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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 10:40 am, 19th December 2018

I have given way a lot, and I have a lot to get through if I am to get to the answers. I will make a bit more progress before I take more interventions.

The May timetable change was a significant problem caused by ambition not being followed through with sufficient time to implement it properly—that obviously did not happen in the school of Thelma Walker. In September we appointed Richard George, a respected industry figure, to co-ordinate and lead efforts by the operators and Network Rail to look at performance across the north. He is reviewing the performance of the region’s rail network and making recommendations to improve reliability. His focus will be on operational improvement in the short and medium term.

Mr George is an independent expert, and he will act on behalf of railway customers to assist organisations in delivering organisational improvements. He will have a facilitation role in helping industry to reach the right decisions and focus on improving passenger services. He has already helped to highlight particular problem areas, and he will provide his conclusions in the new year. In the meantime, Network Rail has established a programme management office, so as to prepare better and to improve management of future timetable changes. An early recommendation from Network Rail was that it would be prudent for most of the changes planned for December 2018—including those in the north—to be deferred until May 2019. As colleagues have noted, we accepted that recommendation.

The modest changes that took place on 9 December were designed to improve performance, especially that of TransPennine Express through Yorkshire. I am pleased to report that the results in the first week—I recognise that these are early days—were encouraging, with TPE’s punctuality for the first few days 15% higher than the equivalent period in the previous week.

Several Members mentioned the compensation offered for the problems in May, and we took early action to ensure that passengers were compensated for the disruption they experienced. Not everybody was disrupted, but there was disruption in many parts of the country, not just the north, and those who were delayed significantly were able to reclaim money under the delay repay scheme. We required Northern and TPE to establish compensation schemes targeted at the people affected. That meant that the compensation was more generous, and money was put back into passengers’ pockets more quickly. More than 14,000 claims from season ticket holders and regular travellers on Northern and TPE services have been submitted, and £1 million has been paid in compensation to date. This week the delay repay scheme was extended to cover delays of 15 minutes. That focuses on helping people to seek redress if something goes wrong, but our focus now is on improving reliability and the operational performance of the railways, so that we do not need such compensation schemes.

Industrial relations were raised, and that issue is having a significant impact on the economy right across the north of England, not just in Yorkshire. In an effort to break the deadlock, leaders from Transport for the North and I recently made clear a shared desire to have a second person on board Northern trains, not just on the platform. As I have said, if we need to change the franchise contract, I will not block that in any way. Indeed, we will go further and play our part in helping to develop a funding package to cover any financial implications from such a change. In looking at the dispute, I see that Northern and the Department for Transport have confirmed that individual jobs are secure and pay is secure right up to the end of the franchise. There can be change with respect to having people on trains. All those changes are what people who travel on the networks are looking for. In view of that, I call on the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers to suspend the strikes and get talking again. I want the company and the union to sit and talk, and to bring things to a conclusion.

The Williams review is a significant piece of work. It is a root and branch review of the rail industry, led by the independent Keith Williams. We are seeking ambitious recommendations for reform that will ensure that the rail network delivers greater benefits for passengers. The investment from the Government and the private sector must result in improvements for passengers, to provide better capacity, better trains and more frequent services.