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Rail Franchising System

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

Rail franchising has delivered substantial benefits to passengers and record levels of investment over the past 25 years, but it is time for a fresh approach and that is why we set up the Williams review, which will enable us to fundamentally realign the railway industry, with a renewed focus on the needs of passengers and freight customers across the country in the future.

Well, the chair of that review has just said that the franchising system is not fit for purpose. In the light of that, does the Secretary of State not agree with Opposition Members that privatisation has been a litany of failure, that the fragmentation of the network has meant the coherence of the passenger-led system has been destroyed and that we need to have a reintegrated railway system under democratic control? Is that not the future for the railway system in this country?

The Labour party is very clear that it wants to recreate British Rail, and it has every right to argue for that—[Interruption.] Labour Members say no, but that is their policy. I remember the days of British Rail. It was a state-run railway on which routes were closed, services were cut and the trains were old and outdated. Today, we have a railway that carries twice as many passengers as it did in those days and has far more trains. The challenges that we face are challenges of success, not failure.

Of course, the Transport Secretary is right in many respects. In my own community, Putney station needs a second entrance to cope with the overcrowding, which is a sign of how important it is for commuters every day. Will he give us an update on this? He very helpfully visited the station last year, and he has described getting a second entrance as a second win. Will he update us on his discussions with Network Rail to help to move that project forward?

Since my right hon. Friend and I visited her station, I have discussed the issue with my Department and with Network Rail. In the past month, we have entered the new rail control investment period, which will involve £48 billion—a record level of investment in the railways—including a number of hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in stations and improvements. I absolutely accept, and I think we all believe, that particularly at busy stations in and around our commuter centres—which Putney certainly is—we will need such improvements. She knows that I am very sympathetic to what we need to do there.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, when we embark on a new franchising system, one of the considerations needs to be the provision of services not just on the main arterial routes but on the secondary routes—such as a direct service from King’s Cross to Cleethorpes?

This is one of the things we need to achieve for the future. There is demand for extra services all round the country, and to release that demand, we need to continue to invest in capacity. That is what we are going to be doing in the next control period. We will also need to use smart technology such as digital signalling to increase the number of train paths, and we will of course need to expand the network, which is what the HS2 project is all about. I absolutely understand and share my hon. Friend’s ambition.