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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley 10:15 am, 19th December 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Paula Sherriff for securing this important debate on a subject that concerns so many of our constituents and impacts negatively on the quality of their lives.

Here we are in Westminster Hall. The Chamber is prepared, the Chair is in her place and the Clerks are ready to give advice. The Westminster staff have ensured efficiently that everything is in readiness for our debate. We are on time and we have enough seats. Members and Ministers are prepared. It is the expectation that that will happen. When my constituents buy a ticket for a rail journey or a season ticket, which will be subject to another price hike of more than 3% in January, their expectation is that there will be a regular, accessible train service with enough carriages and available seats. Their expectation is that the trains will get them to their destination on time without stress or discomfort. Those are not unreasonable expectations. They expect that that will happen, just like this debate.

Sadly, the reality for my Colne Valley constituents travelling on the TransPennine route to either Leeds or Manchester is that they are packed like sardines on trains with not enough seats available. There are frequent cancellations and severe delays. For the privilege of all that, they pay among the highest fares in Europe.

Slaithwaite and Marsden are two of the worst-performing stations in the country. Recently at Slaithwaite, 4% of trains have run on time. In the same period, 6% of trains were cancelled. It is not right that there is a greater chance of a train being cancelled than running on time. There are frequently two or three-hour gaps in service. That is what commuters in my constituency face daily. They struggle to get to work on time, and some have been issued formal warnings. They spend less time with their families because they need to leave earlier, or they struggle to make childcare arrangements to accommodate unpredictable service changes. Many have told me that they are reluctantly starting to drive to work because the services are so unreliable. The human cost is significant, and I do not believe the Government fully comprehend it.

This is not just about individuals. Businesses in my constituency have felt the impact since the chaos began in the summer. Rail user groups estimate that usage at peak times is down by about 30% since the timetable change. People may be less likely to visit our picturesque villages and support our local businesses if they cannot guarantee that they will be able to get home after their visit.

I have been working with local rail groups—Slaithwaite and Marsden Action on Rail Transport and Stalybridge to Huddersfield Rail Users Group—along with my hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), to campaign on these issues and advocate for a better service. I have met the Secretary of State three times. In our most recent meeting, he agreed to facilitate a discussion between rail user groups and senior rail officers about improving co-ordination between Network Rail and train operators. It was accepted that the poor accessibility at Marsden station is unsatisfactory and that, to address it, temporary ramps should be put in place as soon as possible. I will not hold my breath.

In the meantime, my constituents are returning to their cars, changing jobs or even moving away from our lovely Colne Valley villages. They want to be home in time to put their children to bed or pick them up from nursery. They want to get to work on time or catch their flight to go on holiday. Those are not unreasonable asks.

One way commuters in my constituency are using their additional time while they stand on cold platforms is by sharing their experiences with rail companies and me on social media. I would like to share some of the feedback I have received on Twitter. Jane said:

“This morning I forked out £2,572 for my annual season ticket to Manchester. Tonight I arrived into Huddersfield 21 minutes late and missed my hourly connection. It’s not good enough.”

Lisa said:

“People need to wake up and see what impact the May timetable changes have had on our villages. All I want for Christmas is to be able to get to work on time. #unhappycommuter.”

Bob said:

“The timetable’s changed but I think they just blewit. They still can’t get trains t’stop at Slewit!"

Ouch.

We are coming up to Christmas. A present for my Colne Valley constituents would be on-time, regular and accessible trains, with enough seats and space for passengers, and affordable ticket prices. Instead of the 12 days of Christmas, we have the 12,000-plus delays of Christmas. Colne Valley people deserve better.