarding contracts on the quality of service provision and on price; investment in infrastructure to deliver improvements in reliability and increase capacity; and new and refurbished trains that increase capacity and improve the passenger experience.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.