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Trains: East Midlands

Volume 806: debated on Monday 19 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to decrease journey times for trains that use the Nottingham to Lincoln corridor to connect with other cities in the East Midlands.

My Lords, Midlands Connect is working with Network Rail to develop two line-speed improvement proposals between Lincoln and Nottingham, as part of its role in promoting strategic transport investment across the Midlands region. One proposal is to reduce journey times for passenger services between Lincoln and Newark. An investment decision will be made on the proposal following completion of its business case.

I wish to widen the scope of that. I am very pleased to hear of the improvements between Newark and Lincoln, but my Question was concerned with the overall journey times between Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Birmingham. The average journey by train being at about 30 miles per hour. What further improvements do the Government envisage?

My Lords, the Government envisage a number of further improvements across the wider area that the noble Lord mentions, particularly on the Newark to Nottingham stretch. Midlands Connect and Network Rail are looking at a feasibility study which may see an improvement in times by three minutes. As the noble Lord will know, the issue there is the flat crossing at Newark, where it crosses the east coast main line. More broadly, the Government are doing an awful lot of work in the Midlands as they develop HS2.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the interesting answers that she gave the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Do the Government intend that the upgrades in timing, which will need infrastructure improvements between Birmingham, Nottingham, Newark and the flat junction for freight, and beyond, will be part of the integrated rail plan recently announced by the Government? They would bring local and regional benefits much sooner than the construction of HS2 East, which apparently has now been paused.

The integrated rail plan announced in February 2020 will look at the delivery of high-speed rail alongside all the other rail enhancements across the Midlands, including the Midlands rail hub. Network Rail is already developing work in this area, including connectivity improvements between Birmingham and Nottingham.

My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group. Rail is playing a vital role in levelling up the Midlands and capitalising regional developments. A dedicated ministerial champion to drive this key programme forward within government would be hugely beneficial. Is that something that the Government will consider?

The Government take their relationship with Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect extremely seriously, and I have had a number of meetings with them. On transport for the east Midlands, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced on 3 September a new collaborative agreement between local leaders in the east Midlands and the department. We have created two new posts within the department specifically for the east Midlands to provide a more influential role when it comes to rail service enhancement decisions.

My Lords, 79% of workers in the East Midlands travel to work by car, and only 1% by rail. Contrast this with London where 27% go by car and 46% by rail and Tube. London shows that that revolution is achievable. Does the Minister accept that to cope with road congestion, pollution, climate change and ill health the Government must prioritise investment now for much-improved commuter train services in the East Midlands? It needs a lot more than a three-minute time improvement; it needs a massive change of approach from the Government.

The Government are committed to making improvements to East Midlands commuter travel. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: if we are to get people out of their cars, we need them on the trains. Of course one of our priorities is improving the safety of staff and passengers on trains. We have extra staff to manage flows, extra signage and extra cleaning. I hope that she will agree that if people want to travel to work in the East Midlands by train, they should do so.

First, what is government spending on transport overall in the East Midlands region per head of population, compared with the national average on transport per head of population? Secondly, what specific progress has been made over the last five months towards reopening the line from Leicester to Burton to passengers, following the government announcement last May of a fund for feasibility studies on the reopening of lines?

The last figures that I have for investment in transport are £268 per head in the East Midlands compared to £474 per head across England, so there is much more to be done. The steps that the Department for Transport has taken recently will aim to level up the East Midlands in the amount of investment in infrastructure. The line between Leicester and Burton—I believe it is known as the Ivanhoe line—is part of the Restoring Your Railway programme, so the reintroduction of passenger services is being considered. Development of these plans has been funded, and the Department for Transport and Network Rail are working on it with the promoters of the scheme to provide the guidance and support that they need to get a strategic outline business case.

My Lords, ensuring better train services is key to achieving the levelling-up agenda across the whole country. It is paramount for jobs and growth that passengers and businesses using train networks have good, reliable and fast services. Also, part of tackling climate change is encouraging greater use of public transport, given that the road networks linking cities in the area are congested and polluted. What assessment have the Government taken on increasing train timetable options for passengers from Lincoln, with a view to ensuring greater usage?

I believe I have been able to explain that between Lincoln and Nottingham an awful lot of work is going on—to improve not only the time taken to travel between those two places but the frequency of the trains. For example, I reassure the noble Lord that, in addition to the measures I have already spoken about, there are plans to see two new services in each direction from May 2021, and then three more services after that each way from 2022.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw pointed out that on the wider regional network the average speed is 30 mph, which is not competitive for freight and businesses, and not good for the environment. The Minister pointed out that there will be a three-minute improvement, but can we come back to speed? In five years’ time, when the arrangements that she mentioned will have been made, what will be the average speed on this line per journey? If she does not have those figures to hand, could she please write to me with them?

The noble Lord will not be surprised to know that I do not have the average speed figures to hand, but one look at that line tells you that there are quite a number of stations, and they bring down the overall average speed. For example, on the Newark to Nottingham section, the new signalling system will allow speeds of up to 90 mph. It is key to get the trains moving much faster between the stations, although I accept that the average speed will be significantly below that.