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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:28 am on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses) 10:28 am, 5th February 2019

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point about pollution. There are three aspects of pollution that are deeply challenging in my area. The first is air pollution from soot and nitrous oxide. The second is the effect on global warming. Electrifying the railways should be the low-hanging fruit in tackling global warming, as it is obviously going to take carbon out of the atmosphere. It is a huge disappointment to many people that the Government have not seen it as a key priority.

The third point, which may affect colleagues in other urban centres, is that as part of the botched electrification, the train maintenance depot in Reading was moved. I believe that that has happened in other areas. We now have diesel locomotives, which should have been taken out of service, revving their engines at 5 o’clock in the morning outside terraced houses in Reading, because the maintenance depot was moved as part of the works. That is completely unacceptable and there is an ongoing legal dispute between Reading Borough Council and First Great Western, so I will not go into further detail. Noise pollution is a substantial additional problem as well as air pollution and carbon dioxide pollution, which all seriously affect towns and cities along the line and the lives of people who live near the railway.

My second question for the Minister, which is also blunt, is, why has First Great Western’s franchise been repeatedly extended, given all the poor performance issues? I hope that as a new Minister, he will investigate that.

Time is pressing, but I would like to point out that I disagree with the Government’s policy of large increases in season ticket prices. That has a direct impact on people in my constituency and along the line, as we heard earlier. I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that commuters are already having their salaries squeezed. Many residents in Reading and Woodley commute to London, or to nearby towns. They live in an area with high house prices and rocketing private rental prices, and at the same time their season tickets are going up by very large sums. That means that families, couples and single people are facing large cuts to their disposable income, which has a significant impact on their ability to enjoy life, especially family life. The Minister should address that and rethink this problem.

The railway is a vital public service that could—and should—be run much better. Investment is a key driver for jobs and growth in the Thames valley and along the whole railway corridor. However, as we have heard, there is a clear contrast between the poor performance of the current Government and a much more sensible long-term strategy. Colleagues have mentioned the importance of bringing the railway back into public ownership.

I will highlight that contrast in three simple points. I have mentioned the Government’s poor management of electrification, and that areas such as Reading, Wales and others have suffered severely. There are other aspects of mismanagement, including the cost to passengers of high fares and delays. In contrast, the Labour Government paid for the vast majority of the rebuilding of Reading station, which is a huge asset to our town and to travellers up and down the network. An incoming Labour Government would invest in electrification, and, most importantly, bring the railways back into public ownership. I believe that that would dramatically improve the quality of life for rail travellers and for businesses that are reliant on the railways.

In my opinion, rail is a vital public service, and the evidence clearly shows that. It brings economic benefit to our region. Given that the Minister is new in this post, I ask him to rethink the Government’s policy and to look again at the dogma and failed economic views that have led to mismanagement, to the chaos of the franchising system, and to the lack of investment in capital infrastructure.