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Train Timetable Changes

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 22 November 2018

We recognise the appalling disruption that some passengers experienced following the May timetable introduction. We have to be very clear that this cannot be repeated. The final Glaister report, providing recommendations on future changes that can be made to prevent disruption at timetable changes, will be published shortly. We are also working closely with the rail industry to provide a seriously enhanced level of assurance on planned timetable changes in December 2018 and May 2019.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, contrary to the impression that he gave in this letter, the Department for Transport did have a significant role in the timetabling fiasco? In fact, according to the Office of Rail and Road interim report, the DFT’s decision to phase in the introduction of Thameslink stretched resources badly. Does he agree that one of the most damning comments in that report is that the industry placed engineering requirements ahead of serving passengers? How will he ensure that in future the DFT accepts full responsibility for its failures and the industry prioritises passengers over rails and rolling stock?

The latter point is extremely important. It is not good enough to have Network Rail too focused on engineering and not focused enough on passengers. It is one of the problems in the rail industry and why we have already started to work towards a more joined-up railway through an alliance structure. As I said with the announcement of the rail review, that is an essential part of delivering the much more substantial change that is necessary, given what happened this summer.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that it is not just timetable changes that are important, although they have been improved on lines from London to Stafford, but the number of coaches on the trains? On the London Northwestern railway—the LNWR—we are seeing very good services, but the trains are too short, with four carriages, instead of eight. Will he have a look at that?

I will certainly have a look and the rail Minister will be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about that. We are supporting a programme of substantial investment in new rolling stock all around the country, which will benefit passengers. New coaches will be arriving on the LNWR franchise, but we could certainly have a discussion about where they are serving.

In the last timetable changes, on the midland main line, Stagecoach was forced to lengthen the journey times of peak time trains from Sheffield to London to accommodate more Thameslink commuter trains. Is it true that the Department for Transport has told Stagecoach it cannot revisit that in the next timetable changes because of the shambles last time and the nervousness that has created in the Department?

We would dispute that we have done anything to disadvantage Sheffield to help Govia Thameslink Railway. We are of course doing a massive upgrade programme on the midland main line. I pay tribute to all those involved in the recent Derby station remodelling. Many projects have gone badly wrong; that did not. It was handled very well. Further improvements are happening up and down that line, as part of the biggest modernisation programme on that route since Victorian times. That work will continue. We will do everything to make sure, if we can, that the timetable remains as intact as possible as those changes happen.

I do not wish to disappoint the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), but he does have Question 9, which will be reached and is grouped, so it is mildly inconvenient to call him any earlier than that. We are keeping him waiting, but it will be worth waiting for, I feel sure.

Is there any advice that the Secretary of State can give to the Welsh Transport Minister? Changes to the franchise and timetable changes have resulted this week in the chief operating officer coming out with a statement saying that too many trains have been cancelled, delayed or have arrived late, with fewer carriages than normal—and that is under a Labour Government.

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the nub of the issue. The Labour party says, “If we just wave our magic wand, it will all be fine.” The reality is that we have a deeply congested railway facing big operational challenges. We are investing substantial amounts in it but—he points out the situation in Wales—there are no magic solutions anywhere in the country, under any Government.

The Secretary of State can duck and dive but the fact is that there is a lack of strategic leadership in his Department. What we found in Huddersfield is that, overnight, they cancelled the link between Huddersfield and Wakefield Westgate, so people cannot get a main line train unless they go to Leeds—and nobody in Huddersfield would want to go to Leeds at any time. The fact of the matter is that we want good strategy and policies that stop people living in chaos and not being able to get to work or go on holiday.

What the hon. Gentleman needs are policies that invest money in rail in the north to deliver—as I know is happening at his station—new trains to replace long out-of-date trains and provide more services for passengers. That is what we are aiming to do and what we are doing.