(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the major disruptions to Britain’s rail network over the Christmas period.
As I made clear at the time, the disruption at King’s Cross and Paddington after Christmas was totally unacceptable. Passengers deserve a reliable rail service, they deserve clear information, and they deserve rapid help when things go wrong. I am sorry that in this case they did not get those things.
Before I give the House further details of what happened, I wish to pay tribute to the 11,000 engineers who were working on the track across the country over the holiday period on 300 projects at some 2,000 work sites, often in difficult conditions—a record level of activity and investment and part of the £38 billion being invested in our railways by this Government, working to create capacity, increase reliability and make our railways safer. The vast majority of complex projects were completed on time. For instance, a vital new flyover opened today at Reading—a complex scheme on time and on budget—and London Bridge reopened after key work on the Thameslink programme which will continue for some time. When things go wrong, however, we expect the industry to have proper contingency plans, so let me turn to what happened at Christmas and what is being done to put them right.
First, at King’s Cross, Network Rail had in place a vital scheme to replace and modernise some seven sets of points and crossings, and associated track and overhead wiring. It involved the replacement of more than 1 km of track, some 12,000 tonnes of ballast and 14 dedicated engineering trains. That work needed to be done and was planned for Christmas to limit impact. It had been planned that two lines would be opened on 27 December to operate a limited service in and out of King’s Cross, but some elements of the work took longer than expected. A decision was taken to run an alternative service terminating at Finsbury Park. As a result, many passenger journeys were seriously delayed and disrupted. The planned modified services were able to restart on Sunday 28 December.
Secondly, at Paddington, work on signalling was intended to allow lines to reopen in the morning. Safety testing meant that trains were able to operate only as far as Ealing Broadway until mid-afternoon. Neither of those situations should have occurred. It is inevitable that major investment in the railways will, from time to time, mean some disruption, but all of us who use the railways need Network Rail to complete such vital engineering works on time, as were most of its other schemes. Let me turn now to the response.
I worked closely with Network Rail on the day and afterwards, and I have left it in no doubt of the importance of getting this right. Mark Carne, the chief executive, ordered an urgent review of what went wrong. A report, which will be published, will be provided by the end of this week. One of the questions that needs to be answered relates to the timing of its major works programmes. The industry’s conventional wisdom is that it is generally better to carry out major disruptive work over holiday periods when passenger numbers are lighter than usual. The Office of Rail Regulation is conducting its own parallel investigation, which will determine whether any regulatory enforcement action is required and ensure that lessons are learned. It will work closely with Passenger Focus.
I and my officials were briefed on key elements of Network Rail’s engineering programme and the associated planned changes to services. We were not, however, involved in planning for the operational aspect of the works programme or the contingency planning. That is as it should be. Network Rail is an operationally independent body and it needs to be able to get on with its job without political interference. If it gets things wrong it will be held to account. We have made it clear to the company that we expect it to deliver the outcomes for which it has been funded over the current control period, including the largest programme of investment since the Victorian era and a reliable daily service. When services do not run as planned, passengers are entitled to be reimbursed if they are delayed significantly. Train operators have compensation schemes in place. In the new franchises, we are improving compensation compared with that left by the previous Government.
Things should have been done better. I have set out my understanding of the events at King’s Cross and Paddington after Christmas. The level of disruption is wholly unacceptable and I am confident that Network Rail will learn the necessary lessons to minimise the chances of it happening again.
In his new year message, the Prime Minister said that Britain faced a choice between competence or chaos. Ministers at the Department for Transport clearly did not get the memo, because at Christmas we saw both chaos and incompetence on our rail network, resulting in misery for passengers who have seen their fares rocket by more than 20% since 2010—three times faster than the growth of wages. The recent chaos all started with the Secretary of State’s decision to allow a near shutdown of train services on Boxing day, letting 17 operators run no service whatever with vastly reduced services everywhere else. The next day, work overran at more than 200 engineering sites, resulting in thousands of passengers facing appalling disruption.
It was right that Network Rail accepted its responsibilities, and so too should the contractors, but is it not also time for the Secretary of State finally to face up to his share of the responsibility? The Office of Rail Regulation published a damning report back in November on Network Rail’s performance. Was this report not a massive warning sign for Ministers that there would be serious delivery challenges associated with the planned maintenance work over Christmas? What assurances were sought by Ministers on whether the plans for the Boxing day shutdown were robust enough, whether adequate contingencies were in place and whether there was sufficient resilience in the system to ensure that continued disruption would not run into the weekend?
Where were Ministers during the rail chaos? They were AWOL. It was only after days of disarray that the Secretary of State finally put down his selection box and leapt to action, releasing a statement on the Saturday evening in a desperate attempt to shift the blame entirely on to others. On Sunday morning, the rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), sent a message to the thousands of passengers who had had their Boxing day and weekend ruined. What words of sympathy and consolation did she offer? She said she was “so chuffed” with the state of the railways—Calamity Claire, the gift that keeps on giving.
These problems happened on this Government’s watch. The warning signs were there. The Secretary of State has spoken about the lessons that must be learned, but must they not be learned by Ministers too and an apology be made to the travelling public?
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman did not hear me apologise. I think his script was prepared before he heard my answer. I have made it fairly clear that what happened was unacceptable, whereas all we have heard from him is empty noise—from a party with no plan and no ideas, from a man who was special adviser at the Department for Transport when Railtrack collapsed and the network fell apart, from somebody who knows all about chaos, because that is exactly what he caused then. He called his predecessors “trainspotters” in the Daily Mirror, but now he pretends to know how to run the railways. I will not take too many lessons from him.
The hon. Gentleman says that fares have gone up by 20%, but in fact, in real terms, they have gone up by 3%, and this year’s rise was the lowest in a decade. It was his party in government that put them up by 42% in cash terms—a policy that we have ended. He said that Network Rail’s bonuses should reflect what has happened, and I agree, but will he add that the bonus payments agreed by Labour in 2009-10 were nine times this year’s figures?
Where was the Secretary of State over Christmas?
Where was I at Christmas?
Order. The precise details of how the Secretary of State spent his Christmas are a matter for him, as they are for each of us individually. He is answering good-humouredly and should be given the opportunity to continue.
It will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, that I spent Christmas in Derbyshire, and I was in constant touch with Network Rail. Yes, I issued a statement on the Saturday—let me take the hon. Gentleman through these things: Christmas day was a Thursday, the problem occurred on Friday and I spoke to Mark Carne on the Friday and the Saturday and have spoken to him several times since the incident.
As I said earlier, this was the biggest set of engineering works taking place over Christmas. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Secretary of State should tell Network Rail which safety aspects and bits of engineering works it should not do? Is that the kind of micro-management we could expect from him? He needs to read Labour’s last policy document before he was appointed—he is the third shadow Secretary of State I have encountered since becoming Secretary of State, and he obviously cannot keep up with what has been said before. Previously, Labour has said that the Secretary of State should not micro-manage the industry. I agree.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the investment in financial terms and in the work done on improving and upgrading our rail network is warmly welcomed, but that the other side of coin is that there is a responsibility through Network Rail to ensure minimal disruption to commuters and passengers—not simply during key holiday periods but on every other weekend of the year—who too often hear on a Monday morning about the overrunning of engineering works and cancelled services? What can be done to hold Network Rail more to account to minimise such problems?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. The problem happens when we are doing the sort of massive upgrade to the system that we are doing. Over the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, some £38.5 billion will be spent on upgrading the railway infrastructure, and some of that will lead to delays through overrunning engineering works. I know that particular problems have affected my right hon. Friend’s constituency over some weekends, and I think we should look further to see whether there is a better way of doing the engineering work. Let me point out that 18 months ago, over a period of eight weeks, Nottingham station was closed down while 2,000 people were working on it. That is sometimes an option, but when we are talking about the main London termini, that is really not an option. [Official Report, 7 January 2015, Vol. 590, c. 1MC.]
Over Christmas too many passengers suffered twice—first from major disruption, when any contingency plan simply failed; and, secondly, from lack of information about what was going on. Does the Secretary of State believe that this was about individual events or was it indicative of a major problem with major works on the railways for which ministerial involvement was required?
I partly agree with the hon. Lady, and I know that her Select Committee will see both Mark Carne and Robin Gisby for a hearing next week. I am sure the Committee will pursue the matter with further questions. The truth of the matter is that there is no doubt that there was a failure to communicate with the passenger. The decision was an attempt in certain ways to help some passengers, but with hindsight Finsbury Park was never really an option for main trains to terminate, and perhaps that should not have been done. However, not to have done that would have meant cancelling at short notice many trains on which people were relying.
Some of my constituents were badly inconvenienced, and I would like to hear the Secretary of State’s confirmation that they can claim compensation, which would be some recompense. What else can be done to get it over to Network Rail that it needs to raise its standards of customer care, concern and efficiency, because it is still vastly inefficient by global standards?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. Compensation is something to which passengers are entitled if the delays were severe and over a certain period. That should happen. On the point about Network Rail overall, as I have said, a number of the projects undertaken have been completed successfully—not least one in Reading that affects my right hon. Friend’s constituency. Anyone using that line can see the huge investment, not just in the station but in the new viaduct, which will have a huge impact on reliability for my right hon. Friend’s constituents and others.
I note that the Secretary of State said that, with hindsight, Finsbury Park was perhaps not the best option. Would it not have been better to have had some foresight and some contingency planning in relation to that?
As I have pointed out, most of the schemes with which Network Rail was involved were done on time and to schedule. Of course lessons will be learned from the incidents around Finsbury Park; I would expect them to be. This brings us back to whether during huge engineering works we want to close down the whole system or take action at a time that one hopes will be the least inconvenient for the vast majority of travelling passengers. I believe that this country’s railways and the people who work on them have seen the development of a hugely successful industry—moving from 750 million passenger journeys a year 20 years ago to 1.6 billion journeys last year. That should be regarded as a great success story.
Is not what is happening on my right hon. Friend’s watch a massive restoration and renewal of our railway system? That must carry more risk of delays, but experience shows that delays do not occur only at Christmas. Should Network Rail consider prescribing a rather longer period in which work should be completed? Passengers will at least be understanding if they are reasonably confident that there will be a return to normal service at a given date, and that they will not be as massively disrupted as they were this Christmas.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. It may be possible for that issue to be revisited by the inquiry that is being conducted by the Office of Rail Regulation, and the industry’s inquiry relating to the best time for big repair works to be carried out. In the past, the aim has always been to carry out repairs over the holiday period, because that disrupts fewer people. As I have said, there were works on nearly every section of the railway throughout the country: on the midland main line, on the Scotland, Anglia and Wales lines, at Reading, and on the west coast and east coast main lines, and a huge amount of work was also being done at London Bridge.
Following another rail crisis some six years ago, it was decided to take many engineering staff in house. Now similar problems have arisen, so it can only be that Network Rail’s management is at fault. Is it not time to seek a root-and-branch investigation of Network Rail’s management systems, and to look again at the much better methods of operation employed by British Rail before the disaster of privatisation?
The hon. Gentleman is renowned for his rose-tinted glasses, which are now returning him to a period when there were 750 million passenger journeys a year. Last year there were 1.6 billion, and I regard that as a tremendous success. More people are using the railways in this country than have done so for many a generation. It is only the hon. Gentleman—along with, perhaps, other Members who are sitting with him on that Bench—who looks back with rose-tinted glasses to a period when everything was fine.
Will my right hon. Friend explain from which budget the fines and compensation will be paid? Is it not perverse that the budget that should be paying for these very improvements is to be used to compensate the companies that have been inconvenienced? Will my right hon. Friend look very closely at the way in which the Office of Rail Regulation has operated since the changes were made, to establish whether it is fit for purpose and is holding Network Rail to account?
I think that the ORR does a good job in holding Network Rail to account, but I will of course take seriously what my hon. Friend has said about its performance. If she wants to send me further details of her complaints, I will certainly consider them.
As the Member who represents Finsbury Park, may I ask the Secretary of State to say a big thank you to all the staff who coped with an utterly impossible position on Saturday 27 December, when the station was so overcrowded with passengers? They deserve our recognition and thanks for the hard work that they do.
The Secretary of State will recall that we had a meeting in his office last year about the future of Finsbury Park station, where a piecemeal improvement has been taking place over many years. Does he not agree that there should now be a serious examination of the capacity problem at that station, given the increasing number of rail passengers, the dangerously overcrowded underground platforms, and a management mix between Transport for London and a train operator on the main line? Will he meet me again so that we can have a new discussion about Finsbury Park and the need for it to be improved?
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking all the people who were involved in ensuring that the vast majority of the vast number of people who turned up at Finsbury Park were kept as informed as possible, in extremely difficult circumstances. This is certainly one of the issues in which I intend to take a further interest, and I shall be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, possibly at Finsbury Park.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the successful implementation of a very large number of works. Nevertheless, what happened at King’s Cross was inexcusable, and—as will be discovered when the report is published—represents a failure of both management and leadership, with which I hope my right hon. Friend will deal.
May I also ask my right hon. Friend to turn his attention to the East Grinstead to Victoria line, which has been running with similar impediments and terrible inconvenience, largely because the rail companies cannot get enough people to drive the trains? Drivers are available, but they are apparently taking part in training courses. Things would be in a pretty pickle if British Airways did not have enough pilots, would they not?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for acknowledging some of the difficulties and the difficult conditions facing those engineers working over the Christmas period in getting, as I have said, most of the schemes they embarked on back up and running on time; so when things go wrong, it is particularly disappointing. As to his point about the East Grinstead line, I will look at that, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry).
I wrote to the Secretary of State in early December suggesting that Network Rail was incompetent, responsible for serial disruptions on the line to Clacton and East Anglia and unaccountable. Rather than make excuses and justify shoddy performance, will he consider serious, grown-up reform to make sure that this public quango is properly and meaningfully accountable to the long-suffering public?
There is unprecedented development on the railway network. I think that is absolutely vital, and I am very keen that a lot of the first-class pieces of engineering done by Network Rail continue to be done by Network Rail, along with the huge investment that we are making in the whole system.
My constituents were caught up in the chaos on the east coast main line on the 27th, like so many others. They recall poor communication not just during their journey but in advance of it, for planning purposes. They were, of course, also caught up in the Finsbury Park chaos and held around Stevenage for anything up to two hours. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that communication is improved and our public transport network is properly operational throughout holiday periods?
I do not want to keep on repeating myself. I have talked about the necessity of doing these big engineering projects over what is usually the less busy period, as opposed to creating the scale of disruption that would occur if they were done in the normal working week or at other times of the year. We will need to look at this; some of the suggestions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) made that clear. On communications, I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman: the communications were not up to scratch in any way, shape or form, and the whole industry has got to try to address that.
The south-west was cut off from the UK last winter and Network Rail performed miracles in getting that line back up and running. I therefore find it extraordinary that reasons such as the weather have been used to excuse the chaos and incompetence of this debacle, particularly out of King’s Cross. Why did the Secretary of State feel that it was not necessary for Ministers to ask for a basic reassurance that an overrun on any of the big programmes could be managed? Why were contingency plans not in place, and why was the rail regulator warning not adhered to?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about Network Rail re-establishing the Dawlish link last winter. I would say that that also came after some very bad weather, which created the problem, and some of the work on that coastal line is still ongoing, 12 months later. On the work that was taking place over this Christmas period, there were 2,000 locations nationwide and the vast majority of work was done on time and to the accepted standards. Two locations had particular problems, and we need to learn the lessons from them and make sure they do not happen again.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks, and I agree with my right hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). One of the problems is that these works are not necessarily one-offs, and they are recognised only when they go wrong and not when they go well. My constituents in West Drayton will be pleased to know that they can get some compensation, but can the Secretary of State think of any way, perhaps from his previous incarnation, in which some incentivisation for Network Rail, whether by carrots or possibly sticks, might be useful?
I am not sure that thinking about a previous incarnation would serve me very effectively in my job as Secretary of State for Transport. I would point out to my right hon. Friend that the carrots are there, and that the Office of Rail Regulation might well be providing the sticks. It is right to record our recognition of the tremendous work that was done by many engineers across this period. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) has just said, last Easter most Members were praising Network Rail for the fantastic job it had done in restoring the Dawlish link.
Does the Secretary of State accept that an underlying problem is the fragmentation of the railways, with no single guiding mind responsible for providing an integrated railway system? Will he look again at my Railways Bill, which precisely would create a coherent railway system and bring it back into public ownership? This is not about nostalgia. We have only to look at the success of the east coast main line. When East Coast was in public ownership, it delivered far greater public satisfaction than any of the other lines.
I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Network Rail staff on the extraordinary maintenance programme and welcome his swift action in calling Network Rail to account. Will he assure the House that when Network Rail reports to him it will, first, ensure that the systemic failure at King’s Cross is not repeated and does not become endemic across the industry; and, secondly, that, as more services become operational, punctuality is improved?
Network Rail will publish the report that has been ordered by the chief executive by the end of this week, in time for the appearance of the chief executive and Robin Gisby before the Transport Select Committee. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance to commuters of the railway’s reliability.
The Secretary of State should have had a warning about these problems from Network Rail’s performance in the run-up to Christmas. If he had been travelling on Southeastern Trains, he would have suffered a great deal of disruption on several days during that period. If he had been on top of his game, he would have asked Network Rail about its capacity to manage the engineering schemes, but he failed to do so. What sanctions will he put in place so that the management of Network Rail can be held to account for their failures over the Christmas period?
I will go back to the Department and try to find the letter that the hon. Gentleman sent me warning me that the possibility of delays was so obvious. I think he is speaking with the benefit of hindsight, rather than having warned us about the delays beforehand. I travel on many different parts of the rail network, and I see the huge amount of work that is being carried out on it.
The Southern commuters I represent in Redhill faced a total suspension of services into London Bridge between 20 December and 4 January. They now face three years of reduced service and today, the first day back, the service collapsed, apparently because of signal problems. At a public meeting with me, Southern undertook to explore how it could reduce the cost of season tickets for those long-suffering commuters over this period, but it is now hiding behind its relationship with the Department for Transport. Will the Secretary of State and the rail Minister work with me and Southern to find a way of ensuring that my commuters pay a fair price for a much reduced service?
London Bridge is going through one of the biggest transformations that any station is likely to go through. It has some 220,000 daily users, and this work cannot be undertaken without causing some disruption. Those of us who were using St Pancras station when it was experiencing disruption for many years will know that, at the end of the day, we ended up with a far better station. I accept my hon. Friend’s point about the in-between periods. The rail Minister and I will be more than happy to meet him and to talk through this programme, which is, as he says, going to go on for three years.
At what point was the Secretary of State aware of the contingency plan that Network Rail had put in place to funnel passengers to a clearly inadequate solution through Finsbury Park? Why were solutions such as using the Hertford loop or allowing commuters from north Yorkshire, Teesside and the north-east to use their tickets to go through St Pancras to Sheffield and Leeds, so that they could connect with Transpennine and other services, not examined?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I was told of the difficulties on the Saturday afternoon. I spoke to Mark Carne then or at least on the Saturday evening—I would have to check that exactly, as I had several conversations with him over the Christmas holiday period. The hon. Gentleman’s point about re-routing on the Midland main line was interesting and I do want to check how the contingency arrangements were worked out, as I do not think they were worked out satisfactorily.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the situation was inadequate and unacceptable. Does he agree that when such situations occur passengers want information quickly, but that an inadequate number of staff were available? Does he also agree, however, that rather than jump to conclusions, as the shadow Minister has, the best way forward is to await the various reports? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will act on their recommendations?
Indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will not just get that report—he serves on the Transport Committee, along with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), and I am sure it will also issue a report, which I will look at with great interest. The point just made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) about communications in respect of alternative uses and other lines is valid.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, specifically in relation to what happened at King’s Cross, the travelling public will not be impressed with his bland assertion that “some aspects” of the work were delayed? Does he know which aspects were delayed? Is he able to share that with the House? Does he accept that the travelling public, including those poor people caught up at Finsbury Park, feel that so long as Network Rail can get away with just saying, “Aspects of the work were delayed”, these delays will continue to happen?
I referred at the start of my statement to the seven points being changed at King’s Cross and the amount of work that was being done. The work over the Christmas period amounted to a £200 million investment—by far the biggest investment in the railways over the Christmas period for many years.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those Labour Members who are hostile to a privatised railway and yearn for a return to public sector railways need to be reminded that Network Rail is a public sector operator? Given that it is in the public sector, will he urgently review its governance structure, because the absurd sub-board of 30 to 50 supposedly independent members seems to be inadequately scrutinising the board of directors and the chief executive?
My hon. Friend makes interesting points that are worthy of a longer debate rather than just a very short answer. The truth is that Network Rail was reclassified last September when it came on to the public books. What I felt then was the most important thing, and still do, is that the work being done as a result of the huge investment that is going in to make the railway both safer and a better system should go on with minimal disruption. The executive board he mentions is not of the size he suggests, and it is a way of trying to involve the general public as well. But the points he makes concern issues I will certainly look at.
We have heard much rhetoric from the Secretary of State about additional investment in the railways. In December, did not his Department, under his direction, cancel the investment in phases 1 and 2 of modular signalling improvements in north Wales? Will he confirm that he has authorised that?
What I will confirm is that we are investing some £38 billion in the railways, which is more than any previous Government have invested. In 13 years, Labour electrified 10 miles of track. We will be electrifying more than 800 miles, which is a record of which this Government are incredibly proud. [Official Report, 7 January 2015, Vol. 590, c. 1-2MC.]
Under nationalisation, the railways suffered from decades of neglect and under-investment. I pay tribute to Network Rail for the work it is doing to sort out that problem, particularly as my constituents of Elmet and Rothwell regularly use the east coast main line. Does my right hon. Friend find it incredible that many Opposition Members feel that the answer is to nationalise the railways and go back to the bad old days?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As I have said, we have seen a tremendous increase in the importance of the railways. I do not want to bore the House, but I will repeat the figures that I have already mentioned. Under British Rail, 750 million journeys were made every year. Last year, the figure was 1.6 billion. Growth year on year is the result of the way in which the franchises are selling tickets and promoting the railways.
The Secretary of State quite properly said that the network failure was unacceptable, and he quite properly said that Network Rail would be held to account. But he did not say how it would be held to account. Will he please advise the House what he is doing to hold it to account, and what penalties it will pay?
I have mentioned two reports that are under way. One will be given to the chief executive of Network Rail by the end of the week. It will be made public in time for his appearance before the Select Committee. The Office of Rail Regulation is rightly investigating what happened at King’s Cross and Paddington. When I have those reports, I will consider what further action to take.
Is it not worth noting that some railway companies such as Chiltern Railways were able to run a service on Boxing day? Indeed, as a consequence of privatisation and investment by Chiltern Railways, running times between Banbury and London have been halved and we are now seeing more passengers being carried faster on certain railway lines than at any time in the history of the railways.
Indeed, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the improvement in services in his area. We are hearing further calls for even greater improvements, particularly in capacity, as more people are using the railways. But I agree with him about what Chiltern Railways has done for his constituency and for the constituencies along that line.
What lessons has the Secretary of State learned from this sorry episode over the Christmas period? Does he recognise that the frustration comes not just from cancellations and long delays but from the complexity of the compensation system, with different train companies applying different terms and conditions? There are also times when people end up on a rail replacement bus having paid top fares for a rail journey.
The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions. I will try to answer them all. The new franchises I am issuing have changed the way in which compensation is awarded, and they are a great improvement on those awarded by the previous Government. He also asked me about bus replacement services. If he wants us to carry out improvements on the network, alternatives have to be made available. I accept that our changes and improvements are an issue, but we are investing a record £38.5 billion in the railways between 2014 and 2019. [Official Report, 7 January 2015, Vol. 590, c. 2MC.]
Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on whether the report will be able to shed light on who was warning that the risks of this engineering programme were uncontainable and likely to spill over into the commuting timetable? Is it not important that Network Rail improves its risk management and learns how to talk about risk more openly and publicly, rather than the report’s simply allocating blame and punishment, which would not be a constructive way forward?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to learn the lessons from any such incident. I am not aware of receiving any letters from the shadow Secretary of State before the incident saying that we were trying to do too much. In fact, I am not sure that I had any representations from any Members saying that we were trying to do too much and were too adventurous. My hon. Friend is right that we must learn the lessons and ensure that we do not have similar incidents in the future.
Why does the Secretary of State pretend he is in charge when the reality is that the Network Rail board reports to its members—the 46 public members identified by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone)—and a similar number of industry vested interests? Does the Secretary of State not understand that the board was set up in such a way by the previous Government only to try to get borrowing off the books? Now that that has failed, why does he not deal with this preposterous management structure?
As I said earlier, the simple fact is that Network Rail is challenged at the moment with the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era. Indeed, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency a brand-new station is being built by Network Rail. Perhaps he wants it cancelled; I will take that as a representation.
My constituents coming from Biggleswade, Sandy and Arlesey into King’s Cross were of course inconvenienced and annoyed by what happened, but they are sensible enough to appreciate that the improvements being done were for their benefit and for the benefit of the line, as they have seen over the past few years. May they also add their sensible voices to those expressing concern about any possible sanction impacting on investment in further improvements rather than on those who made the decisions in the first place?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we do nothing to put back the very ambitious programme for improvements to our railways that will, in the long term, benefit all our constituents.
The Secretary of State seems to want to blame the shadow Secretary of State and other Members of the House for not warning him that this was about to happen. When he said sorry in his original reply, was he taking responsibility personally as Secretary of State for Transport for the chaos that occurred or was he simply apologising on somebody else’s behalf?
I was saying as Secretary of State for Transport that I was very sorry for any inconvenience to passengers. Along with the chief executive of Network Rail, I have put in place measures to ensure that we learn from what went wrong in these incidents, which were clearly unacceptable. The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that when I made these points in the last Transport questions and in giving evidence to the Select Committee just before Christmas, nobody said that we were being over-ambitious.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the clear announcement he has made today and add my thanks for the work done by Network Rail in Dawlish. Will he confirm that improvements to signalling down to my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency will deliver a more sustainable railway line that will get trains there much more quickly—in three hours—and that trains will arrive in Plymouth before 9 o’clock in the morning?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the valiant campaign he has led to ensure that he gets faster train services to his constituency, pointing out how important they are for his city. I hope to be able to improve on his campaign so that he gets the services that are wanted for the constituency.
After the Christmas shambles, I was pleased to see that the chief executive of Network Rail voluntarily said that he would not take his bonus of £34,000. Has the Secretary of State considered introducing performance-related pay for rail bosses, in the same way as his Government advocate it for teachers?
I do not think I will take too many lessons from the Labour party about bonuses. In 2009-10, the bonuses paid to Network Rail were £2.3 billion; this year, it was going to be £260,000. I think there should be carrots and sticks, and, if the criteria set are met, a bonus is a way of rewarding the people directly involved in providing services. [Official Report, 7 January 2015, Vol. 590, c. 2-4MC.]
The football fixtures were published in July last year, with a full programme of matches scheduled for Boxing day. There were no national rail services that day—clearly that decision was taken at some stage during the year. What is inexcusable is the complete lack of communication to football fans across the country about what alternative arrangements should have been made. What can my right hon. Friend offer the inconvenienced football fans who were desperately seeking an alternative way to travel on Boxing day?
One of the things I am not responsible for—I do not think any member of the Government is—is the fixture list of football clubs. Perhaps they need to answer the question why some of the fixtures are so far apart in the country at a time when, as has been the case for many a year, there is no rail operation because of engineering work on the lines. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about what should change in the considerations. I do not think football fixtures will be at the top of the priorities, but obviously we should take an interest.
My constituents have been contacting me, concerned about the squeeze on their living standards from a 20% increase in rail fares since 2010. How can the Secretary of State make sure that there is no repeat of the chaos and that rail passengers get the service that they are more than paying for?
I do not know if that is a spending commitment that will be matched by those on the Opposition Front Bench. It is no good complaining about the level of investment taking place and then saying that somehow there is a bigger pot of money available to subsidise or support the rail industry. That is just not practicable.
I pay tribute to the Network Rail workers and contractors who performed such excellent work on the major renovation at Norton Bridge in Staffordshire, with the new flyover of the west coast main line, but will my right hon. Friend consider what more can be done to help travellers to complete disrupted rail journeys? Often, they find themselves in difficult places at 10 o’clock at night and cannot make the last leg of their journey. I believe that Network Rail has a responsibility in such circumstances. I had to go to Derby to pick up relatives and bring them back to Staffordshire, and as much as I love Derbyshire, I prefer to be in Staffordshire for Christmas.
I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend loves Derbyshire. That may be a feeling the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and I share with him. I would point out that, as he rightly says, the major bottleneck at Stafford and Norton Bridge has now been unblocked, enabling faster, more frequent and reliable services for passengers. Engineers carried out essential bridge and track work at Norton Bridge and renewed the signals and overhead wires at Stafford, forming a key part of an overall project costing some £250 million. Although my hon. Friend did suffer some inconvenience, I hope the benefits of the overall project will be longer lasting.
The Secretary of State is a man of integrity. He has apologised and he has accepted that both the contingency arrangements and communications were not adequate. Has he had a chance to assess whether the vast amount of work that Network Rail undertook to do at King’s Cross was in fact too much within the time available?
That is one of the questions I want the report to address. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Transport Committee and I will be interested to see its report, knowing that Mark Carne and Robin Gisby will be giving evidence to the Committee next week.
Does the Secretary of State agree that this issue is not simply about late-running engineering works and engineering blockades but important infrastructure such as Dover Priory railway station car park, which is even more late-running than the engineering works we have seen? Does that not underline the need to look at the wider structure of Network Rail, the incentives for efficiency and excellence, and the delivery of projects on time?
As I said, the whole upgrading of the rail network cannot be done without disruption in certain areas, meaning that at certain stages closures have to take place. It would not otherwise be possible safely to do the work that has been required. My hon. Friend’s wider point is a valid one that we will want to address following the experiences we had.
First Great Western has assured me that it tried its utmost to keep passengers informed about what was going on at Paddington on 27 December, but one of the problems was that Network Rail seemed unable to give it any clear estimates of when the work would be completed, and there were lots of false assurances. How can the Secretary of State ensure that this will not happen again? It has been pointed out to me that it happened last year, in similar circumstances, and the year before as well. Can we be sure that it will not happen next year too?
I agree that a lot more can and should be done about communicating what is going on in the rail system, whether by Network Rail or individual train operating companies. When I meet the Rail Delivery Group and the management of Network Rail, I will stress that the whole industry has to address that in future.