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Modernisation of the Railway

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 30 June 2022

The Government are delivering on the reforms set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, making passengers’ journeys easier, more reliable and more affordable.

I am very passionate about this subject. Fylde is home to a number of world-class events, bringing thousands of people into our great county, but they need good rail connections. I am delighted that the project to double the number of services on the South Fylde line remains very much on the Government’s agenda, with a bid still under consideration. With similar projects progressing to the next stage of development, and some seeing shovels in the ground, what assurance can the Secretary of State give me that we will see similar progress on the South Fylde line?

I think the whole House recognises my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the South Fylde line. We received the strategic outline business case in November 2021, we continue to review that and the next steps will be outlined in the coming months.

It was game, set and match Eastbourne last week, at the conclusion of our pre-Wimbledon tournament. That international event puts us on the map as a visitor destination, with its global coverage, but our great potential is wrapped up with our transport links. In that light, what progress has been made with Network Rail’s proposals to extend high-speed services to Eastbourne to enhance those links to the continent, London and the north?

My hon. Friend serves her constituents incredibly well. Again, a strategic outline business plan for high-speed services from St Pancras to Eastbourne is in, and I can confirm that the status of the project will be updated very shortly, in the rail network enhancements pipeline—RNEP.

The census figures show the east of England to be one of the fastest growing areas of the country, and Cambridge is fast within that, but in recent months the Treasury appears to have been going cold on some of the important rail developments in the region, particularly Ely junction and the completion of the Bedford-Cambridge east-west line. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Treasury and what has the response been?

Or course we have a record investment in the railway—nobody can argue with that; I believe the figure is £34 billion for developments. We will be publishing the RNEP shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to see more in that—that is without even mentioning the £96 billion, not in his region, but for the midlands and north through the integrated rail plan. There have never been a Government more committed to rail, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to find out more.

The reality is that Wales has higher levels of rail track than it has received in investment from the UK Government. Also, commitments on electrification beyond Cardiff have been scrapped. Will the Secretary of State set out when he is going to start investing in the railway lines right across Wales? Or are the Tories simply going to keep underfunding Welsh railways?

I am passionate about rail, including in Wales. I will be announcing more in the RNEP, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait too long for that. I think he can see that, as I have already pointed out to the House, the Department for Transport has a lot of success in its discussions with the Treasury, which is how we have managed to invest record amounts in rail under this Government.

We love the passion, but do not forget Coppull railway station. I call the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.

Last week, our part-time Transport Secretary claimed it was a stunt to suggest that he could do anything to resolve the rail disputes. At the weekend, that claim was blown apart, as it was revealed that a policy he issued means that he has direct powers over train operators to get them to follow his directions on disputes. Can he explain to the British public why on the eve of last week’s strikes he found time to wine and dine Tory donors, but still cannot find a single second to resolve these disputes?

I think that I have actually just discovered the root of the hon. Lady’s accusation that I am a part-time Transport Secretary. Just to correct the record—and I will give her the opportunity to withdraw her remarks—I can tell her that I was not, in fact, at the event that she mentions. I am full-time on this job. It would be rather surprising, to get to the nub of her case, if the Transport Secretary were not setting the overall mandate for a negotiation that is extremely important for the future of rail in this country.

The railway is continually being modernised, and anybody who says differently is being disingenuous. I do wonder, though, whether the Government’s modernisation is just an excuse for cuts in a workforce reform programme, including compulsory redundancies. I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for the response I received this week on the inordinately high track access charges that ScotRail has to pay. It was not that helpful, but I thank her none the less. Can the Secretary of State explain in detail why ScotRail, running broadly similar services by distance travelled, had to fork out £340 million versus Northern Rail’s £150 million?

The one thing I would say is that ScotRail has been run latterly by the Scottish Government. The amount of delays even before that was extremely high. The disputes that have taken place, despite ScotRail being taken into public hands by the SNP, have been particularly pronounced. On his detailed questions, I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State to write back to him.