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Rail Passenger Numbers

Volume 693: debated on Thursday 29 April 2021

We are working with the rail industry to develop a number of recovery initiatives focused on restoring passenger confidence in travelling by rail.

Any steps to encourage people post covid to regard rail travel as safe have to be welcomed, but would the Minister recognise that the very poor quality of the train service between Rochdale and Manchester, for example, a major community route—poor- quality trains, unreliable service—is a handicap both to commuters and to the economic development of the town of Rochdale? What is going to be done about that in the short term? We need the Government to act.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Actually a huge amount is being done while there are fewer passengers on our network. When passengers return to travelling, hopefully, as they previously did between Rochdale and Manchester, I would like to think that they will not find a Pacer train being used, because they have been replaced by a new fleet, and that they will find these trains in spotless condition, because they are unbelievably clean. We are also working, and there has been a big consultation, as he will know, to sort out some of the very big structural problems that we have with, for example, the Castlefield corridor and the timetabling of trains through it. We are trying to have short, medium and long-term solutions to this very thorny problem, which will guarantee much better service in the long run.

The Government’s approach to recovering our railways is chaotic. They have introduced inflation-busting rail fares while freezing fuel duty. They talk about the green agenda, yet fail to commit to a rolling programme of electrification. They talk about levelling up, but have put into doubt dozens of key rail infrastructure projects. They have brought franchises back into public ownership just to pay risk-free profits to private companies, and where are the flexible season tickets for cash-strapped passengers? All hidden, no doubt, in the long-promised Williams review, which never seems to arrive. So my question to the Minister is simple: does not the British public deserve much better than this?

I do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman has painted. We have electrified way more miles of rail than any previous Labour Government. The Government have stood behind the railways. A huge amount of money is going into our rail system at this point in time; nearly £12 billion over the course of the last year—money that would not have been able to be spent under a Labour Administration, because the economy would have been in tatters and we would have been in a very different place.