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Rail Industry: Competition

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

As we create Great British Railways, we will work with the private sector to deliver for customers and taxpayers and restore competition through passenger services contracts as soon as possible.

As international rail travel opens up post the covid pandemic, Eurostar still has an effective monopoly on services through Eurotunnel. What can the Government do to encourage other companies, in particular rail companies from Germany and Spain, that have expressed an interest in running alternative services through the tunnel?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was fortunate enough recently to visit both Eurostar and Eurotunnel. What I can say is that the UK Government would support the growth of international rail services given the significant benefits they could provide for the UK. We stand ready to engage with partners to facilitate new routes where there is a commercial proposition to do so.

In York, it is about not just competition but collaboration. We have 100 rail companies leading in rail operations and in high-end rail engineering. We find that collaborative approach not only benefits the industry but takes the future of our railways forward. What is the Minister doing to invest in rail clusters, similar to the clusters in which her colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are investing in other areas of the economy?

What I can say to the hon. Lady is how important innovation is within the industry. With the new relationship between Great British Railways, the train operators and the innovators there are new opportunities to trial and roll out innovations more rapidly. Central to that will be the better management and exploitation of data, and GBR will be in an excellent place to do that.

We have gone from a situation where competition and franchising delivered £200 million in profits to the Treasury to the situation we have now, where the Government are funding rail to the tune of £15 billion. Some review of costs is of course inevitable. The Rail Minister spoke this week about workplace reform, so will she set out in more detail what those reforms will look like? Will the Government ultimately have the resolve to see this through?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. The Williams-Shapps plan for rail, which we published last year, set out the biggest change to the railway in three decades. We are committed to bringing forward that sector-wide reform. The country owes a great deal of gratitude to all railway workers for their vital work throughout the pandemic in keeping the UK moving, but it is important to recognise that the pandemic ushered in a financial crisis across the sector leading to interventions by Government to sustain the industry. Moving forward, the railway must be financially and operationally sustainable for the future so that it delivers the service that passengers want.