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Rail Fares

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020

Fares are crucial to funding railway operations and our upgrade programme. We have frozen regulated rail fares in line with inflation for the seventh year running.

Given that rail fares have gone up by a massive 40% since 2010, we now have the second most expensive railway in Europe. However, I still have a situation where constituents in the Northwich part of my constituency cannot get a reliable train service—in fact, disabled passengers cannot get one on one side at all. What are the Minister and the Government going to do about that?

The hon. Gentleman would probably like to know that 98p of every £1 paid in fares goes back into the railways, which allows investment in all the areas where he would like to see it, including accessibility for his constituents.

Under the Conservatives, rail fares have rocketed by 40%. An annual season ticket from Coventry to London is now £5,760, to Birmingham it is £1,400 and to Nuneaton it is £1,200. That unfairly puts rail travel beyond the reach of many of my constituents and it discourages green travel. Privatisation has failed, so will the Government bring our railways into public ownership to slash fares and combat the climate emergency?

I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward, as I do, to the issuing of the Williams review, which answers some of the questions she raises, but she should be careful what she wishes for because, today, using a single fare—£7, I believe it is—to go from London to Coventry, a host of Conservative Members are going to campaign in her hyper-marginal seat, at very good value for money.

Trade unions represent the hard-working staff on Northern who have had to take the brunt of passenger frustrations as the franchise has collapsed under Arriva Rail North. Will the Minister explain why, with Northern having been taken back into public ownership, the expert advisory panel established to guide the new service through its first 100 days excludes rail unions, the experience and expertise of which could ensure that passengers in the north finally get the rail service that they need and deserve?

It is a fair question. The answer is that Richard George, the head of the operator of last resort, is working closely with the unions and will continue to do so, because the workforce is all important to the delivery of a reliable service for passengers.

Many Portsmouth people rely heavily on South Western Railway for their daily commute. The service that they receive is substandard, with less than 50% of mainline services operating on time, while rail fares have soared by 2.7%. Put simply, Portsmouth people are paying more but getting less. Will the Minister confirm what steps his Department is taking to address this injustice for my community?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correspondence and the way that he has engaged with my Department over this issue. He has been representing his constituents on this matter very well. As he knows, a request for a proposal has been issued to the south-west franchise owners, FirstGroup and MTR, and to the operator of last resort. Parliament will be kept informed of those developments. It is all about trying to improve the service for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

As we have heard, rail passengers throughout the country are struggling with the exorbitant cost of train travel, with fares having risen by a staggering 40% since the Conservatives took office. In stark contrast, Germany has recently cut rail fares, and in Luxembourg public transport has been made entirely free, thereby both supporting families and helping to tackle the climate crisis. The Government used yesterday’s Budget to prioritise once again unsustainable and expensive new roads ahead of support for public transport. When will the Government finally treat this issue seriously and take the urgent action that is needed?

I completely get where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but he should understand that taxpayers already subsidise the rail network by more than £4 billion a year, meaning that 54% of our transport budget is spent on the 2% of journeys that the railways account for. He mentions Germany, which has cut rail fares, but to do that Germany cut the VAT on rail fares from 19% to 7%; he might like to know that we charge no VAT on rail fares in this country.

Question 18, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] Will my hon. Friend give an indication of his estimate for completing the new airports national policy statement? Will there be sufficient time to take into account—

Order. It has to be linked to the question that you were standing for. Do not worry; we will come back later.

I note that the questions that my honourable and hairy friend has answered so far were about reducing the cost of rail fares, but that implies that either more people must make more journeys by rail, or taxpayers generally, such as those in Lincoln, must subsidise the rail industry more. Which would my hon. Friend prefer? Does he have any plans to improve the franchise process to make bidding for them more attractive to businesses?

We are going to change the franchise model—the Williams review is absolutely going to change how our franchise model operates—but my hon. Friend will have to wait a bit longer to see how that is going to happen. We have strong views on the direction of travel and look forward to informing the House shortly.

It is important to have affordable rail fares so that residents can access our railways, but many of my constituents do not have any access to trains at all because they do not have a local train station. The people of Gamesley were promised a railway station more than 50 years ago, but it has still not been delivered. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the bid for Gamesley train station?

My hon. Friend wisely highlights a proposal that will be considered among the bids for the Restoring Your Railway fund. I would be delighted to meet him to talk about it.

The Secretary of State is already aware of how unhappy my constituents who use Lockerbie station are—after fare increases, they have seen an appalling level of service from TransPennine. TransPennine has now made certain commitments to improve the service; what can the Department do to ensure that it meets those commitments?

The Secretary of State and I met the TransPennine leadership not so long ago to put the very points that my right hon. Friend has just made. As he knows, there has been quite a big change at the head of that franchise. We are working with the new management to ensure that the new trains operate correctly and that the service his constituents would like is actually delivered for them.

While rail fares remain too high, the cost of disruption to our commuters when services go wrong, as is so often the case with Southern, is considerable. Although Delay Repay has been helpful, it does not reflect the true cost of taxis, hotels and loss of work that our constituents have been suffering. Can the Minister tell us whether the new ombudsman is going to tackle the issue and make sure that we have a compensation scheme that accurately reflects the costs that our commuters and constituents suffer?

It is absolutely true that there are huge numbers of delays and cancellations on our railway on a daily basis. That completely disrupts people going to work and kids going to school, and it also affects students and people just socialising. Different plans are being mooted. The Williams review will have a fuller plan, on which I will be able to communicate with my hon. Friend.

People who live and work in Nottingham need Ministers to do something about fares, sooner rather than later. Highways England’s partial closure of the A52 Clifton bridge is making their car journeys unbearable, and we urgently need more people to use trains, trams and buses to get into the city. Will the Minister or one of his colleagues meet me and other hon. Members representing constituencies in and around Nottingham, to discuss how the Department and Highways England can support Nottingham City Council and its efforts to get our city moving during this serious disruption?

Again, the hon. Lady raises valid points on behalf of her constituents. I or perhaps another appropriate member of the ministerial team will be delighted to do that.