Skip to main content

Rail Franchises

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 15 September 2011

The Secretary of State has held discussions that cover franchise reform in a number of meetings with rail passenger groups, local authorities, train operators. Network Rail and others.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that as well as encouraging investment the Government’s franchising policy must be focused on efficiency, which in the long run will ensure that inflation-busting fare increases become a thing of the past?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Our rail franchising reform has the dual purpose of promoting private sector investment and delivering better services to passengers and of reducing the cost of running the railways. As I said in answer to the previous question, that is part of the wider strategy of working with the rail industry to get costs down and provide better value for money for passengers.

Talking about leaving messes that other people have to clear up, the privatisation of the railways has been a mess ever since it was introduced. May we address the issue of the franchise for the east coast line, as the commute to and from London that it provides for my constituents is a disgrace? When they want to travel cross-Pennine, they have to use trains that should be in the York railway museum.

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the impact of privatisation. More people currently travel by rail than at any time since the 1920s, and reliability levels are high. I acknowledge that reliability on the east coast line should be better, however, and both East Coast and Network Rail are focused on that, as is my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). We do think that reliability needs to improve on the east coast line, but we also believe that, overall, privatisation of the railways has brought some tremendous benefits, including increasing passenger numbers.

Will the Minister ensure that any changes to rail franchise specifications will not necessarily involve the loss of ticket offices at local stations?

The Government will carefully consider the McNulty review recommendations, including in the context of the specifications we put in place for rail franchises. Many of the decisions about ticket offices are addressed in what is known as the ticketing settlement agreement, and we will also consider that. We need to get the balance right by modernising the system so that it reflects the fact that the many new ways of buying tickets—such as the increasing use of smarter ticketing and internet purchasing—will in future change what we require from ticket offices, while also ensuring that people have the right channels through which to buy tickets.