Skip to main content

Railways Investment: North of England

Volume 793: debated on Monday 29 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have for new investment in the railway network in the north of England.

My Lords, through projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, we are investing in the economy of the north by bringing its cities closer together and improving the region’s link to the Midlands and the south. Alongside an increase in funding for maintenance and renewals in 2019 to 2024, we have committed substantial funding for new enhancements to provide more capacity and improve journey times.

My Lords, but when improvements take place in the north, they run many months late and cause chaos. Meanwhile, the railways in the north of England are near breaking point. They are utterly congested, with tiny trains at peak periods often running late and too often not turning up at all. Do the Government not understand that people in the north are losing all confidence in the ability of the Department for Transport, based 200 miles away down here in London, to sort out our problems? Is it not time that the decision-making and resources to run our railways in the north were transferred to Transport for the North, which at least consists of people who live and work in the north and even use the trains?

My Lords, I am sorry that that is the noble Lord’s experience. Between 2015 and 2020, the Government will have spent more than £13 billion improving and modernising northern transport, which is a record level of investment. However, I agree that passengers in the north have suffered unacceptable disruption and delay in recent times. We continue closely to monitor performance and, where operators are at fault, we will not hesitate to act. We have appointed Richard George, who previously served as the chairman of the board of many franchises, to oversee implementation and changes to improve the current situation in the north. On devolution of powers, we set up Transport for the North, which co-manages the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises alongside the Department for Transport as part of the Rail North Partnership, to ensure that decisions are taken in the north.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, even before the bungled timetable was implemented on Northern services, it had become abundantly clear that the project was in deep trouble? Up to 310 trains each day were then cancelled, the regulator concluding that nobody took charge. Why was it that nobody took charge? Who will be held responsible for those failures, and how will she build capacity in the north of England to ensure that this does not occur again?

My Lords, we have commissioned the independent Glaister review to look into those issues. The interim report made clear that a key cause of the Northern Rail timetable disruption over the summer was delays to Network Rail’s engineering works, but I agree that there are lessons to be learnt, and we look forward to the final report so that we can act to improve matters.

My Lords, as a Yorkshireman and someone who represented a seat in Greater Manchester in the other place, I have been a consistent supporter of improved investment in rail infrastructure in the north. Does my noble friend agree that this cannot be done entirely without regard to key projects in East Anglia, particularly those affecting the Great Eastern and West Anglian lines, which are key to the region being able further to the contribution it makes to the national economy, which in turn directly and indirectly affects the north as well?

My Lords, the new East Anglia rail franchise has seen £1.4 billion invested to deliver more carriages and faster, more frequent journeys in that part of the world. I very much agree with my noble friend that transport investment is indeed a wealth generator, and that is why we are investing record amounts in transport across the country. That is without taking into account any transport announcements we may hear from my right honourable friend the Chancellor in the Budget shortly.

My Lords, will the Minister reflect on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on the future resources and funding for Transport for the North? For that matter, will she look at the passenger transport authorities in other conurbations as well, which would also seek the same powers and funding as those enjoyed by Transport for London? After all, people travel on trains outside the Greater London area, whether or not Ministers and civil servants actually realise that.

I can reassure the noble Lord that we are well aware that people travel on trains and use transport outside London. Our record on devolution is strong; we have established Transport for the North and have devolved significant powers to metro mayors across the country. That ensures that the north has more influence than ever on crucial decisions on transport investment. We have given TfN unprecedented powers to influence decisions on transport investment in the north and to set out the north’s unified strategic transport plan, which the Secretary of State must take into account.

My Lords, to bring matters back to the north, the Minister mentioned Northern Powerhouse Rail. I have the feeling that the northern powerhouse is something akin to the American dream. Can we understand what it really means, and is there anything such as a route yet planned as to where it will go, which places may be served and when it may happen?

My Lords, we are working closely with Transport for the North to help transform the economy of the north of England through Northern Powerhouse Rail. That will significantly improve the capacity, frequency and journey time. I can reassure the noble Lord that we are fully committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail. We have invested money into Transport for the North, and are looking forward to its business case which will be published at the end of this year, and which will set out details of routes and indeed costs.

My Lords, I have some very good experience of travelling by train in the north. However, does my noble friend agree that the pricing of rail tickets is very confusing—even making it difficult for our excellent parliamentary travel office? There are different levels of service and different interpretations, for example, relating to what represents “off-peak” in different franchise areas. Could new investment, whether in the north or elsewhere, include sorting that out?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we need to do more to simplify rail fares. I mentioned in the earlier Question the easier fares consultation carried out by the Rail Delivery Group. Train operators are obligated to sell the most appropriate fare available, but there is a wide range of tickets on offer and we have made a commitment to removing that complexity and the perverse pricing we sometimes see from ticketing. We would like to see online retailers give passengers much clearer information at the point of purchase and, as I said, we look forward to the findings of the RDG consultation.