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CrossCountry Rail Franchise

Volume 652: debated on Thursday 10 January 2019

The current CrossCountry franchise runs until October this year, with a possible extension to October next year. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are working to look at all options for the new CrossCountry franchise, including rolling stock. We will look at adding much needed capacity to the CrossCountry services as soon as trains become available.

In November, an unbelievable 30% of CrossCountry trains to Plymouth terminated early at Exeter because the Voyager trains could not get through Dawlish in bad weather. As well as placing orders for new rolling stock for the long term, will the Minister look at requiring CrossCountry to use the GWR HST trains that are currently being replaced with newer trains, to give Cross Country extra, interim, Dawlish-proof capacity?

I had a very positive meeting with the hon. Gentleman and his local council leader yesterday. We agree on the importance of the south-west economy, in particular its connectivity, and we recognise entirely the issue with the Voyager trains and how they are affected by the salt water to which they are exposed. CrossCountry is working on an engineering solution to that and we are working on adding capacity to the franchise. Passenger numbers have grown by 25%, so we need to put more rolling stock into it. We will look at where we can get the trains from to expand that capacity.

15. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) outlined, there are constant issues with CrossCountry services west of Exeter due to their lack of resilience on the Dawlish coastal stretch. Can the Minister outline to me, and reassure me, that both the future rolling stock requirements and the work that we are doing to improve the resilience of this iconic coastal line will make a difference? (908486)

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Protecting the line at Dawlish is crucial and sends a broader signal that the south-west is open for business, with all the connectivity that implies. So this is a national priority. Essential work is under way now to repair four existing breakwaters in the area. We have committed £15 million for further development work. Ensuring that the line is resilient, and that the south-west is open for business, is a priority.

Before Christmas, I travelled between Leeds and Sheffield on a CrossCountry train and experienced what my constituents regularly experience—as many passengers standing as sitting. The simple fact is that the four-car trains on the busiest part of the route between Leeds and Birmingham are simply inadequate. When we get a new franchise, will the Minister ensure that those four-car trains are extended, so that there is the capacity for people to actually get a seat on them?

I recognise entirely the crowding issues that the hon. Gentleman describes and has experienced personally, and which I have also experienced personally, so we are certainly looking to add capacity in the next franchise. We are also looking to add capacity before that franchise comes into force, if we can find it.

Like Sheffield, we do not get much salt water in the west midlands, but West Midlands Railway is now purchasing over £1 billion- worth of new rolling stock. Could not the Minister use that model with the CrossCountry franchise?

I am aware of the new rolling stock that is coming in to the west midlands; indeed, it is coming in across many parts of our network. We have a fantastic story on rolling stock coming in over the next two years. I will look at what my hon. Friend says and get back to him with an answer.