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Rail Network: Investment

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 30 March 2017

7. What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of investment in maintenance across the rail network. (909577)

Network Rail is responsible for delivering a safe, reliable and efficient railway, and is regulated by the Office of Rail and Road. Over the longer term the company has reduced the cost of the railway significantly, and asset reliability has improved. The trend in spending on maintenance at present is broadly stable, but it is vital that the company continues to drive efficiency to ensure a good service to passengers while reducing the burden on passengers and taxpayers.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the overhead line equipment on the east coast main line route is in urgent need of renewal, having been installed in the 1970s and ’80s. We already know that there is six-times higher spend in the south than in the north on rail and transport infrastructure, but we also seem to have an east-west divide in rail: the east coast route has received £3 billion less than that of the west. Will the Government bring forward their funding to upgrade the east coast main line infrastructure, since the passenger performance measure is now at 25.1% because of overhead line failure? In layman’s terms, my constituents’ journeys are being delayed and seriously diverted.

I predicted that the hon. Lady would raise the issue of overhead line equipment. I have already met the route managing director Rob McIntosh to discuss that specific issue. He said to me that he is looking carefully at how to best improve reliability of the overhead lines, particularly during periods of high winds and heavy storms, which often cause a problem. They are looking at sites with significant gradient and reviewing vegetation management near overhead lines, track geometry and the reliability of system tension during periods of high winds.

Despite all the investment in maintenance, passengers in south-east London who use Southeastern services desperately need investment in rolling stock to deal with the serious overcrowding on the line. Will the Minister tell the House whether he is looking favourably on the revised bid that Southeastern has put forward?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman has already noticed our consultation on the future of the Southeastern franchise, which was released last week and clearly puts capacity front and centre. He is right to point out that we received a proposal from Southeastern, as a result of a personal request from me to the parent company for it to come up with better ideas. We have had it for a week now, and are looking carefully to make sure that it at all makes sense and adds up. I hope that those carriages will be hitting the network as soon as possible.

19. Part of the proposal for new rolling stock for Southeastern involved the transfer of class 377 trains from Govia Thameslink Railway. I have been informed that those trains will cease to be used by GTR from Monday, and will be standing empty at the Grosvenor sidings outside Victoria station. It will be adding insult to injury if my constituents sitting on a crowded train are passing empty carriages that ought to be helping them out. Will the Minister please fix this soon? (909593)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that we expect both those train operating companies to work more closely together, because they have a similar parent company and the rolling stock that they need. I expect a solution to this problem. We have had a proposal, and I want to see it introduced as soon as possible.

As we move towards the post-Brexit world, and as the Scottish Parliament is supposedly going to get new powers, will this Government do something that is already in their gift—devolve the power in Network Rail to Scotland, so that the Scottish Government can fully take control of investment and maintenance delivery and programming in Scotland?

I am always happy to answer this question each month in Transport questions. We looked at that issue carefully in the Smith commission; there was no consensus, and we are not taking the proposal forward.