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Great British Railways: National Headquarters

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 4 November 2021

4. What steps he is taking to identify the most suitable location for the headquarters of Great British Railways. (904016)

May I start by saying that my thoughts are with those affected by the tragic incident in the river at Haverfordwest at the weekend, where three lives were lost? My thanks go to the emergency services. The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is currently investigating. Similarly, my thoughts are with everyone affected by the rail incident that took place in Salisbury this weekend. I am grateful to the train crews and drivers, and the services that looked after those who were injured. Our thoughts go to the families of all those affected.

The Great British Railways transition team is designing a selection process for the headquarters and details will be announced shortly.

Stockton-on-Tees was home to the world’s first passenger railway. The discussion about building that railway was held in Stockton town hall. The first track of that railway was laid in Stockton. The first ticket was sold in Stockton. Last week, Michael Portillo backed our bid. I understand that Thomas the Tank Engine and even the Fat Controller are on board. Can the Secretary of State think of anywhere better than Stockton to be the home of Great British Railways?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent case. I was not aware of the Fat Controller’s involvement, but that could well nail it. When the competition launches, everywhere with a strong railway connection will be able to apply, so we can find a new HQ for Great British Railways.

Putting Stockton to one side, not only does York have a unique railway heritage, but it is home to 10% of the national railway workforce. It is a beautiful and wonderful city. Does my right hon. Friend agree it would make the perfect home for the headquarters of Great British Railways?

It is also the home of many beautiful trains of the past, including the Mallard, which I went to see very recently. My hon. Friend makes a very strong case. I can see that the whole House is looking forward to entering the competition to find the new HQ for Great British Railways.

I am now tempted to call the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who will reinforce that point.

But of course, Mr Speaker. York is not just about 200 years of the history of the railways; it is home to some of the leading rail engineers of the future and digital rail, as well as leadership from our operations and rail systems. This cannot just be about hotspots where people have their favoured city; it must also be about bringing the rail community together to ensure we make the most of the future for our rail systems. Will the Secretary of State look very closely at the bid from York?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I should point out that the competition has not been launched yet, but I am very impressed by the extent to which the whole House is in favour of their areas. York, of course, will have a very good bid. There is a serious point to this, which is that it is important we have the right HQ for Great British Railways, as we bring the entire network together. I am sure that York, as well as many other towns and cities, will have an excellent case to make.