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Delay Repay: Great Eastern Main Line

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Wendy Morton.)

We are starting this debate somewhat early, and it happens to be a debate on rail delays. Looking at the time, I can work out that I have approximately two and a half hours, which the House will be pleased to know I have no intention of filling. Ironically, though, it does happen to be the longest delay I have ever encountered, personally, on a Greater Anglia train—and that is a fact.

I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of Delay Repay 15 on the great eastern main line. It is an issue that is hugely important to thousands of my Colchester constituents who are regular rail users and commuters. To set the scene, as a rail user myself, I know that sadly—as commuters regularly, in fact almost daily, remind me on Twitter and via email—our rail service is often lacking, with short forms, delays, dirty trains, poor communication, and regular line, points, overhead wire or signal faults. My constituents and I have experienced every kind of delay possible, whether it is snow, ice, leaves, rats, or being too hot or too cold. It is quite incredible to think how other countries run effective rail services.

It is hard to feel convinced, and certainly to convince constituents, that we receive good value for money when the situation appears to be getting worse while rail fares and car-parking charges increase. I would never seek to presume or know what the Minister may be thinking, but I would hazard a guess: that complaints on social media are common enough, and that very rarely will anyone tweet their local MP to say, “My train’s arrived perfectly on time—please thank the Transport Minister on my behalf.” Perhaps he is thinking that this issue, while important, may be over-inflated by grumpy rail users like myself. I find the situation to be the complete opposite. I think that people have got so fed up with complaining about rail services that they have given up complaining about rail services.

Before we get off on the wrong track—there will not be too many bad puns—let us adopt a more statistical approach. The national rail passenger survey of more than 25,000 passengers in autumn 2017 has made something clear. For the avoidance of confusion, I have stripped the dataset down to the 1,493 Greater Anglia passengers involved in the survey. It is starkly but unsurprisingly clear that we are experiencing the lowest overall satisfaction with Greater Anglia services for over five years. On delays, which is the subject of this debate, only 32% of commuters are satisfied with Greater Anglia’s track record. The punctuality and reliability of services was also consistently ranked the single most important consideration for commuters.

Things have not improved much since autumn 2017. In the past 48 hours, we have seen in the press that Greater Anglia passengers have become significantly less satisfied with their journeys over the past 12 months. According to new figures from the rail watchdog Transport Focus, only 73% of passengers were satisfied with their journeys on Greater Anglia. That figure was 81% in its survey the previous year.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which I welcome. He is a great campaigner on this issue. One cause of dissatisfaction among our constituents on this line is the fact that they so often have to stand. Does he agree that we should look at compensation for not only delays but standing? Is it right that someone who stands, often for two hours or more, pays the same fare as someone who has a seat?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is right; nobody should be standing on a train for this length of time. Nobody should be standing to get to London Liverpool Street from average commuter towns like Chelmsford or Colchester, or even as far as Norwich. The journey from Chelmsford is about 40 minutes, from Colchester it is about 55 minutes and from Norwich it is one hour and 45 minutes or even two hours; we hope to get that down to one hour and 45 minutes with the new trains. Increased capacity will come with the new trains, but there is a massive issue with standing. It is not uncommon to see people—indeed, I have done it myself—standing between Colchester and London. That is not acceptable.

The west coast main line is not as bad, but we often have cancellations, and people stand at Euston waiting but are not told the reason for the cancellation. There is an argument for new rolling stock, whether on the hon. Gentleman’s line or the west coast main line. I agree with his point about fares. The public have got so used to fares being increased that they feel helpless to do anything about it. Fares are far too high now.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Fares are an interesting point. Of course everyone would like to see rail fares come down, but most people say that they want their fare to represent better value for money. We are fortunate that we are getting a brand new fleet of trains, at a cost of some £1.4 billion, but to set that in context, we have waited in some cases 40 years for it. Some of our rolling stock is decades old—in fact, I think some of it even breaches standards in 2019, so it needs to be replaced in any event.

I think the public are clear about what they want: punctual services. In the unfortunate event that that is not possible, adequate compensation for the delay must be available. I would be the first to argue that we should focus our efforts on improving the reliability of the service. Rail users would rather not face delays than receive compensation.

I have raised this issue numerous times with Greater Anglia, which has assured me and colleagues that it is investing more than £20 million in improving the performance of its existing trains. As I mentioned, it is also engaged in a £1.4 billion investment programme over the next two years to replace its current models with new trains, the first of which are due to enter service on the line this year. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), that will increase capacity on our line, with 1,043 carriages available compared with 937 at the moment. That is good news. It is long overdue—sadly, like some of the trains leaving Colchester—but I welcome these announcements.

We must not forget Network Rail, as most of the delays on our line fall under its remit. Members of Parliament from across our region, ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), have called for repair and renewal work on our line as part of the great eastern main line taskforce. We have helped to secure £2 billion as a funding settlement for our line, and we will start to see the benefits of these works in reduced delays and disruption.

I wish to touch on the sensitive and incredibly sad issue of suicide, as I know that fatalities on the line are often the cause of the longest delays. I want to reassure rail users that Members of Parliament from across this House on our line have been working closely with Greater Anglia, Network Rail and the Department to do all we can to put measures in place to try to reduce and minimise the number of people who are, tragically, taking their own lives on our lines.

I hope I have set out why there are good reasons for optimism. I appreciate that I was relatively disparaging about our rail service to start with, but a lot of constituents would feel exactly the same.

Although we are in the same region, I have a different rail line, with a huge variety of rail providers involved on that line. We have had a 100% increase in capacity, lots more seats, a huge range of wi-fi on some of the trains, yet passengers remain frustrated about value for money and the challenges on punctuality. How does my hon. Friend feel we can tackle that value for money problem?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I used to live in his constituency, so I know that rail line well. I understand that the trains have improved somewhat since I lived there. When we ask rail users what they want, most of them say that they want reliability, a punctual service, a plug socket and to be able to get a seat. Ideally, they would also like wi-fi. So speed is important, but it is usually a factor that is further down the list. Those are basically the core component of what people want and expect in terms of value for money, and I hope the Minister will address that in a little more detail.

As I said, I hope I have set out why there are good reasons for optimism about the great eastern main line. We have an entire new fleet of trains coming, with a significant investment in rail infrastructure, which should lead to a reduction in disruption and delays. However, that cannot and must not be used as an argument against the rapid introduction of Delay Repay 15 on the great eastern main line.

On 13 October, we had some welcome news from the Department, as the Secretary of State announced an improved compensation scheme—Delay Repay 15. Under this scheme, passengers are able to claim 25% of the cost of a single fare tickets for delays of between 15 and 29 minutes. The scheme would go a long way towards incentivising improved efficiencies in the franchise and compensating commuters for the inconvenience suffered as a result of delayed services. Delay Repay 15 has already been rolled out on Thameslink, Southern and the Great Northern franchises, but not on the great eastern main line under Greater Anglia.

As I know from my own train journeys between Colchester and Liverpool Street, the smallest delay to a daily commute can cause, over time, significant disruption to our professional lives, especially in the mornings, and significance inconveniences to our private lives in the evening—it can make the difference between being able to tuck one’s kids into bed at night or not. We should not underestimate the importance of that. Ultimately, like most of my fellow rail users, I would rather the reliability of the service be vastly improved first, but I know that my constituents would also welcome the introduction of improved compensation rights.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this Adjournment debate, and I apologise for not being here for the start of his speech. I absolutely agree with the whole campaign, which is brilliant. Our passengers deserve this. Does he agree that any compensation scheme needs also to be easy to use and that Greater Anglia needs not only to introduce Delay Repay 15, but to make its current scheme more user friendly, so that when people try to claim compensation, they are not blocked from doing so?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for the role he plays on the great eastern main line taskforce. One reason why it has been so successful is that all the MPs from our region have spoken collectively with one voice, taking the politics out of the issue, and have focused on the main issues that are going to drive improvements on our line. We work closely together on that.

On the specific point about Delay Repay, the hon. Gentleman made a very good point. There is little point in having a compensation scheme if it is so hard and difficult to operate—it is not user-friendly—that people do not use it. There are of course people who will not bother with it or, for whatever reason, choose not to use it. Some choose to make a charitable donation, and the figure to date for what people across our region have chosen to donate, instead of receiving that money back, is somewhere in the region of £8,000. I agree entirely with him that it is important—in fact, imperative—that we make these Delay Repay schemes as easy and as user-friendly as possible. We should ensure people know how to do it, so it is important that the information is there in the first instance, and then make it as easy as possible for them to complete and to get the refund.

The Secretary of State rightly said back in October 2016 that when things do go wrong for commuters on our rail network

“it is vital that they are compensated fairly.”

The stated policy of the Department for Transport is to move all franchise operators to Delay Repay 15 as new franchises are let. I welcome this decision, but there is one big problem. Currently, Delay Repay 15 has been rolled out only on franchises that were let after October 2016. Herein lies our issue: the Greater Anglia franchise started in October 2016, but the franchise agreement was signed in August 2016. Eligibility for Delay Repay 15 has therefore been denied to the great eastern main line for a number of years as a consequence of a handful of weeks or even, dare I say, days. The irony is not lost on me that it is a timetabling issue that has delayed the introduction of Delay Repay 15 on our line. [Interruption.] That was poor, I appreciate.

Passengers on the great eastern main line are still only offered the original Delay Repay scheme, which compensates customers for the occasions on which they are delayed for 30 minutes or more, not the improved Delay Repay scheme for delays of 15 minutes or more. I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is quite incredible how many journeys are 27, 28 or 29 minutes late. I have been on many of them, and 29 minutes is quite a long time to be delayed, even when it affords a good opportunity to take in some of the beautiful north Essex countryside. [Interruption.] And, indeed, Suffolk, which I believe is also very beautiful.

What I am concerned about—hence this debate—is that if Delay Repay 15 is rolled out if the franchise is re-let on the same timetable as its predecessor scheme, passengers on our line will not have access to the DR15 scheme until October 2025, when the current franchise ends. That would be totally unacceptable. Fortunately, in November 2016 the Government stated their intention to explore the roll-out of Delay Repay 15 during that Parliament. Subsequently, in February 2018, the former Minister of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), confirmed in a written response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham:

“The Department has received a proposal from Greater Anglia in relation to implementing Delay Repay 15 before their present contract expires. This proposal is in the early stages of being reviewed and analysed to determine whether it is affordable and represents value for money.”

May I ask the Minister what progress has been made in these talks, which were in their early stages one year ago? I am calling on the Department for Transport to ensure that talks with Greater Anglia are fast-tracked to ensure that great eastern main line rail users have the same compensation rights as rail users in other parts of our country. The current situation only entrenches a postcode lottery in a system in which those who use the great eastern main line are less protected from delay and less entitled to compensation than users in other parts of our country.

It seems to me that it is certainly time that Delay Repay 15 was introduced on the great eastern main line. I hope to hear from the Minister that he can offer me and the many rail users on our line—the tens of thousands of rail users—some assurances on this matter and update me on the progress in the talks with Greater Anglia. I really hope that, in the next few weeks and months, we can get this nailed and make sure that our constituents and rail users have exactly the same rights as other rail users up and down our country.

I rise to speak in this Adjournment debate to give my extraordinarily strong support to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) and colleagues from across the east of England in the campaign to improve the Delay Repay compensation for users of the great eastern main line and specifically to ask the Minister to introduce a 15-minute Delay Repay scheme.

The price of a season ticket from Chelmsford to London is now £5,168. People are paying a huge amount of money to travel on our trains, and when they are delayed or fail to show up, people should be compensated. We must hold the train operators to account. Other parts of the country offer 15-minute Delay Repay services to commuters and rail customers. We rail users in Essex, Suffolk and throughout East Anglia should not be treated as second-class passengers.

This is not the first time I have spoken on Delay Repay in this House; according to Hansard, I have raised the issue four times in ministerial questions. I remember once running into the House from the train station because my train from Chelmsford had been so delayed that morning—I arrived only just in time to ask my question. The Secretary of State has said on the Floor of the House that he hopes that Delay Repay will be introduced this year. I hope that the Minister will be able to give further reassurance.

In Chelmsford, my constituents have faced continual delays and cancellations, especially over the past 12 months. They have also faced situations where trains that were promised to be 12 carriages long turned out to have only eight or four carriages. Chelmsford railway station is the busiest two-platform station anywhere in the country. When trains are shortened or cancelled, it becomes incredibly overcrowded very quickly, putting passengers in danger.

Sometimes passengers cannot get on to the next train. Even though they turned up and hoped to get on a train that in theory was leaving on time, they simply could not get on to it, because it was overcrowded. It has been a complete nightmare, particularly last summer in the heatwave when the air conditioning did not work on many ancient carriages, some of which are 40 years old. Many carriages were taken out of service, so we had more and more short-formed trains.

The good news is that new trains are coming. The vast amount of money—£1.4 billion—that will be spent on brand new trains and rolling stock is really welcome, but my constituents have waited a very long time for those trains. They need to get fair value for money for the service that they are receiving today.

While I have the Minister’s ear, I shall refer to some other issues surrounding the rail service. The new trains will help, but as I said, we are the busiest two-platform station anywhere in the country. We have waited at least 20 years for the promised second railway station in Chelmsford. We are building tens of thousands of homes across the Chelmsford district and more widely across our neighbouring district, and a second railway station has been promised for at least 20 years.

I was delighted to hear today that plans are afoot for that railway station in north Chelmsford to become a passing loop, which will help passengers from all across the east of England. A passing loop north of Chelmsford will allow more trains to run along the whole network, so it will be a significant infrastructure improvement. However, we still have to wait many years before that promised railway station comes online, and we still do not quite have the full commitment for funding. I ask the excellent Minister to look at how we can speed up plans to get that second railway station built in Chelmsford, not just for the people of Chelmsford, but for rail passengers up and down the region.

My hon. Friend refers to the Beaulieu Park station, which is important not just for Chelmsford but for the whole great eastern main line, because it affords us the opportunity to create two passing loops between Chelmsford and Colchester. That will hugely increase capacity on our line.

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for making that point so clearly. The passing loop will provide the incredibly overcrowded train line that goes across the east of England with more capacity, and that will enable stopping trains to be overtaken by fast trains. That will help people at Colchester and the people who then travel on from Colchester to areas such as Clacton and the stations in between. It will help the people of Norwich and Ipswich, because their trains will be able to overtake at that key point. Rail Minister, this would give us not just a train station but a passing loop—two bits of infrastructure for the price of one. We really must bring it on board.

We have waited many, many months for our 15-minute Delay Repay. As I have said, other parts of the country already have it. Let us get it in the east of England. We should not have a second-class railway service. I will continue to fight for the service my commuters deserve.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on securing this debate on a perennial concern for my constituents.

I have lost count of the number of times I have received contact, through social media, email and written correspondence, from my commuters about the Braintree branch line to Liverpool Street. Even from the start of this year, my private office has been inundated with correspondence about the service—the lack of service and the delays to services—my commuters receive. Braintree, the town after which my constituency is named, is the last station on a branch line. This debate is rightly about the introduction of Delay Replay, but my hon. Friend is completely right that ideally we want a situation where my constituents and commuters do not have to rely on repayment or compensation for delayed services. What they really want are regular and reliable services.

All of us who use the railway line understand that, as a branch line service, we have a limited number of trains at our disposal—typically about a train an hour. It is therefore so very important that reliability is at the forefront of the train operating company’s priorities. If a train is delayed or cancelled, my constituents are presented with a tough choice: find some means of transporting themselves to Witham, which is where the branch line joins the main line; go into town to Chelmsford for the availability of car parking spaces; or phone work to make their apologies and excuses. That is not a decision that anyone would wish to have regularly forced upon them.

My constituents want to know that, when they turn up at the station, the train that is meant to depart at a certain time will depart at that time and get them to work on time. I have heard anecdotal reports of a number of people losing their jobs or being refused job opportunities because they are unable to get the reliability they need in their working lives—a direct result of the unreliability of the service on my branch line.

I have heard similar anecdotal cases. We must not forget that people do not just have issues getting to work; they need to get home, too. A lot of people have childcare providers. If parents are not back by a particular time, there is a real issue. People are in effect having to make a choice about whether they take a job that involves commuting into London. That affects our economy, and it affects people’s personal, social and family lives. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not acceptable?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Work-life balance is very important. We recognise that commercial activity underpins the funding of public services—that is key—but life balance is also really important. My hon. Friend is the father of two lovely little girls, and I know that he is very proud of them. All of us want to be able to make a commitment to our families, but that is detrimentally affected when services are cancelled and delayed.

We suffer in Clacton, too, as we are at the end of the line, as my hon. Friend knows. I have a very large number of letters in my mailbox about cancellations and delays. That also happens at weekends—some of my constituents work at weekends—and we have many replacement bus services. That must be dealt with, too. We must have a good weekend service for people who travel not only for work but for leisure activities.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester rightly focused on Delay Repay, and I echo his calls. I will not repeat the requests he made of the Minister—from where I am standing, I can see the copious notes that the Minister has written, so I know he has made a note of that point. There are other things that I would like him to consider. I wrote to him recently about this issue, and he assured me that I will have a reply in good time. I will not chase him on that, because I know that mine is not the only correspondence he has received about this issue.

On encouraging people to use more environmentally friendly modes of transport, I find it difficult to have a meaningful conversation with my constituents about leaving their cars behind. It is very difficult for me to persuade even people who live in Braintree, who have the best opportunity to step away from the internal combustion engine, because their immediate response is, “Well, James, I have to rely on my car because I cannot rely on the trains.” The lack of reliability therefore has an impact not just on train services, but on more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

One of the issues that I brought up with Greater Anglia and that is linked to Delay Repay is the importance of speedy and accurate communications when things go wrong. Everybody is frustrated if a train is delayed or cancelled, but there is perhaps nothing more frustrating than waiting at the station not knowing whether the train is delayed and not having enough facts to make choices about credible alternative methods of transport.

When trains are delayed, my constituents must decide whether to walk back to their house to get their car to drive to another station and to park there, or whether to make alternative arrangements and change their childcare. If they decide to get in their car and move, there is little more frustrating than seeing the train that they could have been on pull out. Communication is therefore key.

I want to reinforce my hon. Friend’s point. The national rail passenger survey results have just been published, and the satisfaction of our railway users has dropped significantly. They are particularly dissatisfied with the information and complaints process. Some 48%—nearly one in every two passengers—report that they are dissatisfied with how information and complaints are dealt with. I back my hon. Friend up on this. Minister, we have to get clearer information to passengers. There is no excuse not to; that really could make a difference.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

The final point that I want to make is that my commuters—I am sure this is true of all commuters across the region—are not unreasonable people. They are pragmatic. They understand that the rolling stock is old and is in the process of being replaced. They recognise that the route into London is going through a refurbishment and upgrade programme, which causes disruptions. Even though they pay the same amount of money for their season ticket as people on the main line, they recognise that they are on a branch line, which has certain disadvantages. They are sensible, pragmatic, reasonable people. That said, their patience is not an ever-filling well. When I hosted a public meeting last spring, the passion—I will put it no stronger than that—of my commuters and their desire to see the service and the communication improved and to see Delay Repay introduced in a timely manner cannot be overstated.

I have no doubt that the Minister has heard the concerns of colleagues representing this area, and he knows what we want first and foremost, but I hope that, if he can get a resolution on Delay Repay, he will then turn his mind to other enduring challenges, such as improving communication and wi-fi.

On communication, it is all very well having Delay Repay—it is good to have it being communicated to passengers—but when Delay Repay 15 is introduced, it must be splashed widely so that everybody knows how to use it and that it is there. Surely that is the point.

Yes, indeed; it would be good news, and I would strongly urge both the Department and the train operating company to be very vocal if we get it introduced in a timely manner, because it would be welcomed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on securing this debate and on giving us the opportunity to discuss these issues. I thank other hon. Members for their contributions. We have had a very positive debate.

I fully recognise the importance of the rail service to the communities my hon. Friends represent. It is not just a question of access to the beautiful landscapes of north Essex or south Suffolk; the line serves areas of economic growth, where we are seeing innovative businesses, high-tech and state-of-the-art businesses, and growth in life sciences and renewable energy. The great eastern main line plays a significant role in unlocking the economic potential and improving quality of life in the areas my hon. Friends represent.

I also fully acknowledge the passion that rail can generate. As people have said, the constant struggle to know what is happening on a network and the impact of delays on people’s ability to make connections, get to work on time and handle childcare arrangements can be incredibly stressful and frustrating and we should be working flat out to minimise the need for any compensation to be paid at all.

I will address some of the issues raised. Obviously, we have focused today on Delay Repay, as that is the key point of the debate, but I will also touch on the issues of the performance of the network and the new trains that colleagues have raised. On Delay Repay, I recognise that, when things go wrong, we must have some means of appropriate redress. As my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) said, people are pragmatic and understand that things can go wrong; they just do not want them to go wrong regularly. Exceptional events we can understand.

These services are critical to how we run our lives. Delay Repay compensation is in place on most of our franchises. In its original form, it offered compensation for delays of 30 minutes or more, but we are improving the scheme by rolling out Delay Repay 15, under which compensation is paid for delays of 15 minutes or more, which will give passengers a better deal. It provides compensation of 25% of the ticket price for delays of 15 minutes or more and of 50% for 30 minutes or more, whatever the cause of the delay or the cancelation and whatever the ticket type.

The principle underpinning Delay Repay is that people should be compensated for any inconvenience caused, which brings me back to the intervention I made on my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). Given that a seat is part of a person’s understanding of the contract of their ticket, if they have had to stand for the entire journey, is there not a principle that they should be entitled to recompense?

It would be very challenging to introduce that extra condition to the compensation structures. We must try to ensure that there are enough seats, but it is hard to guarantee that everyone will have a seat on every occasion. The right to a seat is not actually included in the ticket—the ticket entitles the passenger to ride and to complete the journey, but not to have a seat—although of course we want passengers to have comfortable seats, along with access to wi-fi, power sockets and so forth. I am aware of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised, and I will certainly give it further consideration.

We introduced Delay Repay 15 in Britain’s largest rail franchise, Govia Thameslink, on 11 December 2016, and it was introduced in c2c in February 2018. It is also part of the new South Western and West Midlands franchises, and was introduced most recently in the Northern franchise, last December. It will be a contractual requirement for all other Department for Transport franchises when contracts come up for renewal, so it will become a regular feature of what our rail service looks like up and down the country.

Greater Anglia currently offers Delay Repay 30. We have been actively engaged with the company to secure an affordable and value-for-money scheme for the Delay Repay 15 launch, and the process of agreeing on commercial terms is at an advanced stage. We are not quite there yet, but I can tell Members that I am confident of being able to bring them some news within weeks. I will, of course, ensure that I keep everyone informed of our progress. The Department is doing significant work in liaising with Greater Anglia. The delays in introducing the scheme in franchises are due to the complications involved in changing the nature of the contractual arrangements, and that is the only reason for the delay in this instance.

I thank my hon. Friend for telling us that he hopes we will be able to hear more news about Delay Repay within weeks. We have talked a great deal about the complaints that are received, and I receive many, but when we do positive things for our commuters, they really appreciate it. On 2 January I received this little message from one of the younger commuters in my constituency:

“I just got my millennial railcard and will be saving…£1,000 this year! All thanks to a Conservative Government!”

The introduction of this compensation scheme will be greatly appreciated.

As ever, my hon. Friend has made a very wise point. On 2 January, the industry introduced the millenial railcard for those aged up to 30, as well as a railcard for 16 and 17-year-olds. Everyone up to the age of 30 now has access to discounted fares via a railcard. We want to ensure that more people have access to our railway.

There have been a few questions about how the rail operating companies handle compensation claims. The Office of Rail Regulation recently published the figures for delay compensation claims settled within the industry target of 20 working days during rail periods 1 to 7. Greater Anglia achieved 99.7% compliance, which means that passengers are receiving their compensation in a timely manner. Figures published by the Department in October last year showed that Greater Anglia is among the leading train operating companies in terms of its passenger compensation claim rate. The research also showed that Greater Anglia is the most proactive TOC on Twitter, accounting for 72% of tweets.

I thank the Minister for giving way again. He is being incredibly generous. May I suggest that one of the reasons why Greater Anglia is so prolific on Twitter is the fact that it has so many rail users who tweet complaints to it, which it has to respond to?

I do not quite accept that. We can see passenger numbers. We can see when performances fall. Since taking this role 10 weeks ago, I have found my inner train spotter, and I now look at the train performance of franchise operators several times a day. So my hon. Friend’s claim that Greater Anglia is among the worst performers in the country is, I am afraid, not correct.

I apologise for joining the debate late; my train was late. More seriously, however, I am pleased to see the Essex posse here in strength this evening, including my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) sitting on the Treasury Bench as the Whip, who unfortunately therefore takes the vow of omertà but who I am sure is with us in spirit.

The problem on the Southend Victoria line operated by Greater Anglia is long-running engineering works, which have been running for two years. We have had some good news from Network Rail that they will now end in the spring of 2020 rather than May 2021. My constituents welcome that, but all the time they are still paying over £5,000 for a season ticket from Rayleigh when they can barely use the service at weekends because there are so many bus services. I have asked Greater Anglia repeatedly to give at least a small discount to my constituents, basically to say, “We share your pain,” and I wonder whether the Minister would have any sympathy with long-suffering commuters who pay a great deal of money to Greater Anglia for what is basically essentially a glorified bus service.

I am always keen to see value delivered, and I recognise that passengers have to endure a degree of inconvenience or worse when the industry is working on maintaining the network. I am not sure whether we could go as far as to say that that should be a part of compensation, because we can see looking ahead increased investment. We are investing more in our railways than any Government in British history. We have to try to do this in a way that inconveniences as few people as possible, but at the same time recognise that the benefits will be profound and we are catching up on historical underinvestment. It is fair to say that Governments of all colours have underinvested in our transport infrastructure, but that is not an accusation that can be made against this one.

I thank the Minister for giving way again; I realise that he is tight for time. We have been hearing from Greater Anglia for several years about these new trains, which are going to be the Concorde of the 21st century on rails, with wi-fi and better seats and all the rest of it. However, we can have the best train in the world, but if it is stuck in the depot because the line is closed because engineering works are going on, it is no good to us. I am just trying to convey to the Minister, who is new in the post but I know personally is an excellent Minister—I say that dead straight—the sense of genuine frustration from my constituents that they pay a lot of money for a line that they cannot use for many days of the year, even if the trains will be the best in the world.

There is no doubt whatsoever that we do sometimes test the patience of constituents who are enduring delays and constant bus replacement services beyond a pleasant and comfortable level, and the constituents of Rayleigh are well represented by my right hon. Friend.

I am more than happy to give way; I do not think we are under quite the time pressure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) thinks we are.

I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being exceedingly generous. It would not be right for me to hear about an Adjournment debate on Greater Anglia without talking about the issues in my constituency. While I am not on the great eastern main line, I am on the west, and I cannot help but pick the Minister up on his point about how well it is doing. I want to add my voice to echo my colleagues’ concerns. I get lots of letters from constituents who are dissatisfied. Is there something the Minister can do to look again at these statistics that show how well Greater Anglia is doing, because I think many of us would dispute them?

I am coming on to the performance of the company, so I will address that point, if I may, in a few moments.

First, let me pick up where we left off on communication, a key point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and for Braintree. I entirely agree that it is appropriate for the train operating companies to work extra hard to keep passengers informed when things go wrong, or when new services become available. I am not sure that this is a strength of our rail industry as a whole, but I have certainly raised it with the industry. I have talked to most of the TOCs over the past few weeks and have highlighted one thing above all, which is that I want to see a focus on operational excellence to deliver the most punctual network we can. I want them to focus their attention on customers and their communication with customers.

I welcome the massive investment that the Government are making in our railways after many years of underinvestment. Does the Minister accept that a lot of the problems on the railways are the responsibility of Network Rail, a state-owned operator, and that local people feel that it is often unaccountable?

My hon. Friend makes an informed point. About 70% of the delays on our rail network are caused by works by Network Rail rather than by the train operating companies, so it is appropriate that we put the focus where the cause is.

I am not in any way trying to suggest that Greater Anglia is perfect; I am just trying to put this in context. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) raised a point about the compensation scheme currently in place. Greater Anglia is one of the better rated companies in that regard. Contact and payment details can be stored in passengers’ online accounts so that they do not have to fill in their details each time they make a claim, and delay compensation claims can be made via the Greater Anglia app. The principle of keeping things simple and easy for passengers is absolutely paramount, and I agree with his underlying point on that. We have spent a bit of time talking about Delay Repay, and I want to confirm that that is an absolute priority. Colleagues have asked for my assurance that we will be putting our energy into bringing this over the line as soon as possible, and I am happy to provide that assurance. This is work in progress, and I will ensure that everyone is kept informed of the progress being made.

I want to talk bit about some of the other issues that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester talked about the new trains, and they are indeed coming down the line. I am particularly keen that the current performance of Greater Anglia and Network Rail should continue to improve. Their performance is starting to improve, although there was a difficult autumn period with a mixture of infrastructure faults and train faults—as well as some fatalities; a powerful point was made about the number of suicides on our lines—and that has an impact on people. Every single case is obviously an appalling personal tragedy, and that must be borne in mind in any comments that we make. It is also worth noting that the suicide rate in the UK is at a 30-year low. We have seen a fall in the suicide rate on the railways in the past year or so, but it has not been so marked as across the country as a whole.

We have a secure station scheme, which involves an accreditation run through the British Transport police. It has been running for 20 years, and it was refreshed last year to include measures to combat suicide and self-harm. I would be keen to hear from colleagues of any problem areas on the rail network, because I am keen that we should do all we can to help in this regard. That is why we have renewed the secure station scheme to include training and to focus on trying to minimise suicide and self-harm. This is an important point. It is not just about the delays, obviously; it is also about the practical nature of dealing with the intense personal tragedies involved in each case.

I believe in giving praise where it is due, and in this particular case I believe that we should give praise to Greater Anglia for the project that it is running—I believe in conjunction with Mind—to help staff to deal with these problems and to reduce the number of suicides on the railways. I really hope that that scheme will be successful as well.

That is an important point well made. Up and down the country, we see TOCs partner with either public bodies or, as in this case, successful and important charities. The British Transport Police and the secure station scheme work with the Railway Children and the Samaritans, for example, and such partnerships can make and are making a difference.

I mentioned that performance has been mixed over the autumn period, but it is starting to improve. Looking at the public performance measures, Greater Anglia’s PPM for the period ending 5 January was 89.7%, which should be compared with the target in the franchise agreement of 88.7%. However, we want to go even further. We want all passengers on our network to receive the best possible service.

We are at the end of the line down in Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze, and it feels like the further away a place is, the more it gets ignored. Will the Minister please give some reassurance to my commuters that their train times will improve?

I can absolutely confirm to my hon. Friend that trains cannot go beyond the end of the line, because it then gets very wet. However, there is no way that different parts of the network are being treated disproportionately. There is an even approach, and everybody is entitled to a good service. That is what we are working towards. The Department’s work with the train operating company looks at performance as a whole, not individual parts, so I assure my hon. Friend that his concerns are being addressed.

I was talking about how we want to go further. The target is to have over 92% of trains arriving on time by the end of the franchise. Together with Network Rail, the train operating company needs to manage day-to-day performance and ensure that passengers see performance improve. It is my priority to see our trains provide an excellent service that delivers a network upon which commuters and passengers can rely every day.

Many colleagues have mentioned new trains. Greater Anglia has a great initiative, but it is part of a bigger scheme right across the country. Some 7,000 new carriages will be entering service on our network over the next two years, and the change is comparable to the UK’s move from diesel to steam. It is that kind of scale of development. The new trains will deliver significant improvements for passengers. In Greater Anglia’s case, the entire fleet of trains will be replaced, with over 1,000 new carriages on order. They are being built by Stadler and Bombardier, with manufacturing and construction well underway. The first five of the new Stadler trains have been delivered to Norwich Crown Point depot, where they are undergoing testing and acceptance processes.

We expect that the new trains will start to be rolled out across the network from the middle of this year, with the full roll-out completed by the end of 2020. These state-of-the-art trains will provide many more seats for busy services, which relates to points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). The new trains will be more efficient, accelerate faster and have much better customer information. They will also provide a much-improved on-board environment with wi-fi, air conditioning and power sockets, which goes back to the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree .

I want to inform the House that Greater Anglia has a franchise commitment to deliver two direct trains each weekday between Liverpool Street and Norwich in 90 minutes and two direct trains each weekday between Liverpool Street and Ipswich in 60 minutes. Those new services follow long-standing campaigns from both sides of the House, and they will commence in May. Since the start of the franchise, Greater Anglia has invested over £100 million at stations and depots and in ticketing initiatives. Major station upgrades have been completed at Norwich, Ipswich, Cambridge and Chelmsford, but I will have to take away the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford about the second railway station there. I will need to do a bit of research to provide the exact up-to-date position, but I will write to her with that information. I recognise the point about two for one and the passing loop, which has improved resilience across the entire network.

I thank the Minister so much for saying that he will do some up-to-date research. Will he also arrange to meet me to discuss the issue?

I would be delighted. We will get that in the diary rapidly.

Let me give the House a degree of context, because the Government are continuing record levels of spending. The budget for control period 6, which is the next period of rail investment funding starting in April 2019 and running through to 2024, is around £48 billion, the largest in British history. We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme in over a century, which means faster journeys, longer trains, longer platforms and more seats for passengers. We use giant numbers in the rail sector, but it comes down to what we are delivering for the rail journeys that our constituents make every day.

I am aware of the renewal work as part of the upgrade, and I recognise that it is not possible to work on the railways without causing some degree of inconvenience, but it is all about improving the reliability of our network. In the past we saw a bias towards enhancements, new services and new infrastructure, rather than maintenance. That will change in control period 6, with a bias back towards maintaining the network to reduce things such as speed restrictions and to make services more reliable by unscrambling some of our rather ancient Victorian infrastructure.

The national rail passenger survey results have been mentioned, and they were published yesterday. Overall satisfaction with Greater Anglia has dropped by eight percentage points, compared with the same period last year, to 73%, and no company would want to go backwards. The most significant falls in satisfaction, compared with last year, are on: punctuality, down 10 percentage points; the helpfulness and attitude of staff, down nine percentage points; and connections with other services, down nine percentage points. That decline in satisfaction is disappointing, and it is for Greater Anglia to work closely with Network Rail to improve its performance and to deliver the service and punctuality its customers expect. I include communication improvements within that, as that has been mentioned by colleagues. I will be holding Greater Anglia to account for delivering it.

The Government set the maximum amount by which regulated fares can rise, and train operators can choose to raise their fares by a lower amount. There is no requirement for rail operators always to raise by the maximum. This year we have capped regulated fare rises in line with inflation for the sixth year running.

I am grateful to the Minister for squeezing me in. He may be aware that Greater Anglia went right to the top of the cap by imposing an increase, from memory, of 3.1%, whereas c2c, which runs the line along the Thames coast, went for only 2.5%, or thereabouts. A lot of commuters on Greater Anglia, who have all the issues that I will not repeat, are particularly put out by the fact that Greater Anglia basically charged the full whack, whereas c2c, which runs one of the most efficient and effective services in the country, felt that it did not need to do so. Does it seem equitable that the people running the better, more punctual service had a lower increase and the people running the worse service went the whole way?

It is difficult to comment on that, because each individual company sets its own fares. Frankly, I want to see, as we all want to see, people retain more of their own money, which is why, from a broader Government perspective, we have had the increase in the personal allowance and the fuel duty freeze and why, from a rail industry perspective, we are in the sixth year of regulated fares. I want us to have lower fares all round, although I recognise that 98% of the money that comes in via the farebox is automatically reinvested in the network, so the farebox is a critical part of delivering the upgrades that we seek for passengers.

There is a strong rumour among commuters in my constituency that Greater Anglia borrowed the money for the new trains in the City at something like 8% interest. If that is true, given current interest rates, it would be completely financially incompetent, and I can only imagine that Greater Anglia’s finance director was educated at the shadow Home Secretary’s school of mathematics. Is that true?

I do not know the commercial terms of that particular arrangement. These are private matters. The particular school to which my hon. Friend refers is, I think, mercifully not that full of students.

Order. I think we are being good natured and ought not to be tempted to start scoring political points on what is an important matter to Members’ constituents. I am sure the Minister got the point but did not want to answer it.

Will the Minister accept that although the regulated fares have gone up by something approaching 3%, there were unregulated fares that went up by very much more than that? Can he explain why, for instance, the Anglia rover ticket went up by something approaching 30%?

I am afraid we will have to take up that individual question with the rail operating company. The position we are taking is that we impose the cap on regulated fares, where customers do not have a choice, so that they do not become the victims of insufficient market choice. That is how the system was created and that is why we have run it for six years in a row.

We have been talking about how we can take cost out. As we look into rail inflation, we recognise the need to move away from RPI towards CPI. The Secretary of State has discussed this with rail operating companies and written to the rail trade unions to ask for their understanding and co-operation. I have also discussed the issue with the rail trade unions when I have met them, although we have not yet made quite the progress that I was hoping for.

One thing highlighted has been the nature of value, not just the absolute price. The point about value is well made, because it is a question of the absolute price for the goods and services received. I hope we will be able to demonstrate significantly greater value as some of the benefits of the investment come through. We will see those benefits in more reliable journeys, greater resilience in the network and, in particular, the new rolling stock.

I appreciate that passengers across the region, including Colchester, have not always had the service that they deserve. The maintenance of a high standard of customer service performance is the absolute priority, but I recognise that when things go wrong, passengers should receive the appropriate level of compensation. The focus of our discussions with Greater Anglia are to ensure that the key criteria we have been talking about today are satisfied and delivered, and that we reach agreement to implement Delay Repay 15. My commitment to the House is that I will focus on this over the next few weeks.

With the record level funding on our network services and new rolling stock being rolled out this year by Great Anglia, I am optimistic about anticipated improvements for constituents in Colchester and right across East Anglia.

I hope that, in a year’s time, passengers across Colchester, and right across the east of England, will see the very real benefits of the investment that matches our railway vision—

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was actually rising to thank the Minister for being so generous in taking so many interventions during this debate.

I want to make absolutely sure that I answer colleagues’ concerns wherever I can and keep colleagues posted. Do you want to hear a bit more about rail investment in East Anglia, Mr Deputy Speaker? [Interruption.] Well, that may have to wait for another time.

We have had a very good debate on the issues today. I just want to make sure that colleagues do not leave the House feeling that we are not bold in our ambitions. We have a plan to deliver the services that they want and expect for the constituents that they serve.

I have just one quick question for the Minister. Did you get an apology from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)? We have missed him tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.