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Rail Performance

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

I take the performance of the railway very seriously and think that trains should run on time, which is why I have changed the industry’s performance standard from trains being five or even 10 minutes late to their being on time to the minute.

Commuters in west Oxfordshire have long been frustrated by reliability problems on the Cotswold line. What support can Ministers offer me and the Cotswold line promotion group? The group is campaigning for further redoubling on the line, which will not only improve reliability but will give us scope to increase the services available.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tireless campaigning for improvements on the Cotswold line. The line will benefit very soon from the Great Western Railway timetable change in December, which will offer shorter journey times and more frequent services to key locations. Moreover, services from North Cotswold via Oxford and London will be restructured to deliver more, and more consistent, services. So I feel that my hon. Friend’s campaign is making progress.

Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the investment in Ely north junction, which is pivotal to the introduction of a half-hourly service from London to King’s Lynn as well as improving services from Cambridge to Norwich? Will he work alongside Network Rail and local authorities to ensure that this vital scheme is delivered?

I certainly will. The project is currently being scoped, and I should be happy to work on it with my hon. Friend and Network Rail.

As my right hon. Friend is well aware, in my borough of Bexley we suffer from a very poor rail service operated by Southeastern. We experience regular cancellations—including the cancellation of my train this morning—and persistent short delays. What more can my right hon. Friend do to get our train company to improve punctuality and reliability?

I know that my right hon. Friend recently met the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). He is absolutely right: poor services are unacceptable, which is why the Williams review is so important. I do not agree that nationalisation is the answer, not least because railway numbers have doubled since privatisation. [Interruption.] It has a lot to do with the £6 billion invested by the private companies. However, there is much, much more to be done, and we will be doing more in time.

Will the Minister elaborate on the plans to open the proposed Market Harborough line as part of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway and the benefits that it will bring to the local economy, especially around Northampton?

I understand that the reopening is at a formative stage, but I am very supportive of it. Indeed, I support the reopening of many of the smaller lines that were closed as a result of the Beeching cuts under a Labour Government, and I should like to see as many reopened as possible.

I, too, would like to meet the rail Minister, to talk about the Southeastern franchise, the tender for which has been postponed. I should like to see trains from Victoria on the new Eltham to Mottingham line; I should like to see them retained on the Eltham and Falconwood line; and I should like to see extra capacity, so may I have a meeting with the Minister to discuss how we are going to do that?

My hon. Friend the rail Minister has informed me that he has met many of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and will be happy to meet him as well, as will I.

20. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is keen to reopen railway lines, but a short section of dual track is needed between Manchester and Sheffield, two of the least connected cities in the north. That has now been put on hold again, and my constituents are very disappointed. They have written to the Secretary of State, but have yet to receive a reply. (900128)

I think that the hon. Lady may be referring to the Hope Valley line. I should be very happy to speak to her about it in more detail and look forward to our meeting up.

Confidence in Northern Rail has collapsed among commuters in my constituency as a result of delays, cancellations and poor-quality rolling stock over a number of years. Just how bad does the service have to get before Ministers take action and take the franchise away from this failing company?

Perhaps the hon. Lady missed it, but I mentioned to the Transport Committee last week that I had already issued a request for the proposal, which, as she will know, is the first stage towards either a direct award or a last-resort operation. I agree that poor service is unacceptable, and the financial problems are well documented.

The Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line is critical to Blaenau Gwent’s economy, but with growing demand we urgently need physical improvements in the line. There is a complicated UK Government, Welsh Government and Network Rail problem here. Will the Secretary of State, or one of his Ministers, meet me, Welsh Government Ministers and transport officials to discuss this important issue?

Yes, and the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I had a conversation yesterday about setting up exactly such a meeting for those purposes. So the answer is yes.