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 and neighbour for that intervention, and I look forward to the Minister’s response to that question.

Frankly, what we have heard from our Transport Secretary, who recently said that he does not “do trains”, shows an appalling lack of ambition for the north. It will do nothing to address the problems of reliability, as both passenger and freight demand on the lines increase. Ministers need to get to grips with much-needed rail improvements. The system is clearly broken, and local rail users know that more than a mediocre compensation scheme is needed to fix it. Passengers need to know that when there is a delay or cancellation they will receive proper compensation, and Northern rail’s expanded delay repay scheme announced this week is welcome. However, the scheme is reportedly funded by the Government. Going forward, it is not acceptable that the taxpayer foots the bill for the failing system, while shareholders continue to be put first.

What people really need is to know is that, rare exceptions aside, their trains will be reliable and punctual. The Transport Secretary has overseen review after review of the rail network, but it is still clear that the franchise system and the separation of infrastructure and operations simply do not work. Resources are not being targeted to where they are most needed, and there is an overarching lack of accountability. The Transport Secretary has cancelled massive projects such as Crossrail for the north, but has still been able to dig up money for London and the south-east—all while Yorkshire saw the biggest fare increase in the country.

We need clarity over responsibility within our rail network to ensure that services put the interests of passengers first, not the financial priorities of shareholders or the political priorities of Ministers. What assurances can the Minister give me that there will be real improvements to Yorkshire’s rail network, and on what timeframe? Beyond an optimism that operators will adopt more passenger-focused services, what sanctions will be imposed where that is not delivered? Also, where rail operators fail, as they have persistently over the last year, what moves will be taken to renationalise those services, and how low is the bar for that to be a real consideration?

Enough is enough. My constituents and I are sick of hearing warm words and platitudes from the Government. I say to the Minister, from one Yorkshire MP to another, I implore you to give commuters in the north proper consideration and to commit to an improvement of services that will see an end to their daily misery.