It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am grateful for this debate on the future of Carnforth station, a subject close to many of my constituents’ hearts, as well as to my own.
In order to discuss the future of Carnforth station, I need to start by discussing the past and how the station has served the community. In the 1940s, it was a bustling junction station that connected the north, south, east and west of the country. Its strategic position created jobs and prosperity from the railway, but the demise of the steam trains in the 1960s sadly led to its demise. The main line platforms were closed down and physically removed in 1970, prior to the electrification of the west coast main line. Carnforth was reduced to a branch station, and its buildings gradually fell into disrepair.
The station has a rich history: most people will recognise it as the setting of David Lean’s classic 1945 film “Brief Encounter”, which was filmed at the station. The station clock is an iconic part of that film—I am sure that many Members are familiar with the romantic scenes that occurred in front of it. There is no truth to the rumour that some of my constituents have said I am the Trevor Howard of the modern era—as much as I would love that—but I hope that this will be not a brief encounter but a railway rendezvous with a destination that will mean only Carnforth reincarnation.
In 1996, members of the community, led by Peter Yates MBE—who is present in the public gallery—joined together to form a trust to restore the station from a shell. Peter’s vision was to see it restored to its rightful place as a transport hub for commuters, tourism and heritage. The trust received £1.5 million pounds of funding, in co-operation with Railtrack. Peter Yates even sourced the original clock and ensured that it was re-installed at the station, where it belongs and still is today. The station’s café and museum are immensely successful and attract tourists from miles around—in fact, from all over the world. Carnforth also features four country walks, and the station café serves the best food of any train station I have ever had the pleasure of stopping at. Couples from all over the world come to the station to propose under the clock, as well as to absorb the ambience of Carnforth’s iconic setting and the surrounding countryside.
Carnforth station is not just a museum or tourist attraction; it should be the natural strategic station to link Barrow, Leeds, Kendal and Windermere. Carnforth has always been referred to as the gateway to the Lakes, and the rail service should reflect that. The station is connected to the M6 motorway by the A601M, and it also has close links to the Lancaster canal. Because of the transport links that the station boasts, it is perfectly placed to displace Lake District traffic and encourage people on to the railway, which will protect our national park for generations to come and cut down on pollution. This year, Carnforth station has seen an increase of 29,672 passengers since 2009, which shows that the train station is becoming more and more popular, not least because of the ease of accessing it. The nearest main train station is Lancaster, which is not easy to get to. In fact, it was recently announced that Lancaster is the second worst area in the country for slow traffic, beaten only by Westminster in central London.
Not only have the figures for station usage risen; the support for the station that I feel as the local Member of Parliament is extraordinary. The people in Carnforth, and the many visitors that it attracts, are supportive of the station, and they contact me every time they feel that there might be a threat to services. Currently, one of the main concerns is the new franchise for the Barrow to Manchester airport line. The Department for Transport has announced that the line between Manchester airport and Preston will be electrified, and my constituents are concerned that that will affect the frequency of trains from Barrow to Preston and on to Manchester airport. I have raised the matter with Ministers, and the DFT’s response was that the winning bidder would be expected to deliver an improved quality of service to customers.
Nevertheless, my constituents remain concerned about the frequency of trains under the new franchise. The main issue that they would like to be addressed is the reinstatement of the platforms on the main line at Carnforth station. On 21 July, I presented to the House a petition of more than 5,000 signatures of people who support reinstating the platforms. For context, the electoral ward of Carnforth has approximately 2,000 homes. That shows how wide ranging is the support for the station in my constituency.
Historically, there were main line platforms at Carnforth station, but they were closed off in the 1970s. My constituent, Robert Swain, has found that the platforms were taken away illegally and never formally closed. Even if that is the case, Network Rail has informed me that in order for the platforms to be brought back into use, a business case must be put forward to show that services would use the reinstated platforms. I have a letter that I received from Chris Gibb when he was at Virgin, which states that although Virgin itself would not seek to stop trains at Carnforth, it has no objection to the main line platform being used by other operators on the line. First TransPennine Express has stated that if the platforms were suitable to accept passengers, it would look into the possibility of stopping further services at Carnforth.
Carnforth station is the centre of the railway universe. It hosts connections to the north, south, east and west, and my constituents would like to see it as the train hub it once was, rather than the mere feeder service for local stations that it currently is. To paraphrase a famous former constituent, Mr Eric Morecambe, is seems that we have all the necessary information we need to restore the platforms at Carnforth station, but not necessarily in the right order.
Let me be clear: my constituents are not asking for the Virgin west coast main line train to stop at Carnforth. That idea has been tried and tested in this House; despite agreements, it has not yet transpired. We are well aware that if Virgin trains did stop at Carnforth, another station would lose its service, and that is not what my constituents want. They would like to see the platform restored so that the Preston to Windermere train, run by First TransPennine Express, can stop in Carnforth. The preliminary maths have already been looked into by the Department for Transport, and a stop at Carnforth on that service would see journey times increased by only a couple of minutes. My constituents, Peter Yates MBE and Robert Swain, conducted a survey of all the trains that passed through Carnforth station in a 10-hour period during the day, and concluded that an extra stop at Carnforth on the main line First TransPennine Express service would not cause any delay to the Virgin trains that pass through the station.
The big problem is trains going north. Geographically, the next town north of Carnforth is Kendal, but to get to Kendal on the train people have to take a train south to Lancaster and then a train north to Kendal, passing through Carnforth on the way back up. That is a huge waste of time and encourages people to use their cars instead of the railway. The other major pull in the area is Windermere. To get to Windermere from Carnforth, people also have to go south in order to go north. If the train from Windermere to Preston could stop at Carnforth, we could welcome more visitors to the “Brief Encounter” café, help tourism in Carnforth, allow commuters to access towns to the north, rather than just to the south, and enable more business to be conducted.
The Lake District hub at the moment is Oxenholme, an extremely small station that is not large enough to keep cars away from other areas of the Lake District. If Carnforth could be the hub, its connections are such that fewer cars would be needed in the countryside. The case for the restoration of the main line platform is only strengthened by HS2 going through the area. When HS2 is built, it will not reach Carnforth, but it will free up a considerable amount of capacity on the main line. Although I understand that no decisions on that will be made until HS2 is near completion, it presents an opportunity for Carnforth station to have even more services stopping at the station.
The people of Carnforth and the wider community would like the platform to be reinstated so that the mainline TransPennine Express train could stop there. How do we go about that? The Department for Transport has told me this is a local decision and it is for Lancashire county council to determine whether such a scheme is a local priority. At the moment, it has not placed it on its priority list. When the Conservative councillor, Tim Ashton, was the portfolio holder for transport at Lancashire county council, he was fully supportive of the reinstatement of the platform. He told the then Secretary of State for Transport of this proposal. However, Tim Ashton is no longer the portfolio holder at the county council and it is now led by the Labour party.
In conclusion, I believe that my constituents in Carnforth have made a strong case for the mail line platforms to be reinstated. I would urge the Minister to ensure that Lancashire county council is made aware of this positive case and is encouraged to conduct a feasibility study, so that the platforms can be restored and Carnforth can once again be a prosperous station which would serve the public as a station should. Mr Davies, thank you so much for letting me address the House.
May I take this opportunity, Mr Davies, to wish you, hon. Members and all the staff of the House a very merry Christmas?
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing the debate—and indeed, on securing one of the last items of parliamentary business for this term. I also welcome the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) to the Front Bench at a transport debate, and I congratulate her on her new role as a rail Minister replacement service. I know that she is familiar with a number of the issues being discussed today, and I hope that she will address the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
As the hon. Gentleman said, Carnforth station is known internationally as the main filming location for “Brief Encounter”. I am sure that the film’s many fans would argue that it is beyond criticism, but speaking as a proud native Lancastrian, I could suggest one improvement and say that it should have been set in Lancashire. Of course, “Brief Encounter” was inexplicably set in the home counties instead, but fortunately, the true location was given away in once scene, as perhaps those in the Gallery will know, by a platform board that advertised services to Hellifield, Skipton, Bradford and Leeds.
Carnforth station is part of Lancashire’s rich cultural and railway heritage, and I join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating the £1.4 million raised by the local community to build a visitors’ centre and restore the station’s buildings, including the famous refreshment room. The refreshment room was described by Celia Johnson’s character as— I will not try her accent—
“the most ordinary place in the world”,
but it certainly does not sound as though that could be said today.
Given the station’s past, I can well understand the frustration expressed by the hon. Gentleman over current service levels. As he said, the long-distance platforms were removed in 1970, and although Carnforth is still an important rail junction, only two platforms now remain in operation. Of course, the plot of “Brief Encounter” frequently relied on Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard being forced to part to change platforms, so I think it is fair to say that some of the romance would be lost today. And although some would say that the nation’s love affair with the railways has been rekindled—with passenger numbers doubling over the last 20 years—Carnforth’s former connections have not been restored.
We all know that there are serious capacity constraints on the west coast main line. It is both a vital transport artery for the north-west and the busiest mixed-use line in Europe. That means that improving services in one area can be detrimental to provision elsewhere. Indeed, I have seen some stations further south, near Stoke, that have had all their services withdrawn over the last decade. When the hon. Gentleman secured a debate on this subject in 2011, the then Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), said:
“Initial analysis by the Department suggests that a call at Carnforth would require a stop at another station to be deleted.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 138.]
When the Minister responds, will she tell us whether that is still the Department’s understanding? What recent discussions has the Department held with Virgin Trains and First TransPennine Express regarding the possibility of stopping at Carnforth, if funding for restoring the platforms is identified? In addition, it would be good to know how the Government plan to make use of the additional paths on the west coast main line, once HS2 provides that essential capacity relief. Opposition Members support HS2, because it will transform the transport connections of the midlands and the north, providing crucial extra capacity and making new journeys possible.
HS2 Ltd has said that it is looking to recruit an experienced operations manager, with a view to planning how HS2 will interact with the existing network. Will the Minister say how the Department for Transport, and for that matter, the Treasury, will support HS2 Ltd’s work? Will it form part of a wider Government strategy for those new journeys? What assessment has been made of Network Rail’s “Better Connections” report, which identified some of the options for improving local journeys in the north?
Passengers will also want to see improvements to their existing services, and I am sure that they share concerns that the process for awarding the new Northern and TransPennine Express contracts has been delayed. Will the Minister confirm press reports that those contracts have been delayed as a result of overruns to the electrification programme? Can she give a revised date for the publication of those documents, which should have been produced this month? Will she also say whether any improvements are planned to the existing services between Barrow-in-Furness and Manchester airport, including to Lancaster, or to the services between Lancaster and Leeds?
I received a written answer, published yesterday, from the rail Minister, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), confirming that the cost of the electrification programme has doubled and that TransPennine electrification has still not been costed. The delays are holding up plans to introduce additional trains to the north, and many of the passengers from Carnforth are still forced to board Pacers for their journeys on Northern services. As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale will know, Pacers are essentially a 1970s British Leyland bus stuck on top of a freight train. They are uncomfortable; they are not compliant with disability access regulations; and they were never intended for many of the long-distance routes that they are used on today.
Of course, it must have seemed like a relief when the Chancellor announced in his autumn statement speech that he was
“replacing the ancient and unpopular Pacer carriages with new and modern trains”—[Official Report, 3 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 313.]
—but as we all know, the devil is in the detail. Indeed, when I turned to page 50 of the green book, it said that the Government would only
“encourage bidders to replace the outdated pacer trains”
“bring all the trains that remain up to modern standards”.
Will the Minister confirm that, in fact, there is no firm commitment to replace all the Pacer trains, and that passengers from Carnforth may be forced to use them for many years to come?
The truth is that this Government have broken their promise on getting rid of the Pacers, even when passengers have seen their fares rise by 20% since 2010. Pacers may be used on Northern services, but TransPennine Express also has serious rolling stock problems to confront. TransPennine Express operates some of the most overcrowded trains in the country, but it is about to lose 13% of its fleet. The Department knew last October that nine TransPennine Express trains would be transferring to Chiltern. The Secretary of State saw a copy of the new lease agreement and did not object. However, without those trains, the operator’s improved May timetable cannot work, and 14 months on, there still is not a solution from the DFT. Indeed, we have been told since March that an answer was on the way, but we have not had it yet. However, we have learned that Ministers are sounding out manufacturers over a possible emergency order of new, diesel trains. That is just nine months after the Rail Delivery Group said that on current assumptions,
“no new diesel vehicles (or other self-powered vehicles) would be required to be built in either CP5 or CP6.”
It is clear that the Government’s plans for the north’s railways are falling apart. Prospective additional trains are stuck in the sidings; electrification is running close to the wire; and passengers are left to foot the bill. Those are some of the immediate issues that affect all rail passengers in the north, and I urge the Government to reconsider their approach to them, alongside the calls to restore Carnforth station’s mainline status. We need to ensure that the north receives improvements to its rail services in both the short and the long term. The cross-party consensus on the need to invest in the railways is immensely valuable, and I hope that I can speak for both sides of the House in saying that we all want to ensure that investment in the north is no brief affair.
I am sure that those who have campaigned for years to restore those mainline platforms must occasionally feel like Trevor Howard as Dr Alec Harvey, who said that
“it seems an eternity since that train went out of the station”,
or like Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson, who said:
“This can’t last. This misery can’t last.”
I wish those campaigners well and I hope that the Minister will address the points raised when she sums up the debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing a further debate on Carnforth station, but first may I extend apologies to you, Mr Davies, to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry)? She is unable to be here to respond to the debate. She will write to our hon. Friend and she pays tribute to the campaigning that he continues to do for his constituents on this important issue.
As has been pointed out, this is my debut at the Dispatch Box, and it is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, especially as we served together on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South for her warm welcome and her—dare I say it?—little joke. I am sure that it could go down well in a Christmas cracker, and I will use it again myself at my next constituency do.
As has been eloquently said, many people will be familiar with Carnforth station only as the setting for Noël Coward’s famous 1945 film “Brief Encounter”, which is commemorated in the excellent heritage centre and refreshment room. Indeed, when I informed my mother this morning about my debut today, she said that she had visited the heritage centre and would thoroughly recommend it to others. However, as my hon. Friend has so eloquently explained, this is about more than a heritage centre. The station plays an important role in supporting the economy of north Lancashire. Good transport links, such as the Furness line linking Carnforth with Barrow, Lancaster and beyond and the links to Morecambe, Skipton and Leeds, are essential to support a growing economy. I acknowledge the importance of good rail services and connections to delivering the economic priorities of our local partners in Lancashire and Cumbria.
I will turn shortly to my hon. Friend’s main concern, the question of reinstating the mainline platforms, on which he has spoken with great clarity, but I want first to assure him that the prospects for Carnforth station are good even without that development. As he observed, Carnforth station has seen encouraging growth in the past few years. The Office of Rail Regulation statistics show that 206,590 passengers used the station in 2013-14. That was an increase of 10,000 on the previous year and 29,000 higher than in 2009-10. We want this station and the services using it to continue to prosper, and this Government’s plans for record investment in the railways and the refranchising programme will help to ensure that.
Long-distance connections from the south, via a change at Lancaster, have been enhanced. From December 2013, Virgin Trains combined the hourly Birmingham to Scotland service with a London to Birmingham service, which improved connectivity from Lancaster to places such as Birmingham International, Coventry and Milton Keynes. Additional capacity has been provided on Virgin Trains services, with 106 additional Pendolino vehicles added to the fleet in 2012.
I recognise that the reduction in through services between Carnforth and Manchester from December 2013 caused much local disappointment. The effect on services to Carnforth is the result of a new timetable that introduced a new electrified TransPennine Express service between Manchester and Scotland from May 2014. The introduction of new electric trains has facilitated an increase in services, including a fifth TransPennine Express train each hour to increase capacity between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and York. Additional TPE services between Manchester, Lancaster and Scotland now offer additional capacity on that popular route.
TransPennine Express has had to decide on the best balance of services to meet its passengers’ needs across the franchise. To provide additional services and capacity on the North TransPennine and Manchester to Scotland routes has required amendments to the overall timetable. Every effort has been made to retain as many services as is practical. Carnforth and stations on the Furness line are being served by through services to and from Manchester airport over and above the minimum number required by the May 2014 passenger service requirement on Mondays to Saturdays.
Let me turn to future developments. To address record and growing demand, we are continuing to invest in the most significant rail modernisation programme for generations. Network Rail’s northern hub programme, together with electrification of routes in the north-west, including the recently announced confirmation of electrification of the Windermere branch, and the North TransPennine line and other enhancements—together adding up to more than £1 billion of investment—will transform rail connectivity across the whole of the north of England by increasing capacity, reducing journey times and facilitating the introduction of cleaner, more reliable electric trains and new direct services. Those investments provide an essential foundation to the wider plans for a northern powerhouse on which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken in recent months. That includes Government backing for the development of a high-speed rail link—HS3—further to improve connectivity between our great northern cities. I am particularly keen to see that happen, because although I represent a Suffolk constituency, I was born in Lancashire and spent my early years there.
As I mentioned, new electric services between Manchester and Scotland and a fifth train per hour on the North TransPennine route have already been introduced. However, there is much more to come. The transformation of Manchester Victoria station is nearly complete, and other schemes will come on-stream in the next few years.
Our new franchising programme is key to delivering the benefits to passengers of the investment. A new directly awarded franchise agreement with Northern Rail, agreed in March this year, sets challenging new targets for customer service. Shortly after that, we concluded an agreement to provide four-coach electric trains on Northern Rail services between Liverpool and Manchester. Those will commence passenger service early in 2015, with further electric trains due to enter service on local routes in the north-west in the next few years.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I am not in a position to give her an answer today, but I am sure that if there are questions that I do not manage to cover in my response, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will write to her.
In June, we launched the competitions for the next TransPennine Express and Northern franchises—they are due to start in February 2016—with a consultation document. We have ambitious plans for rail in the north of England to support the growth of the economy in the north, and those franchises will be key to transforming the way in which rail contributes to communities and businesses across the region—including Carnforth—building on our investment. I am very pleased that we are taking the franchises forward in partnership with the Rail North association of local transport authorities from across the north of England, including Lancashire and Cumbria county councils. Our developing partnership with Rail North is bringing a much stronger local focus to the franchises.
The consultation on the franchises posed important questions relating to the future operation of the Furness line, including the possibility of transferring the Furness line stations and services from TransPennine Express to Northern, and sought views on the appropriate number of through services and shuttle services to Lancaster and which destinations should be served by the through services. We received more than 20,000 responses to the consultation. Those included representations from the Carnforth railway action group, authored, I believe, by Peter Yates, to whom I pay tribute.
I welcome the fact that the response to the consultation has been so strong. It is important for us to hear the views of the public and stakeholders, so that we can take those into account in developing the specifications for the two franchises. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale that before reaching final decisions, we will give very careful consideration to the views expressed. I hope that he will understand that I cannot go further at this stage. The invitations to tender for the franchises are due to be issued early next year.
Work is already under way, led by Network Rail, to consider the strategic priorities for further investment in our railways in the next control period from 2019. Network Rail is undertaking a long-term planning process in consultation with industry partners and other stakeholders, including local enterprise partnerships, to develop the industry’s priorities and inform the Government’s next rail investment strategy. Key future stages relevant to the services at Carnforth are a refresh of the industry’s electrification strategy, which is due for publication for consultation in spring next year, and the northern route study, on which work is due to commence in early 2016.
I recognise that there is strong local interest in the potential for the electrification of the Furness line. My hon. Friend may be aware that to inform decisions on the next generation of electrification projects in the north of England, the Secretary of State announced in December last year the creation of a taskforce consisting of three MPs from the north of England, Network Rail and two council leaders nominated by Rail North to advise him on the priorities.
The taskforce is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale that it is carefully considering all remaining non-electrified rail lines in the north of England, including both the lines that serve Carnforth. The taskforce expects to submit its interim report in early 2015, to enable its recommendations to be considered alongside Network Rail’s draft electrification strategy. Through a supporting stakeholder working group, which includes local authorities, the taskforce is drawing on a wide range of relevant information including local enterprise partnerships’ strategic economic plans.
Looking further ahead, to provide the capacity and connectivity the country needs in the longer term, the Government continue to progress High Speed 2. I welcome my hon. Friend’s support, and the support of the hon. Member for Nottingham South, for that vital infrastructure project. As has been noted, HS2 offers the prospect of faster connections from Carnforth and the Furness line to London and the midlands. We are considering the impact of HS2 on other routes, and Network Rail is closely involved in the discussions. The Government are fully behind HS2, and the Bill is being considered in Select Committee.
I have heard my hon. Friend’s strong representations in favour of the reinstatement of the mainline platforms at Carnforth station. Government policy makes it clear that it is for local bodies to decide whether that would be the best way to meet local transport needs. Local bodies would have to prioritise that solution to receive funding from the resources that the Government make available to local bodies through the local growth fund, and they have not chosen to do so to date. The Department would, of course, be happy to provide advice and guidance should those local bodies change their minds.
My understanding is that reinstating the platforms is within the remit of the county council, in any case. Will my hon. Friend join me in some kind of communication with the county council to ask it to push forward a feasibility study for these platforms to be reinstated?
My hon. Friend has taken the words right out of my mouth. I urge the council to give every support to the project that he is backing so strongly; it would be of great merit for the residents of Carnforth. Although not everyone might agree with my hon. Friend that Carnforth station is the centre of the rail universe, it is an important connection for many people and businesses in that community.
My hon. Friend alluded to the process followed to close the platforms in the 1970s. I assure him that the Government are of the opinion that the mainline platforms were correctly closed. There was no statutory requirement at the time for any form of consent to be sought for the partial closure of a station. I understand that the Department wrote to his constituent in detail on the matter on 8 December this year.
I hope that my hon. Friend can persuade the council to look in more depth at the possibility of reopening the platforms. It may be helpful, however, to remind hon. Members of some of the operational and commercial challenges that would need to be addressed in developing any viable proposal. A key issue is whether a proposal to stop mainline services at reinstated platforms at Carnforth would work operationally and commercially. As was indicated in the last debate on the subject in July 2011, line capacity would be reduced.
The west coast main line is heavily used, with up to three long-distance services per hour between London, Birmingham and Manchester, and Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus regular freight services. Those trains are already popular and well loaded, and further growth is expected. Network Rail’s 2011 route utilisation strategy for the west coast main line corroborates the heavy usage of the line and the resulting capacity problems.
The journey time of a service that called at reinstated platforms at Carnforth would be increased. Further examination, with Network Rail and the relevant train operator, would be required to determine the potential commercial impact of that, and to determine the impact of such a stop on other services that used the line. The modernisation of the west coast main line and the introduction of the December 2008 timetable delivered some significant journey time reductions and more frequent services, which have delivered significant revenue growth since December 2008 and increased rail’s share of the total travel market on the routes served by the west coast main line. Rail serves those markets well, and there are strong calls for further journey time reductions.
My hon. Friend referred to the potential impact of HS2. I caution that released capacity is likely to be on sections of the west coast main line further to the south that are bypassed by the new high-speed line. Nevertheless, the advent of HS2 services will provide a further useful stimulus to rail demand in the area. All those issues, and others, mean that stopping any service at Carnforth could involve a number of trade-offs, now and in the future, which are less straightforward than they might first seem.
It is already possible to travel directly between Carnforth and stations to the south, including Preston and Manchester. As my hon. Friend has noted, that means that the main benefits of stopping Windermere services at reinstated mainline platforms at Carnforth would be to create better journey opportunities between Carnforth and stations to the north, including Oxenholme, Penrith, and Carlisle, and to provide better connections to the north from other stations on the Furness and Skipton lines.
I certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of developing a viable proposition at some point, but local authorities and local enterprise partnerships must want it to progress, and they must back it financially. They did not identify such a proposition as a priority in their response to the franchise consultation. The position of the current holder of the TransPennine Express franchise is encouraging, but that franchise is coming to an end and my hon. Friend will need to encourage the local authority to engage with the shortlisted bidders for the new franchise as they develop their bids next year.
I was about to answer one of the hon. Lady’s questions. She asked about the delay to Northern invitations to tender. My understanding is that, as stated by the Chancellor in the autumn statement, the invitations to tender will be published in early 2015, but the date for publication will be announced in due course. Does the hon. Lady still want to intervene?
In conclusion, I should say that my hon. Friend has been a real champion for his constituents. He has achieved a lot for them, including the securing of the Heysham-M6 link road. I can see how hard he is working for his constituents on this important rail matter. I hope I have been able to assure him that the Government’s plans to invest in, and develop the services on, the rail network to address record levels of demand provide the conditions under which Carnforth station can continue to prosper and develop its important role in supporting the economy of north Lancashire.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s continued and assiduous campaigning on the matter, and I hope that he will pursue the case for reinstating the mainline platforms with Lancashire county council and the local enterprise partnership. They would need to take the lead, working with Network Rail and a train operator, in establishing whether there is an operationally and financially viable proposition.
If there are questions that I have not been able to cover, I will ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to write and respond to those points. As we approach the busiest weekend of the year for rail services, I wish all hon. Members a merry Christmas and I hope that everyone gets home safely on the train tonight.
I am grateful to you, Mr Davies, for the opportunity to thank Members for their cross-party, collegiate support for reinstating the platforms at Carnforth station. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and I congratulate her on her sterling work at the Dispatch Box. I also thank her for helping me with this subject on every possible occasion.
Question put and agreed to.