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Rural Railway Stations

Volume 593: debated on Thursday 5 March 2015

2. What recent discussions he has had with train operating companies on increasing the use of rural railway stations; and if he will make a statement. (907871)

Officials regularly meet train operating companies where usage is a key discussion point. We are working hard with the industry to increase rural station usage. We recognise the important social role of stations in building communities, and have therefore introduced a new policy requirement to develop social and community development plans in new franchises.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does he agree that one way we can get cars off the road and reduce congestion on our motorways and, indeed, on smaller roads is to develop rural train stations? We have one at Ashchurch for Tewkesbury, which is a very good station, but it is underused at the moment. Can we try to make such stations better used by train operating companies?

The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. Ashchurch for Tewkesbury station has the potential for more use. I would welcome that, as I am sure my hon. Friend would too. For new franchises we ask operators to look at such questions in great detail. I acknowledge his comments, and no doubt Gloucestershire county council will make such points in due course.

As a result of the landslip on the Chiltern line, kiosks and shops at rural railway stations have suffered a drop of at least 50% in their revenue. Will the Secretary of State urge Network Rail to look at mitigation, such as reducing rents, during the period of disruption?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I hope that there will be an announcement soon about the full reopening of the line. If that has not already been announced, I think it will be announced shortly. I will discuss her very good point directly with the chief executive of Network Rail. People with businesses who are renting from Network Rail have been directly affected by that landslip.

One issue with encouraging the use of Ambergate station in my constituency is the strange fare system. Even though a fare to the next station is relatively cheap, the cost of a fare to Birmingham from both stations can be very different. Is there any way that the Secretary of State can fix the fare system to get rid of its anomalies?

I know Ambergate station very well, as the line goes up to Matlock and down to Derby. There are indeed anomalies in ticket purchasing on that line, and I am only too well aware of such frustrations. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I certainly want to look at. There are huge opportunities in ticketing, including with the development of smart technology.