Train Operating Companies: Yorkshire — [Dame Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health) 9:30 am, 19th December 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I absolutely agree. A very similar level of service is being delivered to my constituents, so I fully sympathise with his constituents.

Late or cancelled trains have a wide impact. Many of us consider a train to be something that gets us from A to B. Of course that is true, but the disruption is also having a significant impact on people’s mental health. They have no idea whether they will be able to get to work, and can get into quite serious trouble when they are late for the fourth day running. People might rely on them, such as clients or customers. They do not know whether they will get home in time to put their children to bed or see their partner. That is having a massive effect on family life and on social mobility, as not everybody drives. It is also affecting employment opportunities. I have spoken to a number of people who now say that they cannot get to work. They do not drive, so using the train is the only option, and it is not worth the stress.

Our region’s railways are among the least reliable in the country. Ironically, this week Northern rail unveiled a new advertising campaign, designed with safety in mind, to prevent passengers from boarding the trains as the doors are closing. The advert states that the train will depart the station “to the second”. If only! As I see it, there are two major issues with that. First, someone in the advertising department either has a very strange sense of humour or has severely misjudged the situation, given that so many trains have not departed on time during the last six months. Secondly, the campaign is in preparation for when Northern rail removes guards from trains, thus compromising customer safety and further eroding the service on offer to rail users in the north.

As a result of the chaos, many of those who drive, as I alluded to earlier, are turning back to their cars as a means of transport. Falling passenger numbers require action to boost confidence in and accessibility to the rail network. That has sadly not been forthcoming. Rail in the north is still very much the poor relation of services across the country. Recent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research North revealed that spending on transport in Yorkshire and the Humber fell by more per head from 2016-17 to 2017-18 than anywhere else in the country. It reported that, last year, spending per head on transport in our region was £315, which is more than three times less than the £1,019 spent in London. It is simply unacceptable that promised investment has been scrapped, downgraded or delayed, while money is funnelled into London and the south-east.

When it comes to the causes of the poor service, leaves on the line can be blamed for only so much. Indeed, when discussing compensation for rail passengers on BBC News this week, the Minister admitted that the infrastructure is not there to cope. Work to electrify key lines in the north-west was supposed to be finished two years ago, yet delays to that have had a knock-on effect across the north and have been blamed by Northern rail for its postponement of planned service improvements in Yorkshire.

The Minister blames decades of decline for the infrastructure’s inability to cope with network growth, yet it seems likely that the Transport Secretary is set to back a deeply flawed plan for the trans-Pennine route. If the plans that have been mooted go ahead, the tunnels will not be big enough to carry modern freight trains, and insufficient track is planned to allow faster trains to overtake slow ones.