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Rail Network (Wi-fi)

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 6 February 2014

I fully recognise the importance of good mobile services for passengers on board trains. We have met the rail industry and secured its agreement to roll out improvements to mobile services across the rail network, starting this year. We expect significant improvements across key routes, starting with comprehensive coverage achieved by 2019. Network Rail and train operators are working jointly to fund and deliver the improvements based on collaborations with mobile network operators.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that my constituents have trains that are running with adequate seating so that people can use the wi-fi?

I will say something in topical questions about the appalling situation faced by Devon and Cornwall MPs as regards the rail service in their areas. I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. I met her and other Members last night to discuss the situation and its effect on their constituencies, and I will be saying a little more later on.

While good wi-fi is important for rail travellers, the trains need to be running in the first place, so I will invite the Secretary of State, if he does not mind, to say a little more about what he is doing to ensure that this vital main line into the south-west is reopened as quickly as possible, and about what he will do in the long-term to help deal with the vulnerability of the line at Dawlish?

I am trying to keep in order by sticking to the issue of wi-fi, but I well understand the concerns of the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who came to see me last night, with Robin Gisby, the managing director of Network Rail, to talk about the situation at Dawlish and how it has basically cut off services to Devon and Cornwall. I have not yet had the full engineering report, because it has not been possible to get it, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am working with Network Rail to restore the service as quickly as possible and to carry out a more vigorous review of some of the alternatives available.

As the Clerk Assistant has just pointed out to me, Members’ approach to Question 2 might best be described as “broadband”.

On the same theme, it is important to recognise that to have a resilient wi-fi service on our rail service, we need to have a resilient rail service. In view of the Secretary of State’s earlier reply, does he not accept that if we are to invest properly in a resilient service down to Penzance, in my constituency, we need to ensure that there is funding comparable to the money being spent on HS2 and other services?

I will be asking for further work to be done on the question of resilience in the south-west, as I indicated to the hon. Gentleman in the meeting last night. Over the next five years, between 2014 and 2019, Network Rail will be spending £38 billion on the existing railway network. There is, therefore, no shortage of understanding from the Government of the importance of rail services across the whole country. As far as services in Devon and Cornwall are concerned, I also take those responsibilities incredibly seriously.

The introduction of wi-fi on First Great Western is undoubtedly good news for passengers, but given that the Government’s incompetent franchise extension negotiations have lost the taxpayer £100 million in premium payments this year, is this not the most expensive internet upgrade in history?

I am not sure what that has to do with the internet upgrade. Obviously, when a new franchise contract, or short-term contract, is leased, various matters are taken into account, including the age and replacement of rolling stock. If the Labour party is not committed to that, I wonder what Labour Members would say to Bombardier, which today won a rolling stock contract that will be very important to Derby and Derbyshire. Would they say that they were opposed to it?