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Railways: Capacity

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 12 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to bring forward proposals to create extra capacity on the railways, as outlined in their 2017 manifesto; and if so, when.

My Lords, we set out in July requirements for the railway from 2019 to 2024, and we announced today the statement of funds available for it, continuing our record investment in the railways. I am delighted to say that Network Rail will be investing £47.9 billion in our railways over that period. By the end of this year, we intend to publish a rail upgrade plan, which will set out the start of the process of specific rail enhancements that we are investing in. We are fully committed to HS2, northern powerhouse rail and passenger rail franchises, all of which will contribute to this Government’s continuing development and investment in new capacity across the entire network.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I welcome what the Minister has said today and the Secretary of State’s Statement, which refers to continuing investment in the rail freight network. However, the statement of funds available is an eight-page document, four of those pages being blank. When does the Minister intend to put a few a figures in it? I hope that the Government in doing that will provide a holistic solution and commitment to things like the northern powerhouse. We have heard in the past few months about the cancellation of certain electrification projects and then about £5 million to be spent on the digitalisation of one line in the northern powerhouse. The Government are acting as a kind of pop-up café for the railway. I hope that we will have a long-term commitment to an industry that needs long-term funding.

My Lords, I totally agree—I have given the noble Lord the figures for our long-term commitment for the control period from 2019 to 2024. He mentioned northern powerhouse rail. Let me tell him exactly what we are doing. We are spending £13 billion on northern transport in this Parliament, the largest sum in government history, and providing better rail journeys through the Northern and TransPennine franchises and the northern rail project. The train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, will deliver brand new trains, including more than 500 new carriages, room for 40,000 extra passengers and more than 2,000 extra services a week. By 2020 all the trains will be brand new or completely refurbished and all Pacer trains will be gone. We are committed to northern powerhouse rail and are getting on with delivering it.

My Lords, nothing better illustrates the gap between the Government and the understanding of the people than the infamous infrastructural albatross that is HS2. It is going to cost between £57 billion and £100 billion and has been criticised by all who understand it. Very few benefits are going to accrue. With all the other problems in the country at the moment, why not scrap this ridiculous vanity project—for that is what it is—and spend the money on all the rest of the railway infrastructure that needs it?

That was not meant as a joke. I know that the noble Lord has strong feelings on the subject, but he will know that I simply do not agree with him. We are spending £55 billion on HS2, not the sums he mentioned. It is a vital project to increase capacity, reduce journey times, unlock regeneration and create thousands of jobs. It is not stopping us progressing with additional projects. I mentioned the sums we are spending on additional rail enhancements; I should have said that that is in addition to the money we are spending on HS2. HS2 is a vital project for this country and we are committed to proceeding with it. So far, it is on time and on budget.

My Lords, while the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the very welcome announcement of the improvement of rail services between cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, will he also tell the House what might be done to link the northern Pennine towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire, particularly the reopening of proper express services, a Hellifield link and many other things that could be done for towns that have suffered acute poverty and often feel neglected and completely forgotten?

The noble Lord makes an important point. He will be aware that we are working closely with Transport for the North, which we have given £50 million to develop transport proposals for the north of England. It is something I believe passionately in—I use those services myself. We are committed to the project, we are proceeding with it, we expect to receive the final proposal from Transport for the North later this year and we will announce that we are proceeding then.

My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats. If we have a short question I hope we will be able to hear from the Labour Benches as well.

Today’s announcement about railway investment does not extend to the larger investment schemes, which may account for the four blank pages referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—schemes such as that at Reading and the one on Crossrail. There are very long-lasting benefits from such schemes and that is not reflected properly in the current appraisal programmes. Will the Minister meet me and other interested Peers to discuss the appraisal of schemes where most of the benefits flow outside the public purse and we are left having spent the money but not reaping the benefits?

By their very nature, transport projects are long-term commitments. That is why we do five-year investment projects. Transport infrastructure investment projects deliver long-term benefits to all sectors of the economy. I will be happy to write to the noble Lord to set out our appraisal of these schemes.

My Lords, many travellers in the north of England would welcome a pop-up café.

The Minister is committed to this area, so my question to him is: what guarantees can we have that the announcements, which have been reinforced today, will actually be carried through given the stop-start nature of all the announcements about investment in the northern powerhouse?

We are committed to the northern powerhouse rail project and the TransPennine project. We are proceeding with them. We have announced the funding available two years in advance of the start of the funding period. I cannot do any more than tell the noble Lord that we are totally committed to the projects. We need to continue to review amounts made available in the light of developments in the economy, but because we have delivered a successful economy we are able to spend record amounts investing in our rail infrastructure, our road infrastructure and all aspects of our transport system.