Rail Services

Transport – in the House of Commons am ar 21 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Ceidwadwyr, Carshalton and Wallington

What steps he is taking to improve rail services.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Officials and I are focusing on improving rail services in the short and long term. This week, I brought together representatives from across the rail industry for a leaders in rail session to discuss how, collectively, we can make changes to deliver a better passenger experience. Longer term, we remain committed to bringing track and train back together under Great British Railways, and to continuing to build on the £100 billion of investment since 2010.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Ceidwadwyr, Carshalton and Wallington

Carshalton and Wallington is one of the poorer parts of London for connectivity. It was promised that the ultra low emission zone would bring additional public transport investment, but instead the 455 bus has been scrapped, the Go Sutton bus has been scrapped, the 410 bus service is being reduced, and the Superloop is just an existing bus route that has been rebranded. One thing that would improve connectivity is delivering on the Croydon area remodelling scheme that National Rail and Network Rail are working on to improve connectivity in London and the south-east. What discussions is the Department having with Network Rail about moving this project forward?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend, who is an absolute champion of that project, and he makes his point clear. Upgrades made in the Gatwick area are already delivering significant improvements to the Brighton main line, and the industry continually reviews how best to respond to changes in demand. I understand that my hon. Friend has been in discussions with the operator on the options for increasing capacity on busy weekend services between Carshalton and London Victoria, and that Govia Thameslink Railway will shortly respond to him directly. I will continue to work with him on the enhancement project that he champions.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, who has a nice side hustle as Ben Bradley, once said:

“The full delivery of HS2’s Eastern Leg is what the East Midlands needs to support and create highly skilled jobs, link communities to opportunities and decarbonise our transport network.”

As he failed to persuade the Prime Minister, who cancelled that vital investment in our region’s rail services, can the Minister tell me how we will now deliver the transformative change to our connectivity, sustainability, job creation, productivity and social mobility that HS2 promised? Filling a few potholes will not cut it.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I certainly look forward to the day when my hon. Friend Ben Bradley is also an excellent East Midlands Mayor, and we are devolving more powers to the east midlands to help him with that task. Lilian Greenwood references HS2 moneys, from which more than a £1 billion will be allocated to the Mayor of the East Midlands to spend on the transport projects that he and, indeed, the hon. Lady may want. That allows us to devolve more projects to the local area, and we have been absolutely clear that all the moneys that have been saved as a result of the HS2 cancellation will be reinvested primarily in the north and the midlands.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

The recent Budget contains welcome additional funding for east-west rail. What are the Minister’s intentions for that additional funding? May I suggest that he work with the Bletchley towns fund board, of which I am a member, on using the money to provide an additional eastern entrance to Bletchley station, which will improve accessibility and enhance regeneration?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am happy to work with the Chair of the Select Committee, and I thank him for the evidence session we had on east-west rail. It was also brilliant to go to the Winslow and Calvert area to see that final link put in place. The first phase of east-west rail is ready for opening next year. Winslow station is looking absolutely superb, and I am so excited to see rail services come back there. On the second phase from Bletchley to Bedford, as he rightly says, money has been allocated from the last Budget to deliver that. I am certainly happy to meet him and the Bletchley team to see what more they can do to enhance the station for both the first and second phases.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Llafur, Battersea

Wandsworth Town and Battersea Park stations in my constituency will soon be made fully accessible, thanks to the Access for All funding. Queenstown Road has been nominated for the next round of funding, but a decision has still not been made. Can the Minister tell the House when the Department plans to announce which stations have been successful in control period 7? Will they include Queenstown Road in my Battersea constituency?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am delighted by the progress that the hon. Lady mentions, and she is right about that third station. I will meet officials, so that I can write to her with the details. I am keen to work with her local authority to see how we can use regeneration moneys to achieve that end. As for building on the 240 Access for All step-free access stations that we have, we will make decisions shortly. We have been through 300 brilliant applications, and we are shortlisting them for delivery. I will happily write to her to ensure that she has the detail about her projects.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Ceidwadwyr, Elmet and Rothwell

Long before I was elected, it had been identified that in the east direction, the Leeds to Selby railway line had only a footbridge, which restricted access for so many people. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the construction taking place on the Access for All bridge in Garforth? It shows that Conservative MPs working with Conservative Governments improve rail services for all constituents.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My right hon. Friend is spot on, as always. I thank him for his work, because ultimately that project would not have got off the ground without the campaigning and partnership that he provided. It just shows that a superb MP working in the community, and the Access for All stations fund, which has delivered 240 projects and will deliver more, is a winning partnership.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Passengers in my constituency of Edinburgh West face consistently overcrowded trains from ScotRail, which was taken into public ownership by the Scottish Government in 2022; an unreliable service from Avanti; and now a staggering pilot from London North Eastern Railway, in which east coast main line prices from Waverley to King’s Cross will increase by 123% in some cases. Does the Minister agree that that is not providing a good service to the people of Edinburgh, or those anywhere else on that line? It is the wrong move when we are trying to encourage more people on to the railways.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The trial with LNER tries to give passengers greater flexibility. They can now get on a train 70 minutes either side of the one that they booked, rather than just the one fixed train. Only 11% of fares are impacted in that trial, and 55% are better value than before. Working with our partners at LNER, we are trying to flatten out demand, rather than having crowded trains followed by quieter trains. We hope to change the number of passengers on trains, which would make for a better service overall. I will happily write to the hon. Lady, because I believe that the trial has great merits. We sometimes have to be bold and try fares and ticketing reform. If we do not, we will never change the system that many criticise for being too complex.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Ceidwadwyr, Aldridge-Brownhills

Thanks to the support and determination of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, we will see a train station and the return of passenger train services to Aldridge for the first time in 65 years, which is something many people thought would never happen. The service will start at Walsall, but now that we have the west midlands rail hub, will my hon. Friend agree to continue to work with me and others to secure a service to London?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Yes indeed. Thanks to our great West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, we now have the midlands rail hub, which will better connect more than 50 stations across the midlands. My right hon. Friend has championed Aldridge station for many years, and it is now being delivered. As she said, the service to Walsall will open, and it will have a car park as well as a platform service. I am committed to working with her to extend that reach even further. I congratulate her on delivering that station.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The Minister will have seen reports this week that 3,000 jobs are at risk at Alstom rail factory in Derby. The Government told us that they were doing everything in their power to prevent those job losses, but they appear to be failing. It gets worse: this morning, I received correspondence from Hitachi Rail, warning that despite years of representation to Ministers, no solution has been found that will keep its order books full and safeguard the future of 700 staff at its factory in Newton Aycliffe. The Secretary of State has it in his power to vary contracts and commission the necessary orders. When will he do that and protect those jobs?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The Secretary of State has led for the Department on the response to Hitachi and Alstom, and their understandable concerns about orders. As I have said, we have a challenge, in that while fleet can last from 35 to 40 years, the average age of our fleet is under 17 years. We have modernised 8,000 out of our 15,500 carriages, and as a result there is a lag with the order book. We are doing everything we can to work with all four train manufacturers to bring more tenders through. Those will be for the TransPennine Express, Northern, Southeastern and, as the Secretary of State mentioned, Chiltern Railways. The work to find a resolution is done in partnership between train manufacturers, the Secretary of State and the Department, and we hope to find that resolution.