Rail Services: South-east London — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 4:17 pm, 6th March 2019

I strongly support smart ticketing, and it will be in the next south-eastern franchise. It is popular with customers, and helps them with the convenience of their journey, though it is tough to deliver. We have also had requests regarding Delay Repay compensation. The next south-eastern franchise will include Delay Repay compensation kicking in from 15 minutes of delay. Alongside that we will see new services on Sundays, and wi-fi and mobile connectivity. I am keen to bring that significant range of customer benefits to the constituents whom the Members present serve as soon as possible. I have heard what has been said about the urgency of delivering it, and I will update the House as soon as we can.

I share both the excitement about the scale of Crossrail and what it will deliver for the country and the frustration that it will not be delivered on time. The Crossrail board decided to delay the opening on 29 August last year, and informed the Government of that. We do not yet have a new date for the opening. I have met representatives of Crossrail to press the case. I want to see the scheme out there as fast as possible. It will increase capacity and rail transport in London by 10%, and bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 commuting minutes of London’s key business districts.

On extending Crossrail or, as my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson said, completing it, I am instinctively sympathetic to the idea that transport investment is a driver of economic growth. It unlocks potential for commercial and residential opportunity. I fully understand the strategic importance—not just in the areas represented by the Members present, but nationally—of the potential of the Thames estuary. A strategic outline business case has been submitted to the Department, looking at options to extend Crossrail to Ebbsfleet. We are considering those proposals and will respond to the promoters in due course. I cannot give a date yet, but I recognise the urgency.

I will look at the points made by my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon regarding fares. The Government want to help people to keep more of their own money. That is why we have increased the personal allowance, and why we are in our sixth year of freezing the regulated fares, or capping them so that they can increase only in line with inflation. However, I will look at the specific points mentioned. I will also look at the point about Maidstone. We are certainly committed to improving regular services between Maidstone and the City as soon as possible, and we are working very closely with the industry to finalise plans for the remaining stages of the Thameslink timetable. That work includes future services from Maidstone East.

I fully recognise the importance of rail to the constituents served by colleagues present. Work is taking place to strengthen the area around the Barnehurst landslip, and we are working to bring the matter of the franchise to a conclusion as quickly as possible, so that people know where they stand and the travelling public receive the benefits. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I hope to leave the travelling public watching the debate with the clear impression that we are working to give them the rail service that they deserve.

Question put and agreed to.