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Railway Improvements

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

Network Rail is delivering an unprecedented £38 billion investment programme for the period from 2014 to 2019, which will transform the infrastructure on the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network. Passengers will also see significant improvements in rolling stock, thanks to the Government’s unprecedented investment and the changes to the franchising programme. This will allow passengers across the country to benefit from the enhanced investment.

I am grateful for that answer, but on the question of infrastructure, my constituents in Drayton Bassett are concerned by comments that have been made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) that the HS2 marshalling yard proposed for Washwood Heath might be moved. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government believe that Washwood Heath is the right site for such a marshalling yard and that they do not propose to move it?

I can confirm that Washwood Heath is absolutely the right location for the rolling stock maintenance depot. This was confirmed by the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee’s announcement in December, and it would be a brave and foolhardy politician who suggested for political reasons that anything else might be appropriate.

I met representatives of East Midlands Trains this week to discuss the electrification of the line to Corby. I am concerned that when that happens there might no longer be any services running north from Corby on the Manton line. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what options there are to maintain those northbound services towards Oakham and Melton Mowbray?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On the question of infrastructure, will my hon. Friend impress on Network Rail the importance of building the loop line north of Witham during control period 6 to ensure and enhance capacity on rail services from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich?

I commend my right hon. Friend for his wakefulness this morning, and for his long-term campaigning on railways. Like me, he believes it is vital that additional investment should be carried forward beyond CP5 and into CP6, particularly to enhance capacity and improve journey times for the parts of East Anglia and Essex that he represents.

Network Rail is now fully in the public sector. Will this improve public accountability and enable passengers to travel on safe, newer trains, and trains that are appropriate for the newly electrified lines?

The hon. Lady shares with me a firm commitment to ensuring that passengers have safe and better journeys. That is the point of this unprecedented level of investment. It is within the grasp of us all to hold Network Rail to account. It is an arm’s length public body, and we have a regulator that regulates its investment programme. Network Rail is also accountable to Members of Parliament just as it is to members of the public. She will be aware that we are holding a series of performance summits with the train operating companies and Network Rail, particularly relating to the routes that have shown the worst performance data over the past few months.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the feasibility study on the West Anglia line, promised by the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), is being progressed?

I believe that that is part of the whole aspiration for the Anglian upgrades relating to routes, investment and capacity, which has been nicely packaged in the “Norwich in 90” proposals. A series of consultations are currently taking place, and I will write to my right hon. Friend with specific updates on the point that he has raised.

When it comes to the railways, it is always pie in the sky, or arm’s length, or somebody else’s fault. When is the Minister going to take responsibility for a Government who have done so little to get people in Yorkshire and the rest of the north of England moving around securely, safely and on time?

I have respect for the hon. Gentleman and for many of his campaigns, but I am amazed that he can stand up and represent a party that did so little for the railways over 13 years. He described the predecessors in his seat as a bunch of trainspotters. Instead, he should be congratulating this Government on their investment programme and on the new intercity express programme trains that will benefit his constituency.

I welcome the recent announcements on rolling stock for the network, but looked in vain for news of a replacement for the ancient trains used on the Tees Valley line. Will the Minister look at that matter urgently so that the Tees Valley city region gets the upgraded trains that it needs and deserves?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there are many parts of the country, particularly in the north of England, where the rolling stock is simply not fit for purpose thanks to the franchise specifications let under the previous Government. We are looking at all specifications, including upgrading the inappropriate Pacers, which will be part of the franchising specification process he will see published in the next few weeks.

Two weeks before the Christmas chaos at King’s Cross and Finsbury Park, the Transport Secretary said that he had “absolute confidence” in Network Rail’s ability to deliver the Government’s plans, but up and down the country, projects are delayed, over budget and at risk, while some passengers have been hit by fare rises of more than 30%. Forget Ministers’ confidence in other people, does this shambles not betray a total lack of leadership from this failing Government?

I thought that the hon. Lady was going to celebrate the fact that her own station is receiving a £100 million upgrade. As she should know, there were more than 2,000 engineering sites over the holiday period. Two of them—particularly important ones—ran over time.

I want to address the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) about comments I was alleged to have made in a column. Anyone who read that column over Christmas would have seen that I am far from pleased with railway performance. We must do better for passengers. Only a lowly headline writer at the Sunday People, an idiot or a politician who has no policies of his own would describe my words in such a way. This Government care about the railways. That lot think we are a bunch of trainspotters.