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House of Commons Hansard
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East Coast Main Line Investment
17 October 2018
Volume 647

[Albert Owen in the Chair]

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered East Coast Mainline investment.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, not least because I have attempted to secure a debate on this issue for some time in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the east coast main line. I also represent one of the constituencies served by this vital route.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for attending this debate during an important Opposition day debate in the main Chamber on universal credit and social care funding, to which I would ordinarily want to contribute. Newcastle has been particularly hard hit by the roll-out of universal credit, for which it was a pilot area, and by the social care crisis. Sadly, the reality is that none of us can be in two places at once. I declare an interest: like many hon. Members, I use the east coast main line on a weekly basis, so I can personally testify to the pressing and increasing need for investment in the route.

I am proud of the pivotal role that Newcastle and the wider north-east have played in the development of rail travel through George Stephenson, the father of the railways, who was married at Newburn church in my constituency, and his son Robert and others, who pioneered their world-leading technology from our region through the industrial revolution. Whether it was the Stockton and Darlington railway, the Stephenson gauge, Locomotion No. 1 and the Rocket, which were both built at Stephenson’s Forth Street works in Newcastle or William Hedley’s earlier Puffing Billy, the world’s oldest surviving steam engine that ran between Wylam in Northumberland and Lemington in my constituency, the north-east’s contribution to Britain’s railways has been second to none.

That impressive history was celebrated this summer during the Great Exhibition of the North, which was held across the region and included the sadly temporary return of Stephenson’s Rocket to the region.

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I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for her excellent opening, which focuses on our proud history in transport and particularly in railways. As she said, it is unfortunate that Stephenson’s Rocket apparently had to return to London. Stephenson’s notebooks were recently found in York. Does she agree that there is now an excellent opportunity to bring them back to the city that she proudly celebrates?

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That is off-point with regard to the east coast main line, but it is an excellent suggestion that we should pursue. I am sure that there would be a lot of support for bringing home—back to Newcastle and the north-east—more of what is rightly ours when it comes to our contribution to engineering and railway history in Britain.

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We are extremely proud of our railway heritage, particularly in Stockton, from where the first passenger train left on its journey to Darlington. Across the country, people are bringing heritage lines back into use, but we do not need that on Teesside, because our trains and lines are so decrepit, old and run-down that they ought to be confined to history. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we desperately need more investment in the north-east line, we also need to cover the branch lines so that the people of Teesside and beyond have proper services to get to the main line?

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I absolutely agree. I will make the case that investment is not only about the infrastructure of the vital east coast spine that runs up and down our country, but about the major impact that that would have on all the contributing branch lines and communities that rely on that infrastructure and the infrastructure that connects to it.

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I represent Lincoln, which was promised six extra train services. We have one train to London in the morning at half seven, and one train back at six minutes past seven in the evening. Other than that, everybody has to change at Newark—it is a nightmare; I park at Newark.

I have heard through the grapevine—even though I am the MP—that we are not now getting those extra trains. Apparently there is a problem with the trains and the timetables. Does my hon. Friend agree that I should have been properly informed about that, along with other people, and that a formal announcement should be made?

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My hon. Friend has put her concerns firmly on the record. The Minister may wish to refer to them at the end of the debate. Otherwise, I am sure that she will make her concerns about the issue known again.

As well as celebrating our railway of the past, this debate is about our railway of the future. The north-east can celebrate its proud role in that too, including through the manufacture of the new Azuma trains at Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe plant. That is the east coast main line of tomorrow, which is what we must focus on today.

The east coast main line is a critical piece of our national rail infrastructure. It is one of the country’s most strategically important transport routes and enables more than 80 million passenger journeys a year, according to Network Rail. Between Berwick-upon-Tweed and London, the east coast main line carries more than 58 million tonnes of freight annually, equivalent to 6.9 million lorry loads. The Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities has estimated that the local area served by the route contributes £300 billion to the UK economy every year—and that figure doubles if London is factored in to the calculation.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely and important debate. Does she not think it ironic that we have those new Hitachi trains, but they cannot go at their maximum speed because the lines are decades old? We are getting new trains, but the lines do not match them.

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I would go further than my hon. Friend and say that it is not only ironic but completely unacceptable. That is part of the case that I want to make to the Minister.

The east coast main line is a significant employer in its own right, as more than 3,000 people work for London North Eastern Railway. Trains that use the east coast main line operate as far north as Inverness and as far south as London, and one third of the UK’s population live within 20 minutes of the east coast main line, so the quality of the service and the capacity of the route has a real impact across the country.

The east coast main line is the fastest and most environmentally sustainable way to connect many of those locations, and enables cities in the north of England—or the northern powerhouse, to use the Government’s terminology—to do business elsewhere in the country and with one another. When the railway works, its key city centre to city centre journey times compare favourably with air travel, which allows slots at airports to be reserved for connectivity into international economies. The east coast main line should always win hands down against road travel as an attractive alternative to slow-moving traffic and motorway driving, with all the air quality issues that they bring.

The line does not just facilitate the famous Anglo-Scottish trains of past and present that travel to and from London, but a multiplicity of other journeys that utilise every part of the route, such as Edinburgh to Leeds, Newcastle to Birmingham, Darlington to Bristol, Middlesbrough to Manchester and Stansted airport to Leicester. The east coast main line and this debate are important not just to the grand cathedral stations of King’s Cross, Edinburgh, York and Newcastle, but to the other stations that serve commuter towns and larger villages across the route. When all those connecting lines are taken into account, that includes a far bigger swathe of the country than just those places immediately near the east coast main line.

For all those reasons, the east coast main line is a national asset to be prized and nurtured, not taken for granted. That is why I established the all-party parliamentary group to focus on the issue earlier this year, so hon. Members from both Houses could campaign together to secure investment in the route for an improved passenger experience, for capacity and reliability, and for shorter journey times.

The APPG is also looking at the economic growth that could be unlocked in the areas served by the east coast main line if those improvements are delivered, and at the future operation of the route, which has been beset by significant problems over the past decade. Given that the APPG’s vice chairs are the hon. Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), there is clearly strong cross-party and cross-country interest in this issue.

Of course, the Minister here today is well aware of the APPG’s existence, having attended one of our meetings back in June, for which we are grateful, and having corresponded with me since. I am quite sure that we will remain in contact in the months ahead.

I am acutely aware that the performance issues facing east coast main line passengers do not come close to the frankly catastrophic service issues faced by people who had the misfortune of having to use a number of other lines over the summer, including Arriva’s Northern Rail passengers and those on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern routes.

However, there are also real problems on the east coast main line. The latest performance measures published by Network Rail indicate that in the year to 15 September, just 75.2% of trains on the east coast main line, under the former franchise and the current operator, arrived within 10 minutes of their scheduled time. That is well short of the national figure of 86% and even further adrift of the target figure, which is 88%.

Over the same period, almost 9% of east coast main line trains were cancelled or classed as being “significantly late”, against an England and Wales performance of 4.6%. Of course, this issue is most serious for those communities not directly served by the line—for them, reliability is absolutely crucial if connections to adjoining routes are actually going to work.

Although passenger satisfaction data for LNER is not yet available, the spring 2018 figures from the independent transport user watchdog, Transport Focus, found an “overall satisfaction with the journey” rating for Virgin Trains East Coast of 87%—the worst score on the east coast main line route for five years. It will be very interesting to see what happens to that figure when Transport Focus publishes its autumn 2018 results, which will incorporate LNER’s performance for the first time.

I am seriously concerned that the quality of the service currently being provided simply does not “sell” the line, or the local communities that it is supposed to serve. Why would anyone from overseas or from elsewhere in the UK want to come back to places they have visited on the route, or do business or invest there, if they have had a poor travel experience, as is far too often the case? Similarly, how can we possibly persuade more people to stop using their cars, to reduce congestion and improve poor air quality, if they simply cannot rely on the railway to get them from A to B on time and at a reasonable price, whether it is for business or leisure?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me again. She is championing people along the line. Across the line and the area, there is very poor access for disabled people—particularly at Billingham, where they cannot get on to a train at all. Will she join me in encouraging the Minister to back the application for a grant to give disabled people in the Billingham area proper access to rail services, from Teesside to Darlington and beyond?

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My hon. Friend makes a vital point very well. I absolutely support that call—indeed, I support the call for such improvements to be made right up and down the line. That is something we should all focus on.

I am sure that many hon. Members will want to raise such concerns directly with LNER at the drop-in briefing that I will host next month, and that they will wish to update colleagues on their plans. That briefing is also an opportunity to put to LNER the case for some of the improvements that we would like to work together to secure.

It would be wrong to lay all of the problems that I have outlined today at the door of LNER, or indeed that of Virgin, given that the latest performance figures published by Network Rail show that some 58% of the delays and cancellations on the route over the last year were caused by Network Rail itself. Those figures are a clear reflection of the east coast main line’s ageing and unreliable infrastructure. I suggest again to the Minister, as I have done at the APPG meeting that he attended and in writing, that that infrastructure is in urgent need of improvement or replacement, including of track, signalling and overhead power lines on the electrified sections. Also, far greater resilience is required in bad weather, which the rail networks of many other countries that have far more challenging climatic conditions than we do appear able to cope with.

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I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is making a powerful argument, and I agree about the need to improve the infrastructure. There is a lot of talk about overhead cables and track, but does she agree that, given the new rolling stock, we should also look to invest in new digital technology, such as in-cab signalling? The Government have talked about bringing that forward, but there is no timetable for doing so. Does she agree that we should be looking at a timetable for that digital technology?

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Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman has put that clearly on the record, and it would be good if the Minister referred to it in his response to the debate. Indeed, it is also an issue that the APPG can take up as part of the wider call to ensure that on the east coast main line we have the railway for the future and the investment that is required to deliver it.

Of course, the infrastructure-related poor performance on the east coast main line is not really surprising, given that the last significant large-scale improvement on the route was electrification to Edinburgh, which was completed back in 1991. To some of us, that feels like yesterday, but it is almost three decades ago.

In contrast, the west coast main line benefited from a major upgrade in the period between 1998 and 2009, at a cost of £9 billion in today’s prices, accelerating journey times and offering greater passenger and freight capacity. That has resulted in at least 20% more passengers on the west coast main line, which is evidence that investment in existing rail infrastructure works.

So it is clear that the east coast main line, with its creaking infrastructure, is not currently fit for purpose and the demands that are already being made on it, but what about the demands of the future? Even without High Speed 2, forecasts predict that passenger demand on long-distance services will increase dramatically in the coming decades. For example, it has been estimated that between 2012 and 2043 there will be growth in demand of up to 175% for London to Edinburgh journeys, up to 145% for London to Leeds journeys and up to 62% for Leeds to Newcastle journeys. Therefore, increased capacity and, crucially, increased reliability will be vital for the east coast main line in the coming years, requiring short to medium-term investment regardless of any plans for HS2.

However, it is crucial to highlight that HS2 does not remove the need for longer-term investment in the east coast main line, as the benefits of HS2 phase 2b will be fully realised only if there is an associated investment in the east coast main line. Also, as I am sure the Minister is well aware, the northern part of the line needs improvement so that HS2 trains can operate on it at high speeds. The east coast main line needs to be fast, reliable and resilient, day in and day out, as HS2, which aims to achieve Japanese-style timekeeping at a level that the east coast main line does not even aspire to yet, comes into use. Passengers must experience the same service when HS2 runs on the east coast main line as they do on the rest of the HS2 route. Of course, the far northern, central and southern parts of the east coast main line, which will not be served by HS2, also need such longer-term investment, so that they do not become more remote in terms of connectivity and prosperity.

However, the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities has made it very clear to me that the Department for Transport’s current proposals are insufficient to ensure that the east coast main line is HS2-ready by 2033, which is the point when the link between HS2 and the east coast main line is intended to be in place.

I know that on 23 July the Prime Minister made a somewhat unexpected announcement to

“confirm an investment of up to £780 million for major upgrades to the East Coast Main Line from 2019, to be completed in the early 2020s”,

which would give passengers

“more seats and faster, more frequent journeys”.

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My hon. Friend is making a passionate case on behalf of her constituents, and indeed on behalf of all the constituencies that rely on the east coast main line.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that over a long period the Government have not invested sufficiently in the rail infrastructure of the north-east? For example, we know that in 2016-17 transport spending per head in the north-east was just £291 per person, compared with £944 per head in London. However, what is more concerning is that even if we project forward and look at the figures for the future, as the Institute for Public Policy Research North has done, the north-east will remain in second place among the regions and far behind places such as London.

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I have huge respect for her grasp of detail as Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. I thank her for her support in this debate. She has highlighted some of the issues specific to the north-east, whereas I have been working hard to speak for the whole east coast main line route and make the case for it as national infrastructure, but I agree with what she has said and I am grateful to her for putting on the record some stark figures that need to be addressed by the Government.

Going back to the Government’s surprise announcement of £780 million of investment, somebody considerably more cynical than me might suggest that the timing and content of that pledge was more to do with the Cabinet’s visit to the north-east that day and the pressing need to announce something north-east-friendly. Indeed, they do need more north-east-friendly announcements; my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) has pointed out the disparity in the investment that goes into the region. That concern is possibly backed up by the fact that it took several days for the Department for Transport to confirm what the funding would be used for. However, as was eventually confirmed in writing following the Minister’s attendance at the all-party parliamentary group on the east coast main line, it is intended that this control period 6 investment will include power supply upgrades between Doncaster and Edinburgh, a new junction near Peterborough, a new platform at Stevenage, and track layout improvements at King’s Cross—improvements that are mainly paid for by necessary maintenance and renewal expenditure.

Let me be clear: any investment in the east coast main line is welcome, given the scale and nature of the improvements required. However, the Minister will also know that Network Rail published its east coast main line route study covering the section from London to Berwick-upon-Tweed, which contained a long list of potential investment projects or investment opportunities that would deliver much-needed improvements to the east coast main line. Most have been known about for some time and have been mooted repeatedly, including some that have not been delivered in Network Rail’s control period 5, 2014 to 2019. The Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities estimates that the route requires at least £3 billion of investment to fulfil Network Rail’s proposals, but there is no indication of where the remainder of the funding to pay for these projects will come from, either via Government funding or third-party investment. Meanwhile, Network Rail’s renewal and maintenance fund for control period 6, 2019 to 2024, is barely enough to stand still, replacing items on a like-for-like basis.

I acknowledge that, as is made clear in Network Rail’s route study, “recent rail industry developments” have seen a shift away from the historical model of railway infrastructure improvements being provided and funded centrally, via national Governments and Network Rail raising capital against its asset base. However, as a reclassified publicly funded body, Network Rail can longer finance enhancements through financial markets. A welcome devolution of funding and decision making on transport infrastructure means that more local, regional or sub-national bodies—such as LEPs, combined authorities, and Transport for the North—have been tasked with defining the railway needs in their area and applying for Government funding or attracting third-party investment. However, the Network Rail east coast main line route study states:

“Overall, this means that improvements in rail infrastructure should not be seen as an automatic pipeline of upgrades awaiting delivery; rather, they are choices that may or may not be taken forward depending on whether they meet the needs of rail users, provide a value for money investment, and are affordable.”

I understand that could mean the Treasury taking final decisions on individual rail improvements in England on a case-by-case basis. I fear that does not bode well for the comprehensive, coherent programme of infrastructure improvements that I and others believe is required for the east coast main line route. To that end, it would be helpful to hear what the Minister’s plans are for working with the Scottish Government to secure that investment right across the line.

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I thank my hon. Friend for being generous with her time, and for the points that she is making. Specifically regarding the way in which the Treasury assesses opportunities for investment in north-east infrastructure, we have heard how discriminated against that region has historically been. Will the Minister look at the definition under which that assessment is made, taking into account the economic value of infrastructure investment in the north-east region and how it contributes to delivering a less unequal society?

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Again, I echo my hon. Friend’s comments, and I thank her for putting on record some of the specific requirements of the north-east as part of the wider east coast main line infrastructure demands that we are making.

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My hon. Friend is being generous with her time. Is she aware that the Transport Committee’s report into rail infrastructure investment called on the Government to do more to reflect the fact that the way they deal with business cases disadvantages places like the north-east that are in need of economic regeneration? Does she share my disappointment that the Government’s response to that report does not take on board the Committee’s recommendations, which might help to ensure that such places get their fair share of transport funding?

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Absolutely, because apart from the other issues that have been raised, businesses need certainty about infrastructure and the quality of any improvements on a route before they will bring new investment and jobs to communities that depend on that line. It is not clear how that will be delivered under the current system, or whether we can expect a series of unexpected announcements from Government Ministers, such as the announcement that was made over the summer. Although that announcement was welcome, I would be interested to hear whether the Minister believes that the issues now arising with the long-awaited Azuma trains, which have been 10 years in the planning, reflect this piecemeal, seemingly un-strategic and ad hoc approach to investment in the east coast main line’s infrastructure. Last month, it was reported that ageing track-side equipment on the line north of York meant that the electro-diesel trains would have to operate only on diesel on that part of the route, travelling much more slowly than their promised speed, with all the air quality issues that would create. In Hitachi’s words,

“There are a number of 30-year old signalling systems on the East Coast line which require modifying to operate with modern electric trains”.

I am acutely aware that there are myriad issues affecting the east coast main line that I have not touched on today, including the never-ending franchising sagas that were covered so well in the Transport Committee’s recent excellent report; the future operation of the route; the Government’s ongoing proposals for a new east coast partnership, which the Transport Committee has described as an experiment; and how any of this fits into the root and branch rail review announced by the Secretary of State last month and re-announced by the Secretary of State last week. However, I hope I have made it clear that the east coast main line, one of the country’s most important transport routes, is in urgent need of a significant, coherent programme of investment for the short, medium and long term if it is to be fit for purpose now and into the future.

Such an investment programme would include improving the resilience and reliability of the east coast main line. It would include improving signalling, power supply and tracks, so that the Azumas can run at their full speed, offering faster train journeys and better connections. It would include improving capacity, particularly between York and Newcastle, for the east coast main line, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Ideally, it would ensure that HS2 services can continue north from Newcastle to Edinburgh, both from the start of phase 2b and in the longer term as an upgraded route north of Newcastle. Such an investment programme would deliver real returns for the whole country. Independent research undertaken on behalf of the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities estimates that the scale of investment required and subsequent improvements to passenger services could generate more than £5 billion in extra GDP, or an additional £9 billion per year when combined with HS2 phase 2 and the link to the east coast main line in the York area.

I look forward to the Minister’s response, and to hearing what he believes to be the main issues that the east coast main line faces and, therefore, what his future priorities might be in terms of investment. I would like to hear what additional money for investing in the route could, and will, be made available for devolved bodies to bid for, and at what point the Government will enter into meaningful dialogue involving Network Rail and key stakeholders along the route to develop a series of interventions to ensure that the east coast main line is fit for purpose, both now and in the future. Crucially, I would like to hear how he intends to ensure that a significant, coherent programme of east coast main line investment is delivered.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this timely and important debate. Sadly, my constituency does not lie on the direct route of the east coast main line, but it is heavily reliant on it, as am I. Looking around, most of the Members in the Chamber will be very familiar with LNER, as it now is, as we go to and from our constituencies. As the hon. Lady rightly said, the east coast main line is vital to the economies of the eastern spine of the country, but it is also important to those communities that lie off the main line. Quite simply, I cannot get home without using the east coast main line, but sadly I then have to use TransPennine. It is perfectly fine—the only problem is that it takes 65 minutes to do 50 miles, which is not exactly what we expect in the 21st century.

The hon. Lady rightly focused on the history of Darlington and the north-east in the development of the railways. My constituency includes Immingham, which along with Grimsby is part of the largest port complex in the UK by tonnage. The ports of Immingham and Grimsby were developed by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, or the MS&LR. It was affectionately known as “Mucky, Slow and Late”. Nowadays we get much cleaner trains, but they are not much faster. To be fair, they are usually on time, but they are not exactly express.

If the Minister was visiting Immingham, I would suspect that happens, as with most ministerial visits, I would get a call saying, “Can you meet me at Doncaster?” That is because they appreciate how difficult it is to get to the east-coast communities from the main line. The same applies to Scunthorpe, Skegness, Boston and other towns. The coastal communities are vital. They need revitalising and new industry. To get that, they need good transport connections. I suspect that if the Minister was coming to Immingham tomorrow, even in his Department people would not know that Habrough station is two miles from the port of Immingham. I would again get the call asking to meet at Doncaster.

We have recently secured for my constituency the Greater Grimsby town deal, which has great potential to revitalise a fairly left-behind coastal community. Returning to the point I made a moment or two ago, to do that it is vital that we have transport connections. Most importantly, we need a direct train service to King’s Cross.

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I regret that I was unable to be here for the beginning of the debate, but I support everything the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said. I have made a number of specific suggestions for upgrading and improving the east coast main line, particularly the southern half of it, that would make possible the restoration of direct fast services from King’s Cross to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Should the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) not be demanding that as of now?

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The hon. Gentleman regularly comes to the all-party parliamentary group on rail, which I chair. I am very familiar with the proposals that he has been championing for a number of years. I am demanding now and have been demanding ever since I arrived here that more investment goes into the routes that serve not only my constituency, but other routes off the main lines.

I was rather disappointed to hear what the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) said. She said she was lucky to have one direct train. We have got no direct trains, and we have not had any since British Rail ended them in 1992. I was rather disappointed to hear that the expected increase in trains through to Lincoln is in some doubt.

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It is not happening.

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I am very disappointed to hear that. I put three alternatives that the Minister could consider in my notes, and one of them was to extend one or two of those new services to Lincoln through to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Given what the hon. Lady is saying, it might not be possible.

The Minister will be aware that an open-access operator has shown an interest and has previously been in negotiations with the Office of Road and Rail about direct services. That is yet again on hold. I understand that a review is taking place on access charges for open-access operators. I can understand the logic of that, but it creates further delay. Earlier this year, Grand Central was intending to put an application in to run four direct services from King’s Cross through to Cleethorpes via Doncaster and Scunthorpe, but that is now on hold.

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Although the hon. Gentleman is outlining some of the difficulties he has in getting direct services to his constituency, I am pleased that the new publicly run LNER has just announced that it will extend direct services to Harrogate, which would increase the number of trains stopping in my constituency from one a day to six a day. That clearly shows that publicly run rail can deliver.

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I was not intending to embark on a pro or anti-nationalisation debate, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that since privatisation—I cannot remember, and the Minister can probably give the exact figure—hundreds of millions of pounds from the private sector has been invested in the rail network. The simple reality is that if we nationalise the rail network, which I sincerely hope we do not, British Rail or whatever we choose to call it would be very low down on the list of demands on the Treasury. Do we want money for the health service, schools and 1,001 other things? The simple fact is that there would be a spiralling down, just as there was in the 1970s and 1980s.

To conclude, I urge the Minister to meet me to discuss further how we can get over the immediate problems and look forward to a direct service along the east coast main line serving my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Grimsby. I ask him not to say, as many other Ministers have over the past few years, “When we get HS2, there will be more capacity on the east coast main line, so you will be able to get a service through to Cleethorpes.” I am afraid that that timescale is simply not acceptable, even if it is 2033 or thereabouts when HS2 comes along. If a week is a long time in politics, 15 years must be generations. I urge the Minister to look again at the economic arguments for the regeneration of an area that has just been granted a unique town deal status by the Government. We need improved road and rail networks. I am fully supportive of improvements to the east coast main line, but only if they can in addition provide direct services to Cleethorpes.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I repeat my earlier comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who managed to secure this extremely necessary and timely debate. At the outset, I give big thanks to the staff of the east coast main line, which we all use regularly, for their hard and excellent work and courtesy at all times.

Like many of my colleagues, Members from other parties and Members of the other place, I am a regular traveller on east coast rail. We travel regularly with each other. Our constituents also use the line to go to work or to visit friends or family to keep in contact. The one thing we have in common—I am convinced about this—is that we believe the east coast rail line and the trains on it should be in public hands. It is in desperate need of investment.

Reference has already been made to the Cabinet meeting held in July, which was nothing but a gimmick. Reference was made to the advantages of privatisation, and we laughed when the Cabinet could not get back to London on time because the trains were delayed because of the chaos on the east coast rail line.

Privatisation is a joke. Three times in recent history, certainly since I have been in Parliament, the line has been in the hands of the private sector and has failed. Its only successful time was from 2009 to 2015 when Labour nationalised it and it returned £1 billion to the public coffers in the Treasury. On numerous occasions, both the Transport Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have criticised the services, but Ministers have unfortunately ignored the criticisms. The clear message from taxpayers and passengers and from this House and its Committees is that privatisation is bad for our rail system.

There is a broader argument for investment in the east coast rail line. Everybody agrees that this country is running an imbalanced economy. It is too focused on London and the south-east at the expense of the north-east. The east coast rail line could be a solution. It could be used as a driver to boost economic growth. House of Commons figures show that under 3% of Government transport funding has been spent in the north-east since 2012. As has already been pointed out, that is the lowest of all the English regions by far. For rail spending it is even worse, with over 15 times more being spent in London compared with the whole north-east.

Research has shown that an investment of only £3 billion over the next decade could boost the north-east economy by £9 billion if that investment went into the east coast rail line. Why do we not do that? Ideology has taken over the Government rather than practical measures to try to improve the north-east.

I hope the Minister will address a couple of questions when he replies to the debate. First, following the 2013 announcement of the proposed privatisation that took place just before the general election in 2015, Ministers boasted of the benefits of privatisation and how it would lead to increased investment. Do they now admit that that was wrong? Secondly, fares have been put up year after year under privatisation with the promise of improvements. Where are the improvements? I travel on the line weekly, as lots of people do, and we have not seen the improvements. Thirdly, the Government continually state that they are undertaking the biggest investment in rail since Victorian times. Well, it is certainly not happening in the north-east of England or on the east coast main line. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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I had not intended to speak, Mr Owen, but I am inspired by the speeches and by the mover of the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). She spoke with great passion and clarity about how much the line means to our national economy, our culture and our society.

It thrills the blood to be on an east coast main line train and to arrive, for example, at the tremendous station in the great historic city of York on race day, or at Leeds—I am sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel)—with its shops and culture and its new cathedral of a station, with lots of investment to come. It will uniquely house the main line station, HS2 and HS3 as well. It will perhaps be the premier station in the whole of the country when that happens.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn). Regardless of the ideology of privatisation, the line has had a sorry history. GNER, National Express and Virgin-Stagecoach all failed, despite the amount of money that went into the franchises and despite the lawyers. Then they were taken back. I have a few questions for the Minister, and just an appeal, really.

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Before my hon. Friend goes on to ask questions, does he agree with me that it is important to remember that today is the anniversary of the accident at Hatfield, which occurred when the infrastructure was privatised under Railtrack? As a result of that accident, the infrastructure was brought back into the public sector under Network Rail. Should we not remember that on 17 October 2000, four people lost their lives and 70 were injured? We saw then the dangers of putting ideology and profits ahead of running a safe railway.

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We should certainly remember that anniversary. Regardless of ideology, one achievement of Network Rail over the intervening period, under all parties, has been to put a much higher emphasis on safety on our railways, and we should never lose that again.

On my questions for the Minister, is there not a strong case for a period of stability on the east coast main line? As we have heard, we have a promise of some investment from the Government, but we really need a period of stability so that people know where they stand. Ministers have mentioned the east coast partnership, but have given very little detail. We have no idea who will be involved in that partnership. Will Network Rail be involved? Will it be a privatised operator?

For the period of this Parliament, should it last until 2022, it would be welcome if the Government were to say that the service will be run as it is now: a directly run state-operated company with Network Rail. The Minister should be very cautious about disrupting the system yet again. There are other operators on the east coast main line who write to me to ask whether they will be involved in the partnership; there are other franchisees and open-access operators and so on.

Civil servants might put the next possible option in front of the Minister when the best possible option is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow mentioned, what happened in the period between 2009 and 2015. During that sustained period, the line was run for public service in the public sector. The stats went up, reliability went up and £1 billion was paid into the public coffers. The line could be a public sector comparator. From the Government’s point of view, it would be a good thing over the next five years to look at evidence-based policy.

We have heard a little about extra trains to Harrogate and Lincoln. Are they happening or not? Extra trains to Middlesbrough were promised. Seven a day to Bradford from next May were promised. Will those trains definitely run? Can I put in my diary for 1 May next year that I shall be there watching as seven trains from Bradford, rather than the one, go on that line?

Can the Minister tell us a little more about the Azuma trains? We have heard about the problems of electromagnetic interference with signals—it sounds like science fiction. Are Ministers getting a grip of that? When will that problem be solved? Will the Minister be able to say a little more on that this side of Christmas or in the new year?

I do not want to speak for long, but I want to say that the Labour party looks forward to government. We look forward to the main franchisee, the east coast main line, being run in the public sector with Network Rail, with all the co-ordination and efficiency that that will bring. From time to time, I raise the question of open-access operators with shadow Ministers, because there are open-access operators on the east coast main line. Hull Trains and Grand Central have re-linked towns such as Halifax to the east coast main line, and First is planning to bring in an open-access operator in 2021 to Edinburgh.

We can afford to be magnanimous as a new Labour Government. We should also recognise that just as the BBC is a great public service broadcaster but benefits from challenge from Channel 4 and the commercial sector, at the margin we should be confident in our belief in public sector efficiency, and still allow challenge in a 98% or 99% publicly owned sector.

I used to represent Selby, where Hull Trains identified a gap in the market and provided a service. A big national operator will not always be quite as fleet of foot as we might want. In thinking about how to change the railways we must give more of a role to local authorities, for example. However, there should not just be one decision maker in Whitehall deciding on routes. I hope for assurances on that matter from the Labour Front Bench.

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Order. I remind hon. Members that I shall call the Front-Bench speakers promptly at 3.30. The Minister may want to leave time at the end for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North to wind up.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I, too, want to start by thanking the hard-working staff on the east coast main line. They are always friendly and as helpful as they can be. They take a lot of stick, because it is not a very good service, and they deal with that in a positive way. I aim no criticism at them at all.

Like many of my constituents, I rely on the east coast main line, which connects Lincoln to the rest of the UK. Along with those people, I have been greatly concerned that it has once again come to be in a position of such uncertainty. Since June, the east coast main line has been temporarily run under the publicly-owned LNER, after Virgin-Stagecoach overbid for the contracts and defaulted on its contractual obligations. The latest contract failure is the third time in 10 years that a private train operator has failed to see out its contract on the east coast main line. To break the cycle, we must overhaul a deregulated system that enables companies to make reckless bids, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will bail them out.

The most pressing concern for people and businesses in Lincoln is that further uncertainty casts doubt on Virgin’s promise of increased direct trains between Lincoln and London from May 2019. Additional services would provide a huge boost to the local economy. Tourism is a big deal in Lincoln. There would be benefits to residents, businesses and Lincoln’s industry in general. For months, I have been fighting to ensure that Lincoln gets the extra services that have long been promised. My constituents should not have to suffer because of the Government’s mismanagement of the rail travel system. Neither should businesses.

I have sought assurances from Network Rail, local stakeholders and Ministers. On 24 May in the Chamber, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport to make a “firm commitment” that the pledged extra services would be delivered. He responded by giving

“all Members who are waiting for these new services an assurance that I will make sure that they are delivered.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 978.]

Contrary to those assurances, I now understand that the extended services will not be going ahead as planned. There has been no formal announcement; I have that second hand from other stakeholders. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the point. Will he also reassure people and businesses in my constituency by giving a clear, unequivocal commitment that at some point Lincoln will indeed get the increase in the provision of direct trains that we have for so long been promised? If he can give me that assurance, when will we get them?

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. As other hon. Members have done, I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing the debate, and I commend her for the work that she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the east coast main line.

The hon. Lady’s speech covered history and looked forward. As to the history, we heard about Stephenson and the Rocket, and the development of the original engines in Newcastle. That was interesting to me, and it made me feel I should mention some of my constituency’s rail history. The oldest remaining railway viaduct in the world, the Laigh Milton viaduct, is in my constituency. The town of Kilmarnock has a proud heritage of building railway locomotives. There are still two companies active in Kilmarnock involved in the manufacture and refurbishment of rail rolling stock: Wabtec and Brodie Engineering. QTS, which is located just outside my constituency, employs many of my constituents and is involved in the ongoing maintenance of rail infrastructure up and down the UK. It is a company that helps to keep trains running.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North clearly highlighted some of the issues affecting the east coast main line. As to punctuality, I noted the figure of 80%, against an 86% average in England and Wales. It is worth mentioning that the ScotRail franchise in Scotland operates at nearly 90% punctuality, and even that gets quite a bit of criticism, which shows what the level of performance on the east coast main line really is. However, it is not just a matter of statistics: the statistics mirror passenger experience, and it is important to point that out. If there is an intention to increase passenger or visitor numbers, and to get people to return to the railways, clearly there is a need for an enjoyable rail experience. That is tied in with punctuality and reliability. The issue underpins the whole argument about investment on the east coast main line. I support those calls, because the route is a cross-border one.

The £780 million package that magically appeared at the time of the Cabinet visit to the north in July was interesting. Obviously, it was welcome, but it made me think. I hope the Minister can explain. A surprise announcement kind of makes a mockery of the whole asset management system—the approach to managing infrastructure and going about long-term planning and investment—because suddenly, from nowhere, there is an announcement of a £780 million investment. It would be good if the Minister could explain the rationale for that and how it was prioritised in relation to other things that are still needed—either investment for the east coast main line, or other rail investment called for by Members in the surrounding area.

I have my own experience and memories of travelling on the east coast main line, which was the service of choice when going from the west coast of Scotland to London. At one time, the east coast main line had a much better service than the west coast main line, even though the journey was longer. It is clear that upgrades to the west coast main line have changed that dynamic and resulted in a shifting of the passenger balance, with more now using the west coast main line. That underpins the need for upgrades to the east coast main line. However, there are some parallels, looking forward; some upgrades will be made to the west coast main line to facilitate High Speed 2, but they will leave other areas of the rail network further behind. Some passengers will end up with an even poorer second-class system, while other areas of the network will get upgrades to facilitate High Speed 2.

The valid point has been made that the Treasury can spike projects or control the final release of money. We need to move away from that. Surely the Department for Transport should make the final decisions on investment.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made another of his repeated requests for upgrades in the Cleethorpes and Grimsby area. I have heard those requests many times, in the main Chamber and here, so it might be thought that at some point Ministers would hear his requests and act on them. It would be good to hear the Minister’s response. An ongoing issue that the hon. Gentleman touched on was the theory that privatisation brought in a lot more investment from the private sector. What it did was to allow private companies to borrow money at a higher rate than the UK Government can, against, effectively, the guarantee that taxpayers and rail users will pick up the tab. It is not free money or magic money. It is a different way of hiding the Government’s borrowing. That is my issue with privatisation and the argument that it has brought in all this extra investment. It is actually just another way of hiding the borrowing.

That took us neatly on to the speech of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), who responded by saying that privatisation is a joke. I think that the hon. Gentleman will gather that I agree with his sentiments—certainly, as to how the matter is presented. He rightly pointed out that between 2009 and 2015, the state-operated rail company generated £1 billion in track fees and £42 million operating profit. Of course, that profit did not go to shareholders but was invested straight back into the railway, again showing the merits of public sector involvement in the operation of the railways.

The hon. Gentleman highlighted the fact that the UK runs an unbalanced economy with a focus on London and the south-east, which he said was to the detriment of north-east England. I observe, however, that a Labour Government were in power from 1997 to 2010, and surely they should have done something about that imbalance and invested in the east coast main line up to the north-east.

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Do not forget the neglect that we in that Labour Government inherited. We turned around the imbalance in hospitals and schools, and we spent a fortune on raising standards to give working-class people a better chance in life.

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I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the mess that was inherited, but I still think something could have been done about the east coast main line. When the west coast main line was being done, it would have made sense to have a long-term plan for upgrading the spines along the west and east coasts, to see how that could generate growth and connectivity with cities and regions across the UK.

I can exclusively reveal that any speech in Westminster Hall by the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) starts with, “I wasn’t going to speak, but I was inspired and now feel obliged to do so.” I agree completely with his comments about franchises and the fact that lawyers suck a lot of money out of the system. Cost consultants also suck a lot of money out of the system, and the money that we are paying for lawyers, cost consultants and management is money that could be used for investment and to drive growth in the railways.

Relevant points were raised about the Hatfield disaster, and about how ideology led to the privatisation of the rail infrastructure. That reminded me of a recent statement on the railways by the Transport Secretary, in which he spoke about the forthcoming rail review and kept referring to the fact that some failures of the existing system were due to what he called the “nationalised” part of the railway system. For me, that had bad undertones of future privatisation, which is why I challenged him on that point. Thankfully, he said on the record that there are no plans to privatise Network Rail, and we must certainly never go back to the disaster of the Railtrack venture.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) made a plea for the improved services that have apparently been promised for Lincoln, and it would be good to hear the Minister’s response to that. She correctly pointed out problems with the existing franchise system, and the fact that tenderers are allowed to over-promise, under-deliver and walk away. There is something fundamentally and morally wrong with the fact that Virgin Trains East Coast was able to walk away owing the taxpayer £2 billion. The Secretary of State always says—the Minister probably does as well—that the £2 billion was not a bail-out, but if I let somebody who owed me £2 billion walk away from me, that would effectively be a £2 billion bail-out. Vtec had an IOU for £2 billion, and it was able to wrap it up and walk away. That is a bail-out, in layman’s language, and that money could have been invested in the railway. We have an investment of £780 million, but with £2 billion coming from track fees, that is old money being invested in rolling stock. I understand that the new operation will still generate track fees, but no private company should be able to walk away and still be involved in other franchise bids. It makes no sense.

I agree with the comments made about the franchise system, and I welcome the review into that. We must, however, move away from short-termism and towards longer-term plans for investment in the east coast main line. I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North about the need for the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government on cross-border planning and investment. The Scottish Government funded the reopening of the Waverley line down to the borders, which was the biggest new rail project in the UK for something like 100 years. We want that to extend further and become a proper cross-border connection again, and I ask the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government on that in the long term.

I cannot finish a speech on the railways without saying that the SNP wants Network Rail to be devolved to Scotland. The Transport Secretary keeps saying that Network Rail is such a problem, so why do the Tory Government not allow that part of Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved and become the responsibility of the Scottish Government, along with other operations in Scotland? That would perhaps help the efficiency of the east coast main line. It would save money spent on Network Rail, and any money saved could be reinvested. I will now conclude my remarks, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

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It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Owen, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for opening the debate with many pertinent points, as well as going over the heritage of our railways. I am pleased to say that the Rocket will end up residing at the National Railway Museum in York where it will have a good home. Our city can certainly boast its share of rail heritage.

I represent York, which is the mid-point on the east coast main line and a significant railway hub that brings many networks together. I therefore have a constituency interest to ensure that we get the right upgrade—as we have heard, it is well overdue. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and from the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) about the significance of good connectivity through to London—my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and other hon. Members also mentioned connectivity. We must ensure that we get right that connectivity to the main line, and keep those flows moving through. Although we are talking about the east coast main line, this debate is also about routes that feed into that line and are being brought into the modern age, so that they are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North described, a kind of heritage rail service. We must ensure that control period 6 considers the continuum of a journey as opposed to the segregation of different routes.

Too often with transportation not only are road, rail and other forms of transport segregated, but separate segments of our fragmented rail system go to different places. Instead, we need to understand the power of connectivity and bring that forward. One of our biggest frustrations in the north is the fact that the Government have downgraded the trans-Pennine opportunity—Crossrail for the north—which would create connectivity between Liverpool, Manchester, through to Leeds, York and Hull, stretching north and south and, importantly, feeding into Sheffield and getting that connectivity right. We must connect up the powerhouse of the northern cities and drive the economy forward. Without that we have linear routes as opposed to the rail consolidation we need—that point was made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North.

This is not just about rail; it is about economic growth. The tremendous site of York Central sits adjacent to the main line. We want investment, and upgrading the east coast main line is one opportunity to drive that forward. Connectivity to the ports and across the trans-Pennine route will enhance that, as will heading north to Newcastle and Scotland.

We unquestionably need more capacity and speed, and we certainly need fewer delays—that is the real frustration faced by many passengers. It was shocking to learn this week that stations in York had the second highest number of delays in the country. The measure was just one minute, but that still leads to the stark realisation that we need great improvement across our rail networks.

The lack of investment in control period 5 has brought that into sharp focus. There are bottlenecks. There are overhead power line failures around, I think, the Retford area, which cause constant delays there. There are problems with old-fashioned fencing, through which animals come on to the tracks with great frequency. If animals can get on to the tracks, so can people, which creates a safety risk. The numerous level crossings along that route snarl up different conurbations. We need to ensure that the power needed to drive our railway into the future is available.

We also all know about the issues with our old infrastructure and rolling stock. That brings me on to the new Azuma trains, which have been put on pause by the Office of Rail and Road. Will the Minister tell us more about that? We understand that ORR has put the pause on because it requires Hitachi to resolve some safety issues, yet it has not withdrawn trains elsewhere on the network that have the same problems, including the Pendolino trains. There seems to be inconsistency in the safety features of those new trains and we need to understand why. I sat down with representatives from LNER last week who were also scratching their heads about that inconsistency, as were those from Network Rail. We therefore look to control period 6 to deliver a railway for the future.

Engineers say that one of their biggest frustrations is that they are brought in to find the best way to generate the most efficient and cost-effective rail enhancements at the wrong stage of the process. We need to ensure that, when engineering takes place, it is of the highest spec possible, because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the east coast main line. We do not want to have to keep going back and tinkering with and tweaking the spec. We want that investment at the forefront. Why have we seen a downgrade in the money? LNER and Network Rail told me that more resource is needed to bring the enhancement and opportunity to the east coast main line that we need, so I want to know why that spec has been reduced.

Tracks are being upgraded, which we recognise the need for, as is the overhead line equipment between Peterborough and Doncaster—I mentioned Retford—and the power supply for digital signalling. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the Rail Operating Centre in York will see the absolutely mind-blowing things that digital signalling can achieve. We will also have welcome upgrades of fencing and bridge-strike prevention planning. I talked to engineers in my constituency from Low & Bonar about their using laser technology to look at the strength of bridges and the opportunity that that provides. They can use digitalisation to engineer infrastructure, and to work with train designers as they do so. Level crossing closures are also needed. However, the opening up of Kings Cross will also be a real enhancement to the line.

We need to make sure that we have the full benefit of digital rail on the east coast main line, because that is where the future of our rail network sits. That upgrade is therefore important—it is a passion of the route operator of the east coast main line. It is certainly also one of mine and will be one of any future Labour Government. We will take those strides into the future, not into the past.

We know what needs to be done on the railways and do not need another year-long review. The power of bringing operations back under public control has been shown, with an increase in LNER patronage since it took over the east coast main line franchise. There is no appetite for a fourth franchising process. However, we need to bring track and train together in the public sector to bring the connectivity together. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) that we absolutely believe that we should invest in new routes and new opportunities, and that we can do that under a national rail service. That is certainly what we want to do. It will not be a big, centralised body, as in the British Rail days. We are looking for a new model of public ownership that very much listens the voice of the passenger at the local level when devising what to do. He will have to hold his breath before seeing the details. We have been working with the industry, and it is very excited about the model we are putting forward.

We also need to ensure that we see a return for the passenger as well as the state, and we believe that our model will deliver that. We have rightly heard of VTEC’s £2 billion scandal. It robbed that money from passengers and got away with it, and passengers are now paying more and more for tickets.

There is without doubt great opportunity for the future of the network. Journey times will be down. We also have to think of the opportunity for growth. Some 80 million passengers travel on that route each year. We want a modal shift, with people having confidence in the reliability of rail and moving out of their cars. Since 22 May, people up and down the country have lost confidence in rail because of the timetabling chaos. Our model will make sure that that can never be repeated. Putting responsibility for operations and infrastructure in one place will mitigate against such disasters as those we have seen on the Government’s watch.

We want to make sure that rail is focused on the passenger, with good environments for passengers from stations through to trains, making sure that it is a public service in which people can once again have confidence. That requires good investment, which is what we want from the Government.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing the debate and on giving us the opportunity to discuss investment on the east coast main line. She is the chair of the APPG which, as she mentioned, I was pleased to attend a meeting of earlier in the year. She takes great pride in the railway and its contribution to her region of the north-east. The Government very much want to build on that heritage and ensure that we leave a railway that is stronger for future generations.

As the hon. Lady says, the east coast main line is a great national asset. Its sheer scope makes its huge importance to the national economy absolutely inevitable. It runs from London, through the east midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, north-east England and reaches Scotland. The scope of the line speaks for itself. The extent of that scope creates wonderful opportunities for communities that depend on the line to access many other parts of the country, such as the region so well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).

That said, the route is not without areas that need investment. The Government are committed to ensuring that we provide the money, time and resources that those areas require. I will take a few moments to describe to right hon. and hon. Members some of the investments that we are making in the east coast main line. However, before doing that, I will quickly respond to some of the more general points made about the distribution of transport infrastructure spending across the country, which is obviously a subject of great importance to Members for understandable reasons.

The chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), criticised the Government’s appraisal methods when deciding where to spend transport infrastructure funds. We do not accept that our methods do not provide regions with a fair share. As her Committee acknowledged, it is difficult to assign benefits specifically to one region from spending in that region when we have a national system such as the rail system. Benefits often spread beyond the area in which a specific investment is geographically located.

However, the Government have long acknowledged that the economy is imbalanced and needs rebalancing, and that changing the distribution of transport infrastructure spending to redress past patterns of underinvestment is an important part of what we need to do as an economy. We will therefore invest significantly in the north of England over the next few years. For example, between now and 2021, we will invest £13 billion in transport infrastructure in the north of England. Some of our biggest transport infrastructure items will be in the north of England, such as the trans-Pennine upgrade, which has been allocated £2.9 billion for the next five-year spending period from 2019 to 2024.

It is often asserted, seemingly without challenge, that the south gets more planned transport infrastructure spending from central Government than the north, but analysis by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests otherwise: for the next four years, it reckons that the three northern regions will receive more per head than southern regions.

Let me focus on what the Government have been doing to ensure that the east coast main line continues to play an important role in our national economy. Hon. Members will be aware of the £5.7 billion Government-led intercity express programme—the new trains to which hon. Members have referred. The programme will provide the east coast and Great Western routes with a completely new fleet of trains equipped with the latest technology. The trains are being built at Hitachi’s County Durham factory, which is home to more than 700 permanent staff and supports thousands more in the national supply chain. Up to 70% of the train parts will be incorporated from sources in the UK. The full roll-out should be complete by 2020, as planned. As part of the programme, Hitachi has invested in a new state-of-the-art maintenance facility at Doncaster and has enhanced other ageing depots along the length of the line.

As I informed the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North in my letter last month, and as she mentioned in her speech, the Prime Minister has announced funding of up to £780 million in control period 6—the next five-year planning period—for the east coast enhancements programme. The programme will provide funding for important works, some of which the hon. Lady mentioned; they include power supply upgrades between Doncaster and Edinburgh, a new rail junction at Peterborough, modifications at Stevenage station to allow turn-back, and track remodelling at King’s Cross station. Together, those works will reduce congestion and enable more services to operate.

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Will the Minister explain why there has been a reduction in the amount made available to provide the upgrade when £900 million was requested?

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First of all, I would point out that this money represents a very significant increase in spending on the east coast main line. In control period 5, from 2014 to 2019, we spent about £400 million on upgrades to the line. In control period 6, that amount will increase to £780 million—it will almost double. To cast that increase as a reduction does an injustice to the Government’s ambition for this section of our network. That spending will be coupled with a £5.7 billion programme of investment in the new rolling stock, a significant proportion of which will result in increased capacity and more comfortable journeys for passengers along the east coast main line—that cannot be described as a reduction.

Of course, there will always be bids for further Government spending on all bits of the transport network. They cannot all be accommodated at the same time, but as and when business cases develop for specific pieces of work, they can be considered as part of our enhancement programme.

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Will the Minister give way?

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May I deal with a specific point raised by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) about the trains and the line? He questioned whether they would operate at their potential. The top line speed on the east coast main line is 125 mph, and the new Hitachi Azuma trains will run at that speed. Passengers will benefit from journey time improvements delivered as a result of the trains’ improved acceleration and reduced dwell times in comparison with the existing fleet. Some of the passenger benefits from saved journey times are striking: journeys will be 10 minutes quicker between London and Newcastle, 15 minutes quicker between London and Edinburgh, and so on up and down the line. Those time savings should be celebrated.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned issues with electromagnetic interference on IEP trains. Hitachi and Network Rail are working together to resolve those electromagnetic compatibility issues and ensure that new trains can operate in electric mode when they enter service as soon as possible.

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I was referring to the cabling of the trains and to the fact that passengers or members of the public could climb up on the roof. There was an electrocution on a Pendolino train because of that design, yet those trains are still running on the Great Western route, even though the Office of Rail and Road has stopped them running on the east coast.

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Order. I remind the Minister of the time constraints, especially if he wishes to allow the mover of the debate to wind up.

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Thank you, Mr Owen. I will move rapidly on. The hon. Lady’s question is a matter for the ORR, which undertakes safety reviews of all equipment operating on the network.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) asked about the digital railway and the east coast main line. Network Rail is developing proposals for deploying digital railway technology on the southern part of the line, which would have benefits for the entire route. Decisions about progressing the project depend on that important development work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes raised several important points relating to his coastal constituency. I congratulate him on all his campaigning to get the town deal for Greater Grimsby and Cleethorpes—a hugely important £67 million deal that will generate almost 9,000 new jobs and help to create 10,000 new homes. Plans for a direct service to Cleethorpes are not being developed at present, but TransPennine Express, which serves the area directly, will be getting new trains from December 2019, with more seats and faster journeys.

The scope of investment in the east coast main line extends beyond just the infrastructure and the rolling stock running on it. Hon. Members will note that further time and money has been spent to improve stations, such as Lincoln’s listed building.

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Will the Minister give way?

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I am just coming to the hon. Lady’s points about Lincoln. I want to address directly her important questions about the introduction of new services.

We have accepted the industry’s recommendation to significantly reduce the extent of the timetable change planned for this coming December. The industry is also reviewing proposed changes to the May 2019 timetable as part of a new and strengthened process to ensure that everything is ready before improvements are introduced and avoid the unacceptable disruption that passengers experienced in parts of the country this summer. That process is ongoing for the whole industry, but at this stage LNER has taken the decision to introduce improvements more gradually than was previously planned. The hon. Lady will get her services at Lincoln, and the rail industry intends to provide an update on plans for the May 2019 timetable across the country in the coming months.

I will end my remarks there to give time for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North to wind up the debate.

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I call Catherine McKinnell, for the few seconds remaining.

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I thank the Minister for his response. He has been very good at engaging with the all-party group—let him be in no doubt that we will continue to engage. As much as he tried to present a rosy picture of Government investment in the east coast main line, we all know that it has serious challenges. It needs investment. We need to work together to ensure that we get that investment up and down the line where it is most required, and that the Government get this right. Railway investment is not an end in itself. It is about investing in the communities that rely on it.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).