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Railway Connectivity: East to West Midlands

Volume 662: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2019

I beg to move,

That this House has considered East to West Midlands railway connectivity.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to debate this important issue. Like many hon. Members, I have spoken frequently about the pressing need to invest properly in our rail network. I am glad that several hon. Members from the midlands are present, which underlines the strength of interest in the subject, even though it is a short debate. I am happy to take interventions.

This is not my first debate in the Chamber on rail investment in my community, but I make no apology for prioritising the topic, which is essential for our economic development and our standing as an excellent place to live and work. The Minister will be happy to hear that I will not discuss rail privatisation or future models of ownership; suffice it to say that our network is in need of significant improvement. Commuters and other rail users across my constituency do not always feel well served by the services that they pay a high price to use. They are crying out for a service that works as it should, and the network is crying out for the major investment that it desperately needs.

If the Government are serious about the midlands engine, they need to power it up with a significant commitment to our rail infrastructure. The midlands are a focal point of our country’s strategic transport network. Whether people are heading north, south, east or west, the chances are that they will travel through the midlands at some point, which loads additional pressure on our network that does not affect other regions to the same extent.

Over the last decade, rail journeys in the east midlands, or that touch the east midlands at some point, have increased by a staggering 37%, but in the west midlands, they have increased by an extraordinary 121%. It is good news, of course, that the networks are well used and that many people travel to, across and through our region, but we must recognise that those journeys put pressure on the network and cannot be at the expense of decent, reliable local and regional services for my constituents.

On the point of local services and east-west links, does my hon. Friend recognise that it is not only the big stations but the so-called little stations, such as Burton Joyce, Netherfield and Carlton, that are important commuter stations for people who live in those areas?

I absolutely agree. When I was preparing for the debate I was thinking about Netherfield, as I often do because I have canvassed there an awful lot in my life. Those stations are important to people and provide the ability to get to and from Nottingham or other places.

The figures do not lie, although I know that anything can be proved with figures. The latest statistics show that £70 per head is spent on rail infrastructure in the east midlands and more than 10 times that is spent in London. We can play with those numbers, but fundamentally, there is an extraordinary imbalance that is unsustainable economically—and, frankly, practically—and it will not do. I am a realist, however, and practical, so I am not out with a begging bowl asking for investment levels to be equalised overnight in a vacuum for no purpose. I am here to make a positive case for my constituents and our region to get a good shake of the dice.

I am fortunate that there was investment in a new railway station in Ilkeston not long ago, but even from there, or from Long Eaton station, which is also in my constituency, it is hard to go from east to west, so I welcome the debate. The hon. Gentleman is correct that we need more investment in our railways, so that more trains can stop more frequently at our smaller stations.

I appreciate that intervention. We talk about north and south and going to and from London a lot, but for our constituents and the communities in our part of the world, that east-west link and the link to Birmingham is just as important.

It is the perfect time, after an intervention from the hon. Lady, to mention that HS2 is coming down the line. We still have some significant work to do to make sure that the east midlands is not erased from that map. We have a real opportunity to gear up our region’s infrastructure and economy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. HS2 is often seen as a north-south rail project, but does he agree that reducing the journey time from Birmingham to the east midlands hub at Toton to just 19 minutes is a game changer for east-west connectivity in our region? It is unsurprising that the eastern leg of HS2, which will transform links from Birmingham to not just the east midlands but Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland—an area of 15 million people—delivers more than 60% of the wider economic benefits of phase 2.

The Chair of the Transport Committee, my constituency neighbour, makes an excellent point. One of the most frustrating things about the arguments around HS2 is that they get drawn into journey times to and from London. They are not unimportant, but they are not the fundamental thing.

Many hon. Members will have heard me say that we have a real opportunity in the east midlands—the west midlands will benefit too—in the Toton station for HS2; in dualling the roads that get us to the brilliant East Midlands airport, which is the biggest pure freight airport in the country; and in developing the power station site. There is the potential for more than 100,000 new jobs. HS2 is fundamental to that, so pulling that project out risks pulling the whole thing down; that is how critical it is.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On HS2 and the economic benefits to the region—the debate is about east-west rail links—for my constituents, the east-west connection to the Chesterfield hub is vital if we are to make the most of the local economic growth around those stations. Does he agree that to make HS2 work for areas across the east midlands, not just immediately around those hub stations, we need those east-west rail links so that people can travel to those new jobs and to the economic growth that HS2 will create?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Without those east-west links, people will not get the benefit of HS2 and we will not get all that growth. Individuals will lose out if they are not close to it, which none of us wants. It is no secret that we are going to see a lot of political change in this place in the next six months, but I hope that we can come together as midlanders and make a positive case, with one voice, about why that model and that development will make such a difference.

In terms of coming together, does the hon. Gentleman agree that extending services on the Crewe-Derby line through Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham is essential? I welcome the decision of the new operator of east midlands services to extend most of those services to Nottingham.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Greater frequency and a better service will be good for constituents at both ends of the line and in between. Hon. Members will have seen that last week, northern newspapers and public figures got together to talk about powering the north. We need to match that level of energy, enthusiasm and creativity; I will come on to something shortly that we can all get behind. The Minister will reiterate the Government’s commitment to investing in our midlands rail network, but it is our duty to make sure that that rhetoric stacks up with the reality on platforms across our region.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on an important topic. Does he agree that rail freight capacity is important to relieve communities and roads of heavy lorries and to meet our zero-carbon targets? Projects such as Peak Rail in my constituency would drive hundreds of lorries off our roads and would bring heritage steam to Buxton, which would attract tourists. With significant private sector investment, it could also free up capacity on our main lines at little cost to the Department and would have benefits for the proposed HS2 route.

I share my hon. Friend’s view; I was going to make that point. We all want freight off the road, because we declared a climate emergency three weeks ago and that is a good way to support that declaration. We can create, in the midlands, through Toton at the fulcrum of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and the airport and the power station site, a centre of the country where freight will come in by air, rail and road. We will be the fulcrum for that and the jobs and opportunities are extraordinary. My hon. Friend knows that I often drive through her constituency on the way to the football, and I hoped that she was going to mention better rail links through there, because I certainly would have shared her view on that too.

Midlands Connect has produced a practical, backable and concrete proposal on the midlands rail hub. I hope that the Minister will take some time to reflect on what he has heard about it so far and on where he thinks we might go with it in future. The project will create economic, social and environmental rewards across the whole of the midlands and far beyond. It is the most ambitious upgrade of our region’s rail network since the east coast main line was electrified in the 1980s.

The line to Birmingham was electrified more than 50 years ago, and we are still campaigning hard, Minister. I will never miss an opportunity to say that we want the same for the midlands mainline. It is extraordinary that we are still waiting for 20th-century levels of support in Nottingham.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech that is as important to the west midlands as it is to the east midlands. Does he agree that the midlands rail hub project has absolutely massive potential? It has been estimated that it could free up another 6 million passenger journeys and around 36 extra freight paths by linking up the east and west midlands in the way that is needed. If that is to happen, the project will need backing. Will he join me in saying to the Minister that if the Government agree with the ambition and the end, they must will the means? That involves investment in the midlands rail hub.

I absolutely agree. That was precisely why I applied for this debate—to have the opportunity to encourage the Minister to back the scheme, which is coming any day now. I made my application on the day of the draw and was granted the debate first time; that has never happened to me before. I confess that I was planning to have a little bit of lead-in time, but I am nevertheless delighted even to be slightly ahead of some of the review’s proposals. As my hon. Friend says, it requires decisive Government action and support.

The project, as planned, would include new direct services between Nottingham and Coventry via Leicester, and would connect Hereford, Worcester, the south-west and Wales to the HS2 network. That could be done in phases, starting in 2024, and finished in time for the arrival of HS2—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

I apologise to the Rail Minister, but I suppose it is appropriate in a debate about railways for there to be a significant delay in proceedings. For those who are waiting for the next debate, this debate is due to finish at 4.58, when the next one will begin. I call Alex Norris.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone; I am grateful for the chance to resume my remarks.

Before we were interrupted, I was talking about the facets of an east midlands rail hub, and I know the massed crowds in the debate will be excited to hear some more about it in the next 18 minutes. That could be completed in phases, starting in 2024 and finishing in time for the arrival of HS2 in the east midlands in 2033. That staggered approach would minimise disruption to passengers and would prevent a worsening of the issues that we are suffering.

As I said before, this debate came more quickly than I expected, so the full details of the proposal for the hub from Midlands Connect will not be published until next week. I will test the principle that the best place to tell a secret is on the Floor of the House of Commons by letting Members in on some of the highlights, ahead of time.

Broadly, the proposal would give capacity for 24 new east-west and west-east passenger services every hour on the midlands rail network, with 36 additional freight paths per day, shifting 4,320 lorries from road to railway each day. Some 1.6 million more people would be brought within an hour’s journey by public transport of the midlands’ biggest towns and cities, and the extra capacity would add £650 million to the economy of the midlands every year.

The hub would be a win-win for our region on so many fronts. It would bring huge economic dividends every year to our industries and local businesses. A more joined-up public transport system would be a good idea as it would reduce traffic on our overcrowded roads and help to tackle the climate emergency we are all too aware that we are facing. The additional tourism it would bring to the region would also be a benefit, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) mentioned.

It is clear as day that this a project whose time has come; it needs to happen. The case for the midlands rail hub is persuasive, the details Ministers see will be good and it is time that midlands communities were backed in this way. I hope Ministers will put the full weight of the Department for Transport behind this project; if they want the midlands engine, they will have to have the rail hub as a constituent part of it.

I know Transport Ministers have a tough job and there are competing priorities, but I believe there is a strong business case. This is not the politics of the begging bowl or saying, “London gets so much per head and we get so much less per head.” It is easy to say that stuff, but there have to be backable propositions; this is one of them. We think it will lead to good infrastructure in the region and economic benefits.

I ask the Minister to read the report from Midlands Connect when it is released next week and put it at the top of his in-tray for approval. We know there will be significant political change in the next few months and there may be ministerial changes too. If the Minister is not in his role in the future, I ask him to pass it on to his successors, so that they understand that this is a good project. We would make sure that they got a copy of the report, but I hope the Minister would pass a copy on too.

Far too many people in my constituency think that progress in our economy is stalling. There are significant gaps in our development that have not been exploited. I mentioned briefly when the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) intervened that the reality for my community since the mid-1980s has been significant deindustrialisation. We could have a day’s debate on the reasons for that, its inevitability and what came in its place, but to a certain extent that is now for the birds. What comes now is what matters, with the midlands rail hub being a critical component part of our economic development around that triangle.

My hon. Friend is making an important point about the economic regeneration that the midlands rail hub could enable. He has already acknowledged the importance of tackling the climate emergency. Is it not equally important to tackle congestion and poor air quality in our cities, and improve safety? We know it is far safer to travel by rail than by road. Does he agree?

I share my hon. Friend and neighbour’s view. The climate emergency is a real thing, not just for leaflets. We should see every action that we now take as a country through the prism of sustainability. This is one of those projects, because it is sustainable: it will take cars and lorries off the road, and the jobs we are talking about—around the airport, the HS2 facility at Toton and the power station site—will be new economy jobs. There are extraordinary opportunities around the power station site for clean energy jobs; we are talking about more than 100,000 potential jobs across those sites. This is the future for the midlands. The only way to get there is to have it properly wired up with the infrastructure.

I hope the Minister will give good consideration to the rail hub, so that we can get it moving, on the books and ready for delivery.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) on securing this debate on this highly important issue. He articulated the importance of rail in his own area, and across the east and west midlands, highlighting its impact on reducing congestion, improving air quality and other environmental improvements, plus its role in underpinning our economy. Those are critical reasons why we should be—and are—investing heavily in rail.

I agree with points made by a number of Members about the importance of rail freight in the economy as a whole, and in the midlands in particular. It is already part of a strong logistics sector in both economies; rail underpins that comprehensively.

I receive many representations from colleagues about the rail services in their areas, typically focused on capacity and overcrowding. I will talk about cross-country, the midlands hub, HS2 and rolling stock, what we are doing now and what we are working to deliver for passengers over the next few years.

This is an exciting time for the rail industry and for passengers. We have new fleets being introduced that will help to deliver a step change in customer service. The performance of trains is one factor affecting the overall network performance. Both the Department and operators consider that to be an important part of the franchise competition process.

We are seeing a change in the operator for the east midlands franchise, which has been won by Abellio. There will be a mobilisation phase and Abellio will take over in August. It will oversee the introduction of a brand new fleet of trains on the upgraded midland main line from 2022. The new trains will deliver faster journey times over longer distances in peak periods, and new, frequent express services will be introduced, including from Corby through Luton into London. The roll-out of the new fleet will be completed by December 2023. That intercity fleet will be significantly more reliable and comfortable. The key point about capacity is that passengers will benefit from an 80% increase in the number of morning peak seats into Nottingham, Lincoln and St Pancras.

Midlands Connect is critical in planning the transport for the future of the area. It is working with HS2, Transport for the East Midlands, the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire local enterprise partnership—D2N2—and Network Rail to make the case for enhanced connectivity to the new hub station at Toton. HS2 will indeed transform things, which was a point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. It will not just improve connectivity to and from London, although that is obviously a part of it, but it will certainly transform connectivity between the east and west midlands in a positive way. That point does not always get exposed, but needs to be said. The Toton hub will be well connected to Nottingham, Derby and other mainline stations, and provide significant journey time improvements to the north and west. It is key to maximise the opportunities that will be presented when HS2 arrives in the area.

Midlands Connect is also investigating options to run services from Leicester to Leeds via HS2, transforming connectivity between the two cities, and developing a business case for additional services on the Derby-Stoke-Crewe corridor, so the east midlands can link to HS2 services at Crewe in 2027.

The Minister mentioned the Crewe-Derby line, through Stoke-on-Trent. Does he agree that there is real untapped potential on that line to vastly improve services, particularly to stations such as Longton, in my constituency?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend; he has made a strong case for that in meetings that we have already had on the subject, and that case has been shared with other colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). I will mention it later, but I agree entirely with the point.

Today, eight out of 10 journeys between Birmingham and Nottingham are made by road. That is not desirable. One of the key points made about the midlands rail hub was that it will help to improve east-west connectivity by doubling the number of direct services between those two great cities, cutting the journey time by more than 25% to just 50 minutes and bringing about 450,000 more people in the two cities within one hour of each other. It will enable faster and more frequent services through Derby and will include funding to examine the case for major investment to reduce conflicts between the east coast main line and Nottingham-Lincoln traffic at Newark.

I recognise how important this case is. We have received the strategic outline business case in the Department and it is going through its evaluation. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked whether I would back the case; I cannot say that until we have concluded our evaluation, but I can say that I am extremely keen to see inter-city connectivity as a driver of economic growth, that the points he has made are spot on and that I am keen to work with Midlands Connect to take this forward. Indeed, I am meeting Midlands Connect next week. I hope that is of some interest to him.

I must mention the midlands main line, because we are seeing the biggest upgrade of the line since its completion in around 1870. The investments being made will improve long-distance passenger services between Sheffield, Nottingham and London, and services between Corby, Kettering and London. The journey time improvement and additional seats will make cities in the east midlands better places to do business in.

Market Harborough station has recently seen considerable improvements to make it more accessible and ease the curves in the track, which will increase line speed, deliver improved journey times and help to reduce fuel use. That project has been going well and saw a landmark completion earlier this month. The next east midlands franchise will deliver new bi-mode trains on routes between London, the east midlands and south Yorkshire, delivering benefits to both passengers and the environment.

However, the east midlands railway will provide additional capacity and more frequent services on routes across the east midlands, not just on the lines to and around London. Those include the route between Leicester and Nottingham, the Robin Hood line and routes in Lincolnshire. As an example, the Derby to Crewe line will see the introduction of additional capacity. The key thing here is that it has been a single-carriage service, which has not met the needs of the travelling public in the area. We will see additional capacity using modern trains, which will have air-conditioning, at-seat power points and free wi-fi.

Many trains from Crewe will be extended through to Nottingham and there will be additional morning and evening services introduced, as well as an hourly service on Sundays. That upgrade has attracted significant attention—I have had more comments on this part of the east midlands franchise than on any other—so I hope that that will be of interest to colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South has been a key champion for it.

One project that I have visited recently in the east midlands is the upgrade to signalling and modernisation of the railway around Derby to improve train service reliability. That has been an important project to unlock capacity, and I must say that when I visited it I thought it was a significant piece of work that had been achieved well by Network Rail.

A further project that is coming on stream later this year, which I have not had a chance to visit, is the brand-new station of Worcestershire Parkway, delivered by Worcestershire County Council. When it opens, the station will be served by CrossCountry services on the Nottingham-Cardiff route, providing improved journey opportunities between the east midlands and destinations in Worcestershire and the Cotswolds.

I mentioned earlier the services provided by CrossCountry; I have had significant representations from colleagues about the capacity problems on that line, because it has been so popular that it has seen huge growth in passenger numbers. CrossCountry provides local train services between the east and west midlands, with its long-distance services covering the most extensive franchise in Britain, from Scotland to Cornwall and Manchester to Bournemouth. CrossCountry offers regular direct trains from Derby to the north-east and Scotland, as well as to Bristol, Plymouth and the Thames valley. All routes serve Birmingham New Street.

Because of this extensive network, and to avoid the possibility of fettering the outcome of the Williams rail review, which is looking at the future structure of the rail industry, the CrossCountry franchise competition was cancelled last year. We are now working with the incumbent, Arriva, to develop a direct award franchise agreement. This work will consider the results of the extensive public consultation held in 2017 to deliver appropriate passenger benefits.

The key question that is consistently raised, and therefore our No. 1 priority for the next CrossCountry franchise, is providing additional capacity for passengers. We are working on a number of options to deliver additional trains for the CrossCountry fleet as they become available in the rolling stock market. The rolling stock market is going through one of its greatest changes in our country’s history. We are seeing a fleet update equivalent to when we went from steam to diesel in the UK. That is the scale of change we are experiencing, and it will free up rolling stock to add additional capacity into our network. We must remember that we are now enjoying more services on our rail network than at any point in British history.

I once again thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North for securing this debate on this important issue. We have covered a lot of ground, but I hope I have made clear that we are seeing new trains, new services, new lines and new stations. Rail in our country is being transformed, and he has made a great case for east-west connectivity in the midlands. I am happy to keep colleagues informed and I look forward to working with Midlands Connect and other bodies in the area, because I strongly believe that rail is a key driver of economic growth, environmental improvement and social mobility. Before closing, I will just highlight that the Government fully understand that, and it is why we have secured a record investment of £48 billion for our rail network over the next five years and are investing £1.5 billion in the midlands main line upgrade—the biggest since its completion 150 years ago.

There was one question about infrastructure spend by the different parts of our country and I have some updated information that the House might like to know: the infrastructure pipeline data from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority shows a per capita spend of £236 for the midlands for the period from 2018-19 to 2020-21, which is the same as the south and just a little bit behind the north. We are seeing a radical change in the infrastructure spend across the country, as we believe strongly that the economy of our country needs to be rebalanced. Underpinning that is a rebalancing of our transport investment, and at the heart of that is work in the midlands.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered East to West Midlands railway connectivity.