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Great Western Main Line

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

We have so far electrified the Great Western main line as far as Newbury, Bristol Parkway and Chippenham, and electrification to Cardiff is progressing towards delivery by November this year.

I certainly welcome the electrification work in south Wales, although it should have gone through to Swansea, but what is the Department doing to ensure that Network Rail works closely with communities such as Magor in my constituency, which is right on the line, to ensure that where work does have a big impact on residents it listens, reacts to problems and compensates accordingly?

I cannot comment on the specifics of that community, but I will take that up with Network Rail on the hon. Lady’s behalf. As a general principle, I raise, and have raised repeatedly, with Network Rail how community engagement and communication are absolutely critical for all communities along the lines they serve.

The electrification of the main line railway through Devon and Cornwall would be massively challenging and hugely disruptive because of the geography, with a number of bridges, tunnels and steep inclines. Does the Minister share my view that the best way forward for places like Devon and Cornwall is to use bimodal trains that make use of electrification where available, but then have clean diesel engines where electrification is not possible?

My hon. Friend makes a very wise point. Electrification has always been part of the answer to improve the network, its environmental performance and its running capability, but it will not be the right answer on every single occasion. There will be occasions where electrification provides no significant journey time savings, yet has a significant capital cost. In those situations, we should seek to get the benefits via technology and the technology in the rolling stock. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), my constituents, particularly those in Lawrence Hill, one of the most challenging parts of my constituency, had to endure months of inconvenience as the electrification work was carried out. To add insult to that injury, we are not even getting electrification to Bristol Temple Meads. They have to put up with the inconvenience without the electrification. What compensation, assistance or help can the Secretary of State or the Government give to my constituents in Lawrence Hill?

The issue of compensation when we do works on either the railways or the roads is raised repeatedly, but it would simply just add to the cost of projects. I recognise that we cannot work on the roads or the rails without causing some disruption. That should be minimised. As I said to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), we should be working to communicate and collaborate with communities. In terms of compensation, there is no plan to change any of the current arrangements, but I just remind her that the services at the end of the work will result in the best ever services from Bristol.

The Minister may be aware that the Welsh Affairs Committee reported on the cancellation of electrification to Swansea and pointed out that although Wales has 11% of the UK’s rail network it receives 1.5% of rail investment. Does the Minister not agree that that disparity needs to be addressed?

We are keen to see investment right across our network. I know the hon. Gentleman has campaigned for a variety of infrastructure investments—indeed, we had a Westminster Hall debate on this subject only a few weeks ago—but we are investing at a record level. The budget for England and Wales for control period 6, which started last month, is £48 billion. That money is being spent on upgrading, maintaining and renewing our network. As proposals come forward for inclusion within schemes, they should of course be based on merit. I look forward to working with Welsh colleagues to see what happens.

It is extremely welcome that a scheme is now being developed for electrification to Market Harborough. Can the Minister say when further decisions will be taken about exactly when that will happen?

I cannot say exactly when without going off and checking, but I will of course do that and get back to my hon. Friend with a more detailed answer.