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Rail Services: Cheshire

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019

10. What recent progress he has made on improving rail services in (a) Tatton constituency and (b) Cheshire. (912034)

Since May, Cheshire’s passengers have received a new direct hourly service between Chester and Leeds, linking the two cities for the first time in many years. Services also started on the Halton curve after a gap of 40 years. Customers in my right hon. Friend’s area will benefit from Northern’s £500 million investment in new trains, which started being rolled out on 1 July.

Turning to stations, I had the pleasure of visiting Handforth station recently with my right hon. Friend. I am happy to say that it is one of the 73 stations in the Access for All programme that will receive an accessible route to and between platforms. The new £20 million Warrington West station is also due to open this autumn.

I thank the Minister for the Access for All programme at Handforth station, which is much appreciated by the local community and community groups. However, Northern won the franchise for the mid-Cheshire line in 2015, and the bid included a commitment to increase connectivity—from one to two trains an hour— between my constituency and Manchester. That was meant to happen in 2017. We are now in mid-2019 and it has not happened. I have heard the excuses from Northern and from Network Rail. What can the Minister do to ensure that there are no more excuses and that this line frequency occurs?

My right hon. Friend is a great champion for the commuters in her area. There is a commitment within the franchise to deliver additional services on the mid-Cheshire line, but this has proved to be very challenging operationally because of capacity issues in the area, particularly around Manchester and through Stockport. I have been clear that although I want to see the additional capacity delivered as soon as possible, this cannot be done at the expense of performance. Delivering a railway that passengers can rely on is the absolute priority. All options are being looked at to deliver these additional services. I will keep the House fully apprised of progress and this matter will be a priority for me.

I thank the Minister for his support for the upgrading of the Ebbw Vale line. That part of the Wales and Borders franchise has complicated responsibility and funding issues. Will he meet me and Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s Economy and Transport Minister, to tease out the complexities and seek investment for that important line?

I had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman only a few days ago, although I am, of course, very happy to have further meetings with him. I understand why he is making the case for that line. It is important for his constituency, which requires improved transport connections to address the economic difficulties faced there. I am very happy to continue to support the process.