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Tourists: Rail Travel

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 30 June 2016

Millions of tourists use our railways, and we have products such as the BritRail pass to encourage this, but we want to do more. In March, the Prime Minister launched a £1 million competition to boost tourism specifically in relation to heritage and community railways, and it has been wildly successful. We had a fabulous array of bids, and we have made 17 grants to wonderful projects from Cornwall to Caledonia and from Welshpool to Warwick.

Will the Minister confirm whether her Department has conducted any work into the potential economic boost from trade and tourism for Corsham, Wiltshire and the wider area of reopening Corsham railway station, and if not, will it do so?

Even before my hon. Friend took her seat she had for a long time been a doughty campaigner for reopening the station. I thoroughly enjoyed going to see the site with her, and I know that we will have a meeting next month to continue the discussions. I understand that a feasibility study is currently being undertaken in Corsham, which I hope will reference the uplift for tourism and, indeed, some of the educational opportunities in this area. I am looking forward to seeing such references when the report is presented.

Will the Minister provide an update on potential improvements to the north Cotswold line, which could provide a significant increase in tourist traffic beyond Oxford to Worcestershire and Herefordshire?

My hon. Friend knows that the Department is working with Network Rail, Great Western Railway and other stakeholders to look at the whole business case and funding opportunities to really improve the London-Oxford-Worcester train services. The Department will publish its next rail investment strategy in summer 2017, which will set out the investment plans for 2019 to 2024.

It will come as no great surprise to the Minister that I would like to raise the Okehampton link, which is part of the south-west Peninsula Rail Task Force agenda. Does she believe, as I do, that there should be an economic assessment of the tourism benefits that use of that particular route could provide to businesses in north Cornwall?

Before answering my hon. Friend’s question, I will point out to him that two of those wonderful projects I mentioned were in Cornwall, so there was a really good effort by the peninsula. The Peninsula Rail Task Force will be working on a report to look at all sorts of options for enhancing that rail network. I look forward to receiving and studying that report later this year.

A new metro system in south Wales would really help rail tourism there, but the planned metro is heavily dependent on EU support. What measures will the Minister take to ensure that the south Wales valleys metro system can be delivered?

Investment in rail services in Wales is now devolved to the Welsh Administration, so that funding is a matter for them. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that three of the winners of the competitions I mentioned were based in Wales, including the wonderful velorail bike visitor attraction, which involves cycling along disused railways on enormous great bicycles. There will be some tourism uplift from investments like those.

What assessment has the rail Minister made of the impact of the appalling Southern and Thameslink services and Network Rail’s infrastructure failures on the ability of tourists to get to key tourist destinations such as Beddington Park and Honeywood Museum in Carshalton?

The right hon. Gentleman, like all right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies are served by the line he refers to, knows that—largely due to the major investments in the region—the current performance has not been acceptable. The Government, operators and Network Rail have been working incredibly hard to solve those problems. It was great to see that by April of this year performance had climbed back up to a public performance measure of about 84%—not good enough, but getting better. Unfortunately, since then industrial action and high levels of conductor sickness have seen a deterioration in that measure. We have to get the unions and operators to settle their differences as soon as possible, for the sake both of tourists and of the right hon. Gentleman’s commuting constituents.