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Network Rail (Investment)

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 11 June 2015

12. What recent assessment he has made of progress in implementing Network Rail’s investment programme. (900258)

15. What recent assessment he has made of progress in implementing Network Rail’s investment programme. (900262)

17. What recent assessment he has made of progress in implementing Network Rail’s investment programme. (900265)

As the independent regulator for the railways, the Office of Rail and Road is responsible for overseeing and enforcing Network Rail’s obligations. The ORR reports twice a year on performance in “Network Rail Monitor”. The last report noted that there had been relatively successful delivery during control period 4, but that the expected progress had not been made in the early stages of the enhancement projects in control period 5. The Department is working with the ORR and Network Rail to ensure that the vital passenger benefits are delivered.

The latest figures show that the cost of rail season tickets held by commuters from Garswood, Rainford, Earlestown and Newton has risen by up to 25% since 2010. Can the Secretary of State explain to my constituents why the Government are allowing blatant profiteering that is ripping off passengers?

I am very pleased that in the last two years we have capped rail fares at RPI, and we have also promised to cap rail fares for the next five years at RPI, and that is what we will do.

Costs are rising on the Great Western electrification project and there are fears that plans could lead to downgrading on the line to south Wales. The rail regulator’s website this week slipped out that only two of the four lines west of Newbury might now be electrified. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this option is being looked at and whether the project has indeed been downgraded, and what the consequences will be for passengers?

I do not want to see any downgrading of our electrification programme. In the last five years we electrified some 50 miles, which compares favourably with the 10 miles managed in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. The electrification programme is a very big and ambitious programme and I want to see it delivered.

Any delays to the Network Rail infrastructure programme are a concern to those in the rail supply chain, including Tata Steel in Scunthorpe. Does the Secretary of State agree that essential track maintenance and renewal must go ahead in a way that does not affect the supply chain and threaten jobs?

The enhancement of the railways is important for the supply sector, but it is also important that that sector is competitive and provides Network Rail with competitive rates. We are all keen to see that. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there will be a £39 billion programme of rail investment over the next five years. We are also looking at investment in High Speed 2 and, so far as railway track is concerned, we are looking at investment in Crossrail, too.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of progress in electrifying the midland main line and whether that would be enhanced by electrifying the branch line through Langley Mill and Alfreton in my constituency at the same time?

May I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his remarkable achievement with his majority? He has been a great advocate of further expansion of electrification on the midland main line, and I am happy to discuss it with him in more detail.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the rail investment programme is good but would be better still if we had more stations? He visited Stonehouse Bristol Road station in my constituency, which provides a very good example of why some stations should be reopened.

I am pleased that we have seen some stations reopened and some announcements of new stations. My hon. Friend and I did visit that station in his constituency and I am glad that, with his increased majority, he will continue to make a good case for it in this House.

Although investment in Network Rail’s existing lines is welcome, my constituents in Lewes really want a second main line from Sussex to London, and the Chancellor kindly gave us £100,000 for a feasibility study in the last Budget. Will the Secretary of State update me on the progress of that study?

I know the Minister with responsibility for rail, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), is more than happy to discuss that project with my hon. Friend following her stunning electoral success.

Recent reports suggest that the Government are looking at breaking up and privatising parts of Network Rail. We know that under this Government Network Rail is still underperforming and needs to improve. That was again highlighted by the recent investigations by the Office of Rail and Road—and just ask anyone enduring the misery that is commuting into London Bridge at the moment—but does the Secretary of State agree that the last thing we need in the railways is more privatisation and more fragmentation?

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the papers. I sometimes think he writes some of the press releases and then believes what he has written, but they always seem to be inaccurate. Network Rail has a very big job to do in delivering its enhancements, but it is no good complaining that the work inconveniences people because we are building a far better railway network, and that is absolutely essential.

That was not an answer, so we will try again. The Secretary of State’s own Department—this is not my press release—refused to deny recently that it was looking at changes to the structure and ownership of Network Rail. The truth is we need improved co-ordination across our railways, we need to put right the fact that the only people who have no say in the running of the railways are the passengers themselves, and we need more public control, not less. Can he now tell the House categorically that his Department is not looking at or considering options to break up or sell off parts of Network Rail?

I always look at all the suggestions that are put forward, whatever they relate to. The hon. Gentleman says that I did not answer his question, but what he means is that he did not get the answer he wanted. I did answer his question: we expect Network Rail to invest huge amounts of money in enhancing the system, and I want to see that being done by getting good value for money.