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House of Commons Hansard
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Passenger Rail Usage
05 July 2018
Volume 644
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13. What recent assessment he has made of trends in passenger rail usage. [906275]

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16. What recent assessment he has made of trends in passenger rail usage. [906280]

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With two decades of almost unbroken growth, we have seen rail passenger journeys more than double since the mid-1990s. For the first time since 2009-10, statistics from the Office of Rail and Road show a small decline in rail journeys over the past year, although passenger kilometres have continued to increase.

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Rail passenger usage is falling. Is it any wonder that my constituents in Cardiff Central are giving up on using the trains, when a standard return rail ticket to London for a morning meeting costs £235? With that money, they could fly from our Welsh Labour Government-owned Cardiff airport to Barcelona and back three times and still have change for a taxi home.

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The Government are conscious of the cost of fares to the travelling public. For that reason, we have ensured that fares have risen at a lower rate than they did under the last Labour Government. The causes of the decline in season ticket numbers are complex. Although the statistics show a fall in journeys made using season tickets, there has been an increase in journeys made using other ticket types over the past year. Factors such as strikes, station closures and weather have had an impact on season ticket use.

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After years of campaigning, my constituents in Neston were delighted when they heard that the new Borderlands franchise would include a half-hourly service on the Wrexham to Bidston line. However, that joy was tempered somewhat with the news that the new service might not stop at every station. Given that a frequent and reliable service is vital for the residents of Neston, will the Minister join me in writing to his Welsh counterpart to impress on him the need for this service to stop at every station?

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I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he engage the Welsh Government in Wales, who have primary responsibility for specifications to that service.

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Given growing demand for rail travel from Kettering, will the Rail Minister ensure that there is more capacity on local train services under the new midland main line franchise?

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I would be delighted to engage with my hon. Friend on that question. We are investing substantially in midlands services and ensuring that new trains provide extra capacity and reduced journey times.

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The most recent assessment must be that passenger rail usage is down, because people cannot get into London today. Can the Minister tell us why that is?

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Yes, I can tell my right hon. Friend why that is. There has been a major signalling outage on the Brighton main line service, which has affected services throughout the network. Although this is the responsibility of Network Rail, the situation has affected services substantially on the Brighton main line. That is why we are investing £300 million in this route, with work starting in the coming months.

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The concept of a signalling outage was previously unknown to me, but I suppose that it merely reinforces one in the knowledge that one learns something new every day.

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What will they think of next?

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One wonders.

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May I take this opportunity to convey my very best wishes to the NHS—the greatest social achievement in British history—and also to convey my best wishes and a happy birthday to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell)?

Quite clearly from yesterday’s PMQs, the Prime Minister is clueless about the sharp decline in bus ridership that her Government have presided over. I hope that the Secretary of State has a better analysis of the collapse in rail passenger usage—although I am not holding my breath. Can he explain last month’s figures from the Office of Rail and Road that show the biggest fall in passenger journeys since privatisation? Is he not alarmed that there were 2 million fewer journeys on GTR year on year and millions fewer journeys on South Western Railway?

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As I said, the decline in passenger journeys is a relatively recent phenomenon. Passenger kilometres continue to grow. It is difficult to determine exactly why we have this decline in season tickets, but we believe that it is due to factors such as strikes and recent station closures. In areas outside of London where there have not been those factors, we have not seen similar declines in passenger journeys.

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Poor, very poor. The fact that the Minister is not more alarmed by this sorry state of affairs will be of great concern to millions of long-suffering passengers. It has never been clearer that there is something very seriously wrong with the railways on his watch, with franchising failure, timetabling chaos, broken promises on investment and people shifting from rail to road. He says that he does not run the trains—which is self-evident, by the way—but, for goodness’ sake, does he not realise that he has to step in and get a grip before our great railway hits the buffers?

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Labour’s policies of nationalisation would be no panacea for the challenges we face. Indeed, those challenges spring to a very large extent from the publicly owned parts of the rail industry—namely, Network Rail, the part that is in state control. We see passenger interests as best served by bringing together in partnership the very best of the public and private sectors, as the Secretary of State set out in his strategic vision for rail last November.

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A sentence perhaps—Mr Dan Carden.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Northern powerhouse rail would transform rail journeys for passengers in Liverpool, with journey times to Manchester cut to 20 minutes, but it simply cannot happen without the electrification of the trans-Pennine line. So instead of playing party politics with the numbers, does the Minister not realise that his Government will be judged on the major infrastructure projects that they complete?

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We are just completing the £1 billion investment in the great north rail project, which included significant electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester route. We are now about to embark on the next control period for rail, in which we will spend £2.9 billion on the trans-Pennine route upgrade. This is the single largest enhancement programme across the entire country, representing a third of all such spending.