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Rolling Stock

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

1. What progress he has made on the (a) removal of old and (b) delivery and deployment of new rolling stock. (909215)

With permission, I will answer this question together with Question 16.

A total of 7,800 new carriages have been ordered since 2010. More than 3,000 have been delivered, with more than 4,700 due by the end of 2022. Those trains will help to transform the passenger experience, offering greater capacity, more pleasant carriages, air-conditioning, and wi-fi, and they will enable operators to remove old and unpopular rolling stock from service.

Middlewich is a growing town, with jobs being created and a positive future. The people of Middlewich appreciate the Government’s recognition of that, with almost £50 million of funding being provided for a new bypass, but their aspiration does not stop there, and rail connectivity is poor. What support can the Government give on that?

My hon. Friend has campaigned continually over many years for the reopening of Middlewich railway station, and I know that she has very strong support within the town for this. I know as well that it is a top priority now that the Middlewich bypass has been delivered. We welcome the work being undertaken by the Cheshire and Warrington local economic partnership, including the proposals to reopen the freight line through Middlewich, in Cheshire, for passenger services and to reopen Middlewich station. Findings are due at the end of this month, and I look forward to hearing the recommendations from that work.

I call Tom Tugendhat. Not here—where is the fella? I hope that he is not indisposed, as he is the Chair of a very important Committee of the House. Perhaps he is preoccupied elsewhere; I know not. What I do know is that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is here. I call Mr David Davis.

The Minister will be aware that he could replace and upgrade every piece of rolling stock in the country for less than half the price of High Speed 2. Why do we not just cancel this white elephant and give the public something that they want?

I say to my right hon. Friend that we are doing both. We are replacing the rolling stock in our country and delivering HS2, which is what we need to deliver more capacity in our rail market.

If we believed Ministers’ promises back in 2012, passengers on the midland main line would be travelling on new electric trains this year. Instead, they are on old British Rail stock, the toilets empty straight onto the track, and they have to lean out of the window to open the door when the train arrives in the station. That is not great for anyone, and it is certainly not disabled friendly. The Government’s inclusive transport strategy, published last year, does not contain any commitment that all rolling stock on the rail network will meet the accessibility deadline of 1 January 2020—a deadline that this industry has known about for 20 years. The strategy does give that commitment for buses and coaches; why not rail?

If the hon. Lady experiences some of what she has described, I can say only that it must be a most undignified experience for the Chair of the Transport Committee of the House of Commons.

We are making sure that we are dealing with the disability issue. We want to make sure that the rail network offers smooth, easy journeys for people with disabilities. With regard to the rolling stock coming on to the midland main line, of course, we will deliver it as soon as possible.

I wish to follow the line of argument of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I do not know whether the Minister has read the very authoritative transport study produced for the previous Government by the British Airways chief, Rod Eddington, which clearly made the case against grand projects and advocated widespread incremental improvement. Would we not be better served if the Government funded not only rolling stock but many other transport improvements by scrapping the ever more expensive, budget-busting HS2?

Again, I give the answer that I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis): we are doing both. It is not a question of one or the other. We are delivering HS2, which is required to add capacity into our rail network, and, at the same time, we are also delivering, in control period 6, maintenance and enhancements worth £48 billion across our classic rail network. So we are doing both, not one or the other.

Will my hon. Friend tell us what progress is being made on replacing the Pacer trains, which the previous Government continually failed to do? When will that train be off the tracks and replaced by new rolling stock?

My right hon. Friend has a very distinguished record in bringing new rolling stock forward into our rail network. The Pacers will be gone by the end of this year; they are being replaced by a new fleet of 281 air-conditioned carriages, which is more than double the minimum tender required by the Government. The first of those new trains are already in the UK and going through testing. The remainder of the Northern fleet are being refurbished to as good as new, and the first of them are already in service. That is a very positive piece of news, and I can confirm that the unpopular Pacers will be gone by the end of the year.

New rolling stock will of course be welcome, but is the Minister aware that there will be no stock rolling at all north of Preston over the busy Easter weekend because Network Rail is closing the line for maintenance? Does he not know that the Lake district is Britain’s biggest visitor destination outside London and that Easter weekend is our busiest time of year? Will he tell Network Rail to change its plans?

I am of course aware of the importance of the Lake district to our national tourist economy, and of tourism to the Lake district’s economy. It is not possible to upgrade the lines without closing them on occasions, and the work clearly has to be done to minimise disruption for the travelling public. I will pass the hon. Gentleman’s point through to Network Rail, but these things take a considerable amount of time and it is probably not possible to make changes at the very last minute.

I hope that the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) enjoyed either his breakfast or the rare benefit of a lie-in—I know not which. No doubt we will hear from him in due course.