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Rail User Numbers

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 11 October 2018

After a decade of sustained growth in passenger numbers across Great Britain between 2004 and 2014, averaging at about 5% growth every year, journey growth slowed to under 1% in 2016-17 and fell by around 1% in 2017-18. However, there was growth of about 3% in passenger numbers in the first quarter of 2018-19.

Since 2010, fares have risen at double the rate of wages. What assurances can Ministers give me that there will not be a reduction in rail usage from poorer communities such as mine as people are increasingly priced out?

Passenger numbers have more than doubled in the period of privatised operation of fares. This has happened in an environment in which the Government have frozen fares in real terms for the past six years, and we will be doing so again for the coming financial year. Fares rose by 20% in real terms under the Labour Government. By contrast, they have risen by 2% in the period since 2010.

In last year’s budget, the Chancellor announced a new railcard for those aged 26 to 30, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares. Would that increase the number of people using the trains, and what has happened to that scheme?

It is quite possible that it would lead to such an increase. This is an exciting, industry-led trial of the 26-to-30 railcard that the Chancellor announced in his Budget last year. We are waiting the full assessment of that trial, and further steps will be announced in due course.

Every week I am contacted by constituents who are giving up travelling to work by train because of the appalling service that they have received from Northern rail. When are Ministers going to get a grip of—or preferably scrap—this failing franchise?

At the request of Transport for the North in one of its recent board meetings, we have jointly appointed Richard George, who previously played an important role in the delivery of the London Olympic games, to co-ordinate better the performance of the train operators in the north of England—Northern and TransPennine Express—alongside Network Rail. We are looking forward to seeing the results of his work. I met him yesterday, and he has a hard-driving agenda.

I have just heard the answer that my hon. Friend has given, but this morning, as most mornings at my constituency station of Woodlesford, 40 people could not get on the 7.41 train. Numbers are reducing because quite frankly people cannot get in the damn carriage. What pressure is my hon. Friend putting on Northern and Network Rail to get the new rolling stock over to my constituents’ service so that they can get on the train?

I can tell my hon. Friend that new rolling stock is starting to be delivered right now. Improving performance on Northern is a priority. It has been improving significantly since the difficulties over the summer, but there is always room for further progress. The Department will hold it and its owner Arriva to account for their performance in the coming months.

In discussions with the devolved legislatures, will the Minister ensure that the promotion of rail travel, especially for the elderly, in rural areas right across the United Kingdom is put at the forefront of the minds of Translink in Northern Ireland and the other providers across Great Britain?

That is an important consideration, and the Department gives it great attention. We want to ensure that rail is accessible to all communities. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point.