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Railway Stations

Volume 535: debated on Thursday 10 November 2011

The comprehensive spending review secured funding for a range of major station improvements to be delivered over the next few years, including Reading, Birmingham New Street, Blackfriars and London Bridge. Proposals for a number of new stations are under consideration for support from local transport funds. Further funding for station improvements over the 2014-2019 period will be considered as part of the high level output specification process. Additionally, one of the goals of our franchise reform is to encourage more train operator investment in railways including in stations.

Many hon. Members will have admired St Pancras station as an example of what a station can be and will have wished that their own nearest mainline stations lived up to that standard. I welcome the Government’s move to transfer responsibility for stations from Network Rail to franchise holders, yet the fact that many of the investments required in mainline stations cannot be recouped in the course of one single franchise period means that operators are disincentivised from making those investments. Will the Minister ensure that the final invitation to tender for the west coast main line issued in the new year addresses that anomaly?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I assure him that there is always space for taxpayer funding for bigger-scale station upgrades. In terms of encouraging train operators to invest in station improvements, I also agree that we need to find ways to encourage them to invest in long-term projects that may have a pay-back period beyond the end of the franchise. One of the ways we are addressing that is with longer franchises, but we are also working carefully on how we improve the mechanisms for delivering a residual value at the end of the franchise for just the sort of investments he wants to see.

The Minister will have heard the report this morning about the tremendous gap between London and the south and the rest of the country. Many of us look at the wonderful Cannon Street glass palace and the work on King’s Cross, but we wonder when we are going to get that level of investment in the regions of this country, particularly in the north, and when we are going to get the smaller stations upgraded so that they are civilised places to catch a train.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is crucial that we do all we can to close the north-south economic divide. That is part of the reason for driving forward high-speed rail. It is also partly why we are carrying out major investment in electrification in the north of England to improve stations such as Manchester Victoria, using funds such as the national station improvement programme, together with Access for All, and reforming the franchise system, as I have said, to encourage private sector investment in improving stations and improving transport connections between our northern cities. The go-ahead for the Ordsall chord is also welcome on that score.