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Rail Modernisation

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 2 March 2023

The railway needs fundamental reform and, last month, I set out how this Government will deliver it. We will move towards a more customer-focused and commercially led industry, bringing track and train together through the creation of Great British Railways as a new guiding mind for the sector. While we move forward with reform, the Government continue to hold both train operators and Network Rail to account to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers rightly expect.

Modernisation takes many forms and, in my constituency of Sedgefield, we eagerly await the modernisation of infrastructure through Ferryhill station’s bid under the Restoring Your Railways scheme, which will be the first stage on the Leamside line. We also have Hitachi Rail, which has played a significant role in levelling up the north-east since the factory was opened by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015. Hitachi has created 800 highly-skilled jobs in the region since that factory opened, and is also driving vital innovation in battery and digital technology to modernise the railways. I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that his Department will make prompt decisions on the business cases under Restoring Your Railways.

Order. [Interruption.] No, I will decide when you sit down. Sit! We are meant to be asking questions, not make a War and Peace statement before we get there. Come on, quickly.

Apologies, Mr Speaker. To conclude, I ask my right hon. Friend to visit my constituency and see these outstanding opportunities.

The Government recognise the contribution of Hitachi to the railway supply chain, particularly its success in winning 89% of long-distance orders since 2010, including the order for High Speed 2 rolling stock. It is important that the Government give full and careful consideration to business cases for new orders, to make sure that they offer best value to the taxpayer, and I recognise my hon. Friend’s continued support for the reopening of Ferryhill station, as well as the work undertaken by Network Rail and Durham County Council. The business case for that scheme has been updated and is being carefully considered by the Department, alongside all bids under the Restoring Your Railways scheme.

After being inundated with complaints from the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale, does my right hon. Friend agree that the TransPennine Express rail service is no longer fit for purpose?

I welcome that question. I am clear, and have made it very clear to TP, that the current service is unacceptable. That company has delivered a detailed and measurable recovery plan aimed at building back a reliable service, but any substantial improvement to that service requires the co-operation of the trade unions, which is yet to be forthcoming. I have weekly meetings to monitor TP, and both I and the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), have recently met that company to discuss performance improvement. TP’s current contract expires on 28 May this year. The Department, in partnership with Transport for the North, will make decisions in due course and, of course, update the House accordingly.

At the past two Transport questions, I have asked about Yorkshire’s railway network. In November, the Minister, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), said that assessing options for a new station in Bradford was “an incredibly high priority”, and in January he told me that the Sheffield to Leeds route study would be out “shortly”. I have not heard anything more about either since. When can we expect some good news in Yorkshire?

The good news for the hon. Gentleman is that we have made progress on that, and we are hoping to set out what will happen on that publicly in the very near future. He does not have too long to wait and I hope he will have news that he will welcome.

Network Rail has said that 278 miles of track must be electrified every year to reach net zero. Last year, the Government added only 1.4 miles of newly electrified track, including Bath, and we are still waiting for electrification. To meet our net zero targets, will the Secretary of State commit to electrifying all new railway lines?

The hon. Lady will know that we have electrified 1,200 miles of the rail network in Great Britain since 2010, and that work continues. We clearly think that electrifying the rail network is important for our net zero commitments, and we will continue to make progress. I hope she will welcome that.

TransPennine Express has been providing unacceptable levels of service to the north and the midlands for years—well prior to covid—and now they are at truly dire levels. The operator of last resort has made it clear to the Transport Committee that it has capacity and can bring TransPennine Express under its remit. Is the Secretary of State confirming that for ideological reasons he will refuse to step in and provide a better service to the north and the midlands?

First, in an earlier answer, I said that the service was currently unacceptable. One of the points I made is that, at the moment, ASLEF is refusing to do rest-day working, which is a significant problem. I did what I was asked to do and made sure that a more generous offer for rest-day working could be made. ASLEF is refusing to do so. It requires the co-operation of all involved in rail services to deliver a good service. On the specific contract, it expires on 28 May. We will make decisions and announce them to the House in due course, but I say to the hon. Lady that, if we take services into the operator of last resort, we take over all the things and take them with us. If we do not resolve the issues with the trade unions, then just taking in those services will not actually improve the services to passengers at all. Her obsession with nationalising things is ideological. We want to improve the services for passengers.