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Rail Services

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

The Government are committed to reforming the railways and ensuring that they are customer focused and commercially led, with the creation of Great British Railways to bring together infrastructure, operations and oversight of whole-industry finance. In the interim, the Department continues to hold the rail industry to account to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers deserve.

In November last year, services on the west of England line out of London terminated at Axminster because of a land slip near Honiton. The same line has been closed for nine days this month, and passengers at Feniton are unable to travel to Exeter or London. Will the Minister ease the delays and cancellations for passengers in Honiton by dualling the track from Chard Junction to Axminster and adding a passing loop?

With the Prime Minister’s Network North commitment, £36 billion-worth of transport projects will be going ahead in other parts. I am happy to look at the project to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I should also mention that I am aware that there have been problems on the western and Wales routes, particularly those coming out of Paddington. The chief executive of Network Rail is also well aware of those problems and is taking action to ensure that we remedy the situation.

So many families in Pembrokeshire have sons and daughters working away or studying all over the country who will want to get home this Christmas. With such poor rail services into Wales, what assurances has the Minister had from companies such as Great Western Railway that they will stop putting on five-carriage trains when they should be running 10 carriages; that they will have a full roster of drivers available in the days ahead, so that we can have a full complement of services running; and that services will not be cut short in places such as Swansea and Carmarthen, leaving my constituents stranded late at night?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. With Christmas eve and new year’s eve falling on Sundays this year, the team at GWR had to approach the Department because drivers were requesting additional payments for driving trains on those Sundays, as Sunday is still not part of a working seven-day week on the railway. We have delivered on that commitment, but the fundamental reform point remains: we need ASLEF and other trade unions to ensure that we have a modern railway that works seven days a week. I can give him an assurance that everything is being done, but a lot more could be done if we could reform with the unions’ co-operation.

Being straight, transparent and open, I will write to the hon. Member and give him that detail, rather than attempt to make it up at Christmas time.

Until fairly recently, Northern Trains provided a Saturdays-only service between Sheffield and Cleethorpes via Brigg. That has now changed to one train a day, five days a week, allowing people only an hour and a half to enjoy the shopping in Grimsby or the excellent resort of Cleethorpes. Could my hon. Friend look into this matter and contact me after speaking with Northern Trains?

Yes, I will do so. We have discussed that service before and are looking at a timetable alteration for the future. I will ensure that is looked at with my hon. Friend’s point very much in mind.

The Transport Committee, with which the Minister is fairly familiar, heard evidence last week that, thanks to the cancellation of HS2 phase 2 to Manchester and the inability of high-speed rolling stock to tilt on the remaining west coast main line track, journey times to and from Glasgow could actually increase by up to 24 minutes, even with the £50 billion Birmingham to London branch line complete. Does the Minister think that passengers in Scotland will see that as yet another Union connectivity dividend?

No, I do not agree. In fact, when that matter came up at the Public Accounts Committee, the official who works on HS2 was able to explain that, where trains tilt, they can do so at certain speeds on the west coast main line. However, that does not actually require a tilting train: any train can go at that speed, provided the speed is on the train. HS2 trains will also have faster acceleration, so I dispute the hon. Member’s point.