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Railways: South-west

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016

We need to continue to improve transport and rail links in the south-west, and my No. 1 priority is to deal with resilience near the Dawlish sea wall and the Dawlish cliffs. The next stage of the project requires a further £10 million to continue to develop the programme and deal with the issue once and for all, and I can announce to the House today that that funding will be granted and the work will go ahead. That is an important part of ensuring that we protect the essential rail links to the south-west, and I hope that people there will see it as a commitment to making sure that they have a proper transport system for the future.

That is fantastic news and it shows that this Government really are investing in the south-west. Given that resilience work, will they consider a potential branch line to Okehampton as part of the wider south-west rail package?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to all my south-west colleagues, who are vociferous champions of the need to make sure that we have the best possible transport links to the constituencies that they represent. I will be very happy to discuss with him the needs of his constituents in Cornwall and, in particular, the potential for improving links to Okehampton.

The National Audit Office’s verdict on the Great Western Railway electrification fiasco was absolutely damning. It described it as

“a case study in how not to manage a major programme.”

It is estimated that passenger growth on the line will be 81% over the five-year period leading up to 2018-19. Anyone who uses the line will know how overcrowded it is. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give that there will be an improvement in our area?

The hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that I am not happy about the way in which the modernisation and electrification programme has been managed. The NAO report also said that, since 2015, my Department has had a much firmer grip on the programme. I am still not satisfied with the progress that is being made. New trains will, of course, be rolled out across the network sooner rather than later. I am committed to making sure that the project is delivered and that the improvements it brings will happen for passengers.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on the Dawlish line, given how vital it is in ensuring that my constituency actually has a train service. Does he agree that it was not acceptable for CrossCountry trains to bury in a lengthy timetable consultation document a proposal to axe virtually all of its direct services between the bay and the midlands and Manchester?

We have discussed the issue with my hon. Friend. When timetable changes are proposed, it is important that they are as transparent as possible, and I want the cross-country service to grow rather than shrink in future.

19. The NAO says that the Government’s very poor implementation of the London and Bristol to Wales electrification project has wasted—wasted—£330 million of taxpayers’ money. With funding stretched, will the Government and the Secretary of State accept responsibility for putting the Cardiff, Swansea and south-west improvements at risk for the future? (907314)

My objective is to make sure that the programmes under way are delivered properly, with the benefits delivered as quickly as possible. As I said, I am not happy with what has happened so far. One great irony is that during the Labour party’s 13 years in power only 10 miles of railway line were electrified. The other is that at a time when Labour is demanding the nationalisation of the railways, these problems have arisen in the one bit of the railway in the public sector.