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Rail Infrastructure (Train Operating Companies)

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans for train operating companies to take responsibility for track and infrastructure from Network Rail.

The hon. Gentleman has clearly misunderstood our plans, so let me explain them to him.

This morning I laid a written statement in both Libraries of this House setting out my vision for reforming the railways in a way that puts passengers at the heart. This is about providing better and more reliable journeys for passengers.

Britain’s railways are crucial to our economic future, and we have seen very substantial growth in passenger numbers since privatisation, but this growth brings challenges and the impact of disruption can be immediate, significant and wide-ranging. So our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with this huge expansion in the number of passengers. We are spending very large amounts of money trying to tackle the challenge, with new and longer trains, more capacity being introduced across the country, and big projects like Crossrail and small projects that make a difference locally.

Earlier this year, Nicola Shaw recommended that Network Rail should devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is more to do.

I therefore intend to press ahead with Sir Roy McNulty’s recommendations on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises, starting with Southeastern and East Midlands, to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure, working together in the interests of the passenger. I will also be inviting Transport for London and Kent County Council to be more closely involved in developing the next Southeastern franchise by embedding their own representatives in the team that develops, designs and monitors that franchise.

We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed, including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my Department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule, which I am placing in the Libraries of this House.

I also want to bring new skills to the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation. This East West Rail organisation will be established early in the new year and chaired by the former chief executive of Chiltern Railways, Rob Brighouse.

These reforms will set the railway on a firmer footing for the future. We can, and will, make sure our rail network plays its part in making this country a country that works for everyone. I will bring forward in due course a new strategy for our railways with more detail on what I am setting out today.

Private companies will only engage with the Secretary of State’s plans if they believe that they will be able to extract yet further value from Britain’s railways at the expense of taxpayers and commuters. Not only does this mean poor value for the public, but it also risks compromising safety. The last time the Tories privatised the rail tracks it resulted in a series of fatal accidents, which led to the creation of Network Rail in the first place. Now the Secretary of State wants to start us on a slippery slope back to the bad old days of Railtrack, with profit-chasing companies being entrusted with the safety-critical role of being responsible for our rail infrastructure. Has he not learned the lessons of Railtrack, or is he simply choosing to ignore them? Why does he expect things to be different this time?

Will the Secretary of State explain how his planned “integrated operating teams” will be different from the “deep alliances” between Network Rail and South West Trains, which were abandoned, and from the similar arrangement between Network Rail and ScotRail, which is performing abysmally? Will the same system of regulation apply in his new landscape? What discussions has he had with the Office of Rail Regulation about this? What costings have been done for this programme? Has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out? It is time for our railways to be run under public ownership, in the public interest, as an integrated national asset in public hands, with affordable fares for all and with long-term investment in the railway network. Sadly, today’s announcement will take us further away from that than ever before, but an incoming Labour Government will redress that as a matter of urgency.

Fortunately, there is not an imminent Labour Government. The trouble is that Labour Members want to turn the clock back to the days of British Rail and of the unions having beer and sandwiches at No. 10. We want to modernise the railways and make them work better. This is not about privatisation. I am not privatising Network Rail. I am creating teams on the ground with the same incentives to work together in the interests of the passenger. An essential part of that —the bit the hon. Gentleman has not spotted—is that the Shaw recommendations on route devolution, which will give real power to local teams to make decisions about their routes without always referring to the centre, will make it possible for those alliances to work much better than they have in the past. We know that where there have been alliances, they have made something of a difference, but they could do so much more.

This is not rocket science. If the trains are being run from over here and the tracks from over there, when things go wrong we get two separate teams waving contracts at each other rather than working together. Of course our railways do not maximise their potential. This is about forging teamwork on the ground to respond to challenges, to plan better and to deliver a better service to passengers. That is what we should all be aspiring to. Moving the deckchairs around, renationalising the railways and taking away hundreds of millions of pounds a year of investment in new trains from the private sector would take our railways backwards and make the travelling public worse off. This is a sign that, as always, the Labour party has not made it into the modern world.

I warmly welcome efforts to create greater integration between those who run the tracks and those who run the trains, but will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all model would not be the right one, because certain lines are so heavily used by diverse operators that such a degree of integration would be difficult to achieve?

That is absolutely right. It is very straightforward in areas where there is complete synchronisation between the Network Rail routes and the train operators, such as on the west coast main line, which has multiple operators. We also have to be careful to protect the interests of freight operators and open access operators. I am not planning to change the fundamental regulatory structure, but by forging teams together by letting franchises and structuring Network Rail in a way that allows them to integrate, we will be able to deliver better day-to-day performance and a more reliable railway over the vast majority of our network.

The Secretary of State is right to acknowledge the problems with our rail network, but he should not remedy them through further privatisation. There is higher passenger satisfaction and reliability in Scotland than on any other network in the UK, but Scotland could do better. Will he agree to devolve power over Network Rail to the Scottish Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman has just described progress in Scotland, but the point that he has missed is that Scotland is the one place where we have a working alliance of the kind I am talking about. What he is describing is a step on the road to the model that I want to create across the railway, which he says builds passenger satisfaction. That is why this is the right thing to do. It is not about privatisation; it is about teamwork to deliver a better service for the passenger.

Although Network Rail does many things well, it is often cumbersome and unresponsive to the customer. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the purpose of his virtual operating companies is to bring scale benefits in cost and service to the customer?

My hon. Friend, who has great experience in such matters, is absolutely right. Right now, the incentives for team members in Network Rail are different from those in train operators. The incentive across the entire railway network should be to do a better job for the customer. Part of that process will involve aligning incentives so that everyone has the right motivation to deliver for the people who matter: the customers.

A joined-up approach could bring benefits and has been called for on many occasions by, among others, the Transport Committee. How will safety be protected in the specific model that the Transport Secretary now advocates? Could it be the beginning of a highly expensive fragmentation of the system?

The opposite is the case. This is not about fragmentation; it is about joining up. As the hon. Lady will know, we have various teams on the ground across our railways, some looking after the track and some looking after the trains. Sometimes they work together well, but sometimes they do not. By creating a structure that shapes teams on the ground, which involves decentralisation within Network Rail of the kind recommended by Nicola Shaw and the sort of partnerships that Sir Roy McNulty recommended, we will reach a place, about which the hon. Lady has talked in the past, where we have a more joined-up railway that does a better job for the customer.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking an initiative that could and should have been taken about 20 years ago. I am delighted that my constituents travelling from east Kent will be among the first to benefit from better co-operation between Network Rail and the train operating company. Will he indicate whether funding will be available for the Kent coast line to be brought at least into the 20th century and preferably into the 21st century?

Following the new Southeastern franchise bids, I hope and expect to see the kind of benefit that we have seen on the East Anglian rail network, where every single train is due to be replaced as part of the new franchise. That is the sort of progress that makes a real difference to passengers, and I want to see that kind of improvement across the network, including on Southeastern. As the two sides of the railway work closer together, the ability to deliver small, incremental improvements quickly becomes better and more readily available, and we can then improve services.

This is a Minister who has a bit of form. In a previous job, he wrecked the prison system. He now has the job at Transport and is about to cause havoc there as well.

Let me surprise the hon. Gentleman by saying that I am the Minister who decided not to privatise the Prison Service, a decision which was described in my office by the Prison Officers Association as a victory. I hate to disabuse him, but I am not an inveterate privatiser; I am an inveterate improver of services.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his encouraging response to the urgent question. A number of operators work with Network Rail in both our constituencies and not only has the number of complaints dropped dramatically but, more importantly, there has been a positive response to requests for service changes from the constituents.

That is right. Two rail routes run through my constituency. One is run by South West Trains and one by Southern. We understand the issues on the Southern network, but I recently went to a public meeting on the edge of my constituency about the service provided by South West Trains and found an audience broadly full of praise for the operator. There have been a bumpy few weeks this autumn and some things have gone wrong with the infrastructure on the network, but there are many decent people on our railways who have been there for a long time, working hard for passengers, and we must always recognise that.

Some of the main causes of delays and problems on the network include failures of signals, points and trains. Will the Secretary of State explain in specifics what will be different under his proposals from what currently happens?

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a specific example. About 10 days ago, there was a quite bad signal failure at lunchtime on the South West Trains network. I caught the train home during the evening peak, by which time the service was pretty much back to normal. It is a joined-up route that has the nearest thing to an alliance on the network, and the two sides work hard together to deliver improvements quickly when something goes wrong. That is an example of the benefits of joined-up working, as opposed to having to wait several hours for the two teams to decide how to do things together.

I welcome the move towards greater integration with operating teams. Does the Secretary of State share my hope that that might stop the buck-passing between train operating companies and Network Rail, which many of my constituents north of the river on the Thameslink line have suffered daily and to which I drew his attention yesterday?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I make no pretence: there are some genuine problems on our railways at the moment. Those are mostly problems of intensive use and dramatic increases in passenger numbers, beyond anything envisaged even 10 years ago. So we have to deliver change and improvement, which comes partly through capacity improvements—a lot of money is being spent on the Thameslink route. It also comes through better performance on a day-to-day basis. I will never be afraid to hold rail companies’ feet to the fire if they do not deliver, but we also need to recognise that many of the problems arise on the infrastructure, and getting the two to work together to deliver real solutions to those problems has to be the right way forward.

The Secretary of State has said that he wants less contracting complexity and more localised decision making, but giving more power over infrastructure to private train operating companies will create a new and uneven layer of contracting in the industry. How can he be confident that this will not lead to a return of the subcontracting culture, which was a major factor in the avoidable rail tragedies at Hatfield and Potters Bar?

I do not think the hon. Lady has been listening to me. I am not talking about creating complex new contracting structures; I am talking about teamwork on the ground. Where we have started this—the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) made the point about the situation in Scotland—it has made a difference. We need to deepen and strengthen these alliances, and create much stronger teamwork on the front line. That is what will make a difference.

I, too, welcome this announcement, including the proposal to involve Kent County Council more in the renewal of the Southeastern franchise. Day in, day out, rail commuters in my constituency have to cope with delays, to the extent that one constituent has even asked the managing director of Southeastern to write to his boss to explain why he is late each day. Will the Secretary of State therefore say more about how his proposals will enable my constituents to get to work on time?

I know that there has been disruption in the Kent area in the past couple of years because of the improvements at London Bridge, and there are lessons to be learned from the way they have been carried out to make sure that we minimise disruption in the future. We need big investments that will create extra capacity, but they have to be done in a way that causes as little damage as possible to ongoing services. I want the new franchise to deliver the best possible improvements to services in Kent and London, which is one reason why I reached the view that the design of the franchise has to be a three-way partnership between my Department, Transport for London and Kent, because this multifaceted franchise has to work for everyone.

In east Yorkshire did we not have a plan for joined-up thinking, using a train operator called First Hull Trains to improve services for local people by electrifying the line to Hull? Was not that joined-up thinking abandoned by the Government just a few weeks ago?

What actually happened was that before the point of being able to take a decision on electrification on the Hull line, Hull Trains and TransPennine ordered bi-mode trains that deliver the service improvements without any additional investment in unnecessary infrastructure. That means we can spend more money around the network to improve services. People in Hull should be pleased, because they are about to get smart new trains that will really improve services.

We would all welcome more integrated teams working on behalf of passengers on our railways. Will the Secretary of State explain how this will work for my local passengers on the trans-Pennine route, bearing in mind that the Northern franchise runs out in 2025 and the TransPennine Express franchise runs out in 2023?

The central focus is likely to be the Northern franchise, and indeed that was Nicola Shaw’s recommendation. A large part of the rail network is relatively easy to deliver in this way, but in some parts where there are multiple operators we need to look carefully at how best to do it. The integrity and the spread of the Northern franchise is probably the foundation for the strongest alliance in that area.

The Secretary of State has mentioned South West Trains and how some of this integration is already in place in our network. So either we are talking about that, in which case this is not really a change, or this is the predecessor to a privatisation which will go badly—which is it?

It could just be that we have had some tentative steps in this direction that have shown early signs of promise and that we think we should pursue much more seriously—it could just be that.

Commuters on the Braintree to Liverpool Street line suffer cancellations and delays far too regularly. I welcome the commitment to new rolling stock under the new franchise, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the bringing together of the TOCs and Network Rail will mean that there can be no excuses, be they about rolling stock, signalling or points, to further delay the commuters in my constituency?

I agree; what the public want is to know that someone is in charge. The aim of all this is to ensure that someone is in charge. Things will go wrong and there will be problems—that is unavoidable in a congested rail system—but we all want to know that there is a joined-up team trying to solve them. Of course, I hope that the new trains on my hon. Friend’s network, once they arrive and have bedded in, will deliver much better reliability than the existing ones.

Will this new arrangement have any impact on future investment decisions? I note that the east midlands franchise is to be one of the first considered for this new arrangement, so how does that impact on possible electrification there? A scheme was committed to and then paused, and then unpaused and recommitted to. Now it appears to be neither paused nor committed to. Will the Secretary of State explain the impact on that of these arrangements?

There is no impact; as I have said in the House before, we are proceeding with the next stage of electrification to Corby. We are looking at how we deliver service improvements to Sheffield by 2020, with improved journey times, faster tracks and the remodelling of key places such as Derby station, and I am looking actively at how we provide the best train fleet for the future.

I have been campaigning for the reopening of the east-west rail line for many years, so may I thank my right hon. Friend for this early Christmas present? Will he assure me that the new body will work closely with the National Infrastructure Commission on unlocking the economic potential of the Oxford to Cambridge corridor through Milton Keynes? Do we have an updated likely date for the opening of the line?

We will work with the National Infrastructure Commission, and we will also work closely with the local authorities that have been involved in helping to develop the project. I will not give my hon. Friend a date, but I would say that one reason for doing this is that I want to accelerate the process. I look at the pipeline of projects that Network Rail has, and I do not want this project to disappear into the middle of the next decade; I want us to start real improvement works quickly. We have money from the autumn statement to start some of that work around the intersection with HS2, but I just want to make this project happen quickly. We have to demonstrate sometimes in this country that we can get on with things.

My constituency and the north Wales line are covered by two major franchises, Wales and borders, and west coast; by two Governments, the Welsh Government and the UK Government; and by Network Rail. In future, under the Secretary of State’s plans, who would be responsible for safety? Has he spoken to the Welsh Government about that?

Today’s announcement is predominantly about England, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Welsh Government are taking the lead in designing the franchise. I know that they have sympathy with this view, because they are pathfinders at the moment in securing bids from integrated consortiums for the proposed Cardiff metro service, but I will discuss this with the Welsh Government, as I have regular conversations with them. I hope that they may want to build on some of the things we are seeking to do in England.

The Secretary of State’s decision to reintegrate train and track, where appropriate, is sensible. Does he accept, however, that my constituents will regard his failure to remove the London metro services from the wholly discredited Southeastern franchise as a complete cop-out and failure, and that it makes sense at all, as far as rail users in my constituency or I am concerned?

I know that my hon. Friend feels passionately about this, but I do not agree with him. We will have the opportunity, between London, my Department and Kent, to design an improved franchise for the future. What I had to decide was whether the benefits set out in the Mayor’s business plan, which did not involve increases in capacity on my hon. Friend’s local routes into London, and the incremental improvements that Transport for London claimed it might be able to deliver were really worth putting his railway line through the biggest restructuring since the 1920s. My judgment is that we can achieve the benefits that TfL is arguing for through partnership, rather than through massive reorganisation, and that is my aim.

What evaluation has there been of the time and cost benefits of doing the Oxford to Cambridge line in the way that the Secretary of State proposes, as opposed to having Network Rail do it? Does he envisage other projects being run in this way? If this is about looking for different ways of doing things, will he consider allowing the public sector to bid for train franchises?

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware from the autumn statement, the Oxford-Cambridge corridor is a much broader project than just a railway line. It is seen as a key development corridor by the Treasury and the National Infrastructure Commission. We also need to look at the construction of improved road links between the two, so it is much more complicated than simply saying, “It’s a railway line.” However, we need to build a model that secures developer contributions on the route. It is good for our rail sector to have a bit of contestability. The assumption that Network Rail should always do everything does not give us any benchmarks to judge whether someone else can do it better. I want to use this as an opportunity, in a way that does not affect the rest of the network, to test the way that we are doing things, and to see whether we can do them quicker and better.

Passengers in my constituency just want a better service—one that matches the train timetable—and this is something that I have raised with the Secretary of State on a number of occasions. I agree that both track and train teams need to work together to focus on delivering a better service, especially on the Upfield line. What improvements will my constituents see with this new initiative?

One thing I asked Chris Gibb to do around the Southern route was to start to create the kind of partnership that I have described today. My early experience on this route—and the early experience of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—was that Network Rail and the train operator were not working closely together and not addressing problems together. Sadly, the real challenge in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) is the ongoing industrial action, which is utterly pointless. No one is losing their job, and no one is losing any money; this is all about adopting new technologies and ways of working that are already custom and practice on the same routes. The action is a tragedy, and it is unacceptable. I again call on the unions to go back to work.

When Transport for London took over London Overground, it went from being the worst performing rail line in the country to the best performing rail line. That was why the Government signed an agreement with TfL and the London government in March for TfL to take over Southeastern when the franchise expires in 2018. What exactly has happened to make the Government break their promise to Londoners?

I looked very carefully at this matter. The hon. Lady needs to understand the difference between London Overground and the rest of the suburban routes. London Overground has provided a good service, which is run by Arriva—part of the German railways—and was co-run initially by MTR, the Hong Kong metro system. It is a franchise operator, like the rest. Having read the Mayor’s business case carefully, and having considered the level of change required to split the franchise in half—it would be the biggest operating change on this railway since the 1920s—and the potential disruption to passengers over a period of time, I thought, rightly or wrongly, that we could deliver the service improvement that TfL was talking about by forging a partnership. Crucially, we would involve Kent, because this is not a London issue; as this railway runs from London to the south coast, we cannot think of the railway system just in terms of London. Very many passengers and representatives in this House from further afield would take a very different view from her on what will work for the railway line.

May I welcome the Secretary of State’s pragmatic approach to this problem? We on the Conservative Benches believe in devolution and in providing different solutions depending on the circumstances. The west coast main line is working at almost 100% capacity. Will he explain to my constituents how London Midland, Virgin and Network Rail on the west coast main line will work better together through his proposals?

There are two issues here. Clearly, there is logic, for the midlands and the north, in having a really joined-up relationship between Network Rail and the local train operator. Of course there will be services, such as Virgin’s west coast main line and the CrossCountry service, that cross boundaries. We must preserve the existing regulatory framework so that those services are not affected by this. My hon. Friend talked about devolution; what I am talking about for London is exactly the same model that we have adopted for transport in the north and the midlands of partnership and of shaping franchises. Local designer franchises have played a big part in the north in delivering what is genuinely thought to be a great new franchise structure that will bring real improvements for people across the north of England.

Just a couple of weeks after the autumn statement, which was supposed to herald new investment in infrastructure, the new Secretary of State has given the game away with today’s announcement that the new rail line between Oxford and Cambridge will be built with private investment, so his true colours are shining through. Let me take him back to his comments about the success of ScotRail Alliance and ask him this: if it is working so well now, would it not work even better if we removed more interfaces and fully devolved Network Rail in Scotland to the Scottish Government?

The hon. Gentleman talks about investment and true colours. My view is this: the public sector is already putting a vast amount of investment into the railways. I support that, and I will get as much investment as I possibly can for our transport system, but there is no harm in also trying to do more by supplementing that with private finance. That may be an ideological division between us, but I cannot see how our transport system loses by having some private finance alongside the huge amounts of public finance already going into the sector.

Network Rail recently carried out upgrades worth £3 million on the line running through Fareham in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that this announcement will mean a greater focus on passengers? There are still so many commuters from Fareham who struggle because of the troubles with Southern rail. A more joined-up and co-ordinated approach will be a step in the right direction towards ensuring that commuters have better journeys to work.

Three things need to happen to deal with the issues on Southern. The first is that we need much more joined-up working. Secondly, we will have to put more money into the Southern infrastructure, which is clearly under great stress. It is a very intensively used railway, and not enough has been spent on it over the years. Above all, we just need to get the workforce back to work. The bizarre thing is that the 10-coach train that I often take to Victoria in the morning has a driver and no guard, and it has been like that for years. Why on earth are the drivers and the guards on Southern putting the passengers through such enormous distress when no one is in danger of losing their job? It is shocking. I would like to hear one word of condemnation from the Labour party. Do we ever hear any condemnation of its union paymasters? The answer is no, not for a moment.

When Zac Goldsmith was standing as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, the Department for Transport was all for the idea of devolving responsibility for letting Southeastern’s franchise to TfL, but now that he has gone, the promise seems to have gone as well. Why are the Government jettisoning the practical improvements that could have been associated with devolution in favour of this political experiment?

The hon. Lady talks about political experiments; a political experiment would be implementing a business plan that I did not judge delivered substantial improvements to passengers, and that involved the biggest shake-up of the railways in the south-east since the 1920s. That is a risk that we do not need to take. We can deliver improvements through partnership, but we must remember that that partnership is not just about London; it is about Kent. It is a partnership that involves passengers on different parts of the routes. We need to design a franchise structure that delivers improvements for everyone.

Passengers on the diesel-operated East Midlands Trains franchise from London to Kettering, who already experience some of the most expensive fares per mile in the country, often have delays to their service, not because of anything that East Midlands Trains has done, but because of Network Rail problems with the overhead lines coming out of St Pancras for the Thameslink service. That often happens at Luton and Bedford as well. Will the Secretary of State ensure that East Midlands Trains, Thameslink trains and Network Rail are among the first to set up these joint operating arrangements, because that would be greatly welcomed by my Kettering constituents?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that will be the case; that is one of the franchises that is coming up to be let. Big improvements are needed on that route. One of the other things that is unsatisfactory about the service for his constituents in Kettering is that in the mornings, they have to pile on to crammed inter-city trains from much further north in the east midlands. What we aim to deliver by 2020 is a better inter-city service and, for the first time, a proper dedicated commuter service to people from Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and further south.

From what I can gather, integration is at the heart of what the Secretary of State is endeavouring to achieve. With that in mind, now that the UK Government are devolving responsibilities for the Welsh franchise to Wales, is it not logical to devolve responsibility for the Welsh network?

I need to correct the hon. Gentleman on that: we are not devolving responsibility for the whole Welsh franchise as he describes; we are doing so in part. I have said to the Welsh Government that I am happy with their taking control of the Welsh valleys lines, with a view to developing the metro system that they hope to put into service, but the Welsh franchise is not purely Welsh; it runs through large parts of England as well. We cannot have a situation where we, the Government in Westminster, give up control over services in England to the Welsh Government without checks and balances. That is not going to happen.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today of greater alignment between track and train operators. It seems that in the past fortnight or so Southern and Thameslink passengers have suffered a lot of broken rail reports—almost more reports in that period than in the last year. How can the new model help to address that situation?

The incidence of broken rails is a worrying coincidence, to put it mildly. I am concerned about the number of infrastructure breakdowns in recent weeks. Passengers blame the train company, but often—recently, more often than not—it is an infrastructure problem. That route is suffering intensely from low-level industrial action on non-strike days, and effectively a work to rule has been in force on different parts of that railway for months, which is adding to the intense pressure. I wish the unions would just accept that their members are not losing as a result of the change. They have more job security and better pay than a lot of people in the south-east, and they should get back to work and do the job they need to do for their passengers.

The travelling public support devolution, as do a number of Conservative MPs, council leaders and Assembly Members, and indeed as the Conservative Government did when they signed the joint prospectus with the previous Mayor of London. Is it not just a narrow, petty, political point that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to devolve to a Labour Mayor, who would provide more frequent trains, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and frozen fares?

This is the problem with the proposition. The hon. Gentleman says that more frequent trains would be provided, but the Mayor’s business plan did not provide more frequent trains. It provided no extra capacity in peak hours into the stations that serve the Southeastern route, and it would have involved the biggest reorganisation of those routes since the 1920s. My judgment is that, as it does not deliver the more frequent trains the hon. Gentleman describes, we should design the franchise through partnership, rather than upheaval.

As the Secretary of State is well aware, there are appalling problems on Southern rail, which have been going on for a significant period and made worse by the apparent inability of Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway to work together. May I welcome his work with Chris Gibb and his pragmatic approach both to that and to the unions?

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments. One of the breakdowns last week was caused by a piece of equipment being left behind from engineering work being done to sort out the problems in the Balcombe tunnel, which contribute to the unreliability on that network. Some of the money I announced in September is now being spent operationally on the ground. It is frustrating when it has an unfortunate accidental wrong effect.

Can the Secretary of State tell us when the electrification work between Cardiff and Swansea will be finished?

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, I make no bones about my unhappiness with the progress of Great Western electrification, which has not been anything like what I had hoped for. My policy right now is to deliver for him the new trains and improved journey times that will result from where we have got to so far, and where we hope we will get to soon in the electrification programme. He knows that what will make the biggest different to Swansea is fast new trains to London.

What are the implications of the proposed partnership on the east midlands franchise for smaller capital schemes such as the one for level access at Alfreton station, which was scandalously delayed by Network Rail last week?

My hon. Friend will know that where more enlightened train operators have invested and made improvements, it has paid dividends for them—Chiltern Railways is the obvious example. I hope that with more autonomy for the Network Rail team on the ground and autonomy for the private sector operators, they will look together at small schemes that will make a real difference to passengers and can be afforded within local budgets.

Proposals to devolve rail services in London were championed by the Secretary of State’s predecessor, were underpinned by a solid business case, had cross-party support inside and outside London and, most important, were incredibly popular among passengers in London and Kent, who suffer daily at the hands of Southeastern and its unreliable and overcrowded services. Does the Secretary of State accept that his decision to take the proposal off the table today will be seen by those passengers as a betrayal of the hopes and expectations that were raised earlier this year by the Government?

No, I do not accept that. As I keep saying, the business plan submitted by the Mayor did not deliver extra capacity. I have invited Transport for London and Kent County Council to work alongside us on designing a franchise that maximises performance, takes advantage of any best practice we can learn from, and works for London and for Kent. Both are important.

People in Corby and east Northamptonshire are delighted with the Government’s commitment to electrification of the midland main line and pleased with the track upgrades in recent weeks. As part of the reletting of the franchise, they would like more trains running northbound and southbound through Corby. What benefit does my right hon. Friend envisage this greater co-operation having, in terms of responding most effectively to local concern and demand?

We know that often on the railways, as on the roads, it is the small things that make a real difference. I hope that with decentralisation of Network Rail into a route-based structure, the autonomous local managing directors who have their own budgets will be much better placed to apply small amounts of money to small schemes that make a material difference to passengers. I believe that the approach we propose will make that more likely. There is a real opportunity for the east midlands to be early beneficiaries of this approach.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Transport for London and Merseyrail are successful vertically integrated train companies. Why, if we want more integration, do we not apply their successful model, which attracts public and private investment, to the rest of our railway network?

I hate to disabuse the hon. Gentleman, but Merseyrail is not a vertically integrated train operator. Indeed, I have discussed with Merseyrail whether it wants to take control of its tracks, and so far it has been indicated to me, at least by the Mayor of Liverpool, that he does not particularly want to. I would be happy if Merseyrail took control of its tracks. It has long had the opportunity to become an integrated train operator, but right now, it is not.