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Rail Connections: North of England

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 3 December 2020

Last week was the dawn of a new era for transport in the north of England. Loved by some, but hated by most, it was the end of the line for the much-hated Pacer trains—the final call as this rusty and knackered rolling stock is consigned to history, allowing passengers to enjoy a brand-new fleet of trains, creating a more reliable network across the north.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The north-west of England is massively important to north-east Wales in terms of cross-border trade and employment. I am as keen as anyone to see improvements to rail infrastructure in the north. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital we keep up the strong links through improvements at the main connecting stations of Chester and Crewe and, crucially, electrification of the north Wales coast line?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Earlier this year, we approved funding for the progression of a line speed enhancement scheme for the north Wales coast line. In addition to ongoing work to develop the Crewe hub, my officials are working closely with Cheshire West and Chester Council on developing the business case for improvements at Chester station.

Since being elected, I have been working with Ministers on the reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line and the potential for a freight terminal in Huncoat. It is an essential line, well worth the investment, that will connect east Lancashire to Yorkshire. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the progression of the railway line and freight terminal, and will he look again at supporting an engineering study for the project?

Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for her continued and tireless campaigning on this matter. Given that my constituency of Pendle will, as you have identified, Mr Speaker, be one of those that most benefit from the reopening of the Colne-Skipton line, I will recuse myself from commenting directly on the scheme, but I know she has met my hon. Friend the rail Minister, who continues to consider the proposals carefully.

Transport for the North has recently made recommendations to the Government to include Warrington on a new high-speed rail line between Manchester and Liverpool. Will my hon. Friend confirm that any route decisions will include an interchange at Warrington Bank Quay station, creating a hub site between Northern Powerhouse Rail and the west coast main line?

We are currently considering the formal advice from Transport for the North on its preferred way to proceed with Northern Powerhouse Rail following the board meeting last week, and we will respond shortly. We are also awaiting advice from the National Infrastructure Commission on rail investment across the north of England.

The east coast main line has upgrades scheduled over Christmas to help improve connectivity to the north, but many of those long-planned works now clash with the Government’s new Christmas guidance, which will clearly lead to many more people wanting to travel by train. The Government do not seem to have a plan, so perhaps I can help the Minister. Let us scrap peak rail fares, increase testing for our transport staff and delay non-essential works by a few days to help people to travel home. Can the Minister reassure the House that there will be no Christmas chaos on our railways?

This is something we are acutely aware of. We have already taken swift and decisive action to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum, and I and my fellow Ministers continue to work to ensure as smooth as possible a rail system during the festive period.