Skip to main content

Unused Rail Capacity

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024

12. Whether the Office of Rail Regulation has identified unused rail network capacity for open-access services. (901421)

The Office of Rail and Road has been working with Network Rail and the Department for Transport to identify unused access rights. That work will support the release of under-used capacity on the rail network, which may then be used by potential operators in the development of open-access proposals.

It is great to hear that there is work under way, but I notice that my hon. Friend did not say how far it had got. I know that he understands that this is a huge opportunity to improve our over-subsidised, post-pandemic railways, so that passengers can get a better deal, but if we do not move faster it will slip through our fingers. The only people who are happy with the status quo are middle-aged men who want to carry on playing with trains at the expense of taxpayers, and the Labour party, which wants to run rail for the benefit of rail unions rather than passengers, so please can we get on with this a lot faster?

I thought he was referring to me with that “middle-aged man” point, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working at pace. Since we met in November with the team, which included my hon. Friend, to see what further we could do, we have written to operators to clarify that unused access rights should be released. With regard to Department for Transport operators, we have hundreds of unused access rights that we have identified for release. We also talked about speeding up the entire decision-making process, and the ORR and Network Rail now have a draft service level agreement to do that. I will write to him with more detail, but a lot has happened in the last month.