Only last month new inter-city express trains entered service on Great Western, and indeed east coast will be introducing new Azuma express trains from late 2018. We have also committed £55.7 billion on HS2 to transform the network and bring economic growth between our major cities, operating state-of-the-art trains.
I thank the Minister for his answer and I welcome the rail strategy that was announced yesterday in the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows of my keen interest in the express services from Redditch to Birmingham, and I am grateful for the interest he has shown by meeting me. Will the rail Minister agree to meet me and the train operators in the light of the new franchise that has been announced for our services, to look again at the business case and see whether we can push this issue forward?
I am always happy to meet colleagues, and train operating companies—indeed, at the same time is even better for me. We always seek journey time improvements on networks, not least by improving roll-out times for new rolling stock. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we have earlier and later services from Redditch into Birmingham, and an increased frequency. I am more than happy to meet her to discuss what more can be done.
One of the ways of improving express train services is to open up new routes. Does the Minister agree with me and his right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) that the opening up of a route from Chester via Wrexham and Shrewsbury to London would ease pressures on the Chester-London service and be an excellent, novel way of addressing capacity difficulties on the line?
I know that the hon. Gentleman listened carefully to yesterday’s strategy announcement, in which he will have heard a lot of reference to reopening lines and opening new lines. I am sure that we will be considering that idea further and I look forward to hearing further details.
My right hon. Friend is quite right to point out that our significant investment in the railways is underpinned by our belief that we need to improve productivity. Just today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will launch the HS2 productivity report in Nottingham, which will set out how we intend to use HS2 to improve our productivity performance here in the UK.
There is a lot of talk about improvements to the midland main line. Currently, the last train from Sheffield to London leaves some two hours earlier than the last train from other cities such as Manchester and Bristol. Will the Minister assure us that when the new franchise is let, that aspect of poor service delivery will be addressed?
I was not aware of the precise information regarding late services from Sheffield, but I am sure they are as entitled to a late departure as any other city in the north. We are looking carefully at the timetable as part of the new franchise, and I am sure that will be taken into account, given that the hon. Gentleman has raised it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of freight. It is an important part of our railway that perhaps gets overlooked by many who do not think carefully about how we utilise our rail network. I have frequent meetings with the rail sector and frequent engagement with officials in the Department. We always look to embed concerns about freight in any decisions that we take about the future of the network.