GWR and Network Performance — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:06 am on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 10:06 am, 5th February 2019

I think the Minister is confused. I would like him to visit, and to reach into his pockets and give us the funding we deserve. I would like the Government of which he is a part not to have spent five years presiding over promises of jam tomorrow, but no funding. I am happy to have this back and forth, but people in the far south-west just want a train line that works, so that Great Western and CrossCountry services will not be cut off.

Five years on, the situation is not good enough, and we need that announcement today. If the Secretary of State visits the west country in two weeks’ time—I hope he does—I hope he will realise that he should have made that announcement months if not years ago, so that we would not be in the situation we are in today.

The anger that people in the far south-west feel is similar to that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. Yesterday I asked people on Facebook, and they told me about their decisions to drive from the far south-west to Bristol or London because it is cheaper and faster. People mentioned problems with accessing trains as a result of the high cost, which people on disability living allowance cannot afford. I agree with my hon. Friend that the staff who work for Great Western Railway do a good job, but they are let down by a system that does not give them the focus they need.

Some things, however, have changed. On timetable changes, the half-hourly GWR service from Plymouth to Cornwall was supposed to start in December last year, but because of the timetabling chaos presided over by the Government, it has been delayed until December this year. Can the Minister reassure us that that service will start in December this year, and that passengers will not have to wait any longer for it?

I am grateful that we have new trains in the far south-west. They are a different model from those used in the service to Wales, and I would like the Minister to inject an element of transparency into any problems with the new trains along the Dawlish sea wall. I hope that the new trains will not encounter the same problems as the Voyagers do on the CrossCountry service, but if they do encounter problems, the best thing that the Minister and Great Western Railway can do is to be transparent and open about those problems rather than hiding them away. We need honesty in the far south-west about our funding and services. I agree with the hon. Member for St Ives that the sleeper service is better than it was, but we need that level of improvement right across our network.

The key point about the train service in the west country concerns whether someone can afford to get a train. The high price of train tickets is deeply disturbing, especially in Plymouth, which has a low-wage economy. Not everyone can afford the cost of train tickets to London, Bristol or other parts of the network. We need a train service that is resilient and has a long-term investment plan. This is not just about people getting the train. For us in Plymouth a decent, fast and resilient train service is totemic to our identity as a region. It tells a story about whether our region is open for business, and about whether Ministers will put their money where their mouth is and fund that train line properly. I hope that when he concludes the debate, the Minister will announce that there will be money. I fear that we will get more promises of jam tomorrow with no funding announcement, but I hope the Minister will prove me wrong.