Midge Hall Railway Station

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 7:08 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 7:08, 17 Ebrill 2024

I congratulate my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher on securing this debate on the merits of reopening Midge Hall railway station and providing direct services between Liverpool and Preston. I appreciate her tireless work in campaigning for the transport needs of South Ribble and the wider region. I also give credit to my hon. Friend Damien Moore for the work he does in the same vein for his constituency.

My Department prioritises investments in our roads, railways and public transportation systems that meet the needs of our growing population, enhance connectivity and drive economic growth. Transportation is the lifeblood of any thriving community. It connects people to opportunities, goods to markets and services to those in need. Lancashire has seen tremendous growth and development in recent years, but with changing demands. That is why I am proud to be part of a Government behind Network North, a significant £36 billion programme of transport investment across the country. This will not only address our current challenges, but lay foundations for a sustainable, prosperous future.

Turning to the pitch for Midge Hall station, the Ormskirk-Preston branch line currently accommodates an hourly service, which is interworked with the Colne and Blackpool South services. The single-track operation is, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, token-controlled between the Midge Hall and Rufford signal boxes, meaning that trains currently stop at Midge Hall, south of Midge Hall Lane, to exchange the token with the signal box operator. Trains going southbound are required to stop at the token exchange point and receive the physical token, or hand it over if they are going northbound. The complete process from the closure of the Midge Hall Lane level crossing to the reopening of the crossing takes approximately two minutes for a northbound train and three minutes for a southbound train, with the train dwelling for between seven and 10 seconds. My hon. Friend mentioned that trains therefore stop at Midge Hall for the token exchange, but there are currently no platform facilities to allow passengers to alight.

How can we help, as we have been asked by my hon. Friend? On 26 February we announced allocations for the £4.7 billion local transport fund for local authorities in the north and midlands outside of city regions. This investment will deliver an unprecedented long-term funding uplift and is the first transport investment of its kind for these areas. This fund will empower local leaders to support the transport projects that matter most to their communities, helping create jobs, grow the economy and level up the country. Of course, we will need the support and co-operation of local communities to make this a success. Hon. Members should let their voices be heard, champion the improvements their constituents are calling for, and work with their local authorities to turn this vision into reality.

I am sure that my hon Friend welcomed the news that Lancashire County Council has been allocated £494 million from this local transport fund, to be paid over seven years, starting next year. Local transport authorities have the freedom to choose from a range of projects, such as building new roads, installing or expanding tram lines, or improving train stations. We will shortly publish advice for local authorities to help them make the most of this opportunity.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently met the leaders of Lancashire County Council to discuss a number of local transport schemes, including the reinstatement of the Burscough curves, which my hon. Friend Damien Moore has championed. Indeed, I believe that he has met his local transport authority to the same end.

The Secretary of State stressed that these projects—the projects that we have heard about from my hon. Friends—could benefit from the local transport fund, but it will be for the council to determine whether it is prioritised for investment. We have written to each local authority, making it clear that they will be expected to consult local MPs—such as the champions we have heard from today—as they develop their plans for spending their LTF allocation. I encourage my hon. Friends to work closely with the council and advocate for the work needed at Midge Hall and the Burscough curves. I know that they are looking to me to play the lead in making the case with them. I am very happy to do so and to help sell the case that they have made so eloquently this evening.

On the second point from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, about extending train services beyond electrified routes, I agree that new technologies have the potential to decarbonise the rail network while unlocking additional destinations, bringing environmental and service benefits to passengers and local communities. To help deliver the Government’s net zero commitment, we will electrify additional lines and deploy alternative traction technologies, such as battery, as she mentioned, where it makes operational and economic sense. The Government are supporting the development of battery and hydrogen technology in rail through innovation funding and research. This includes work on safety and wider issues that will have to be considered before rolling out this technology more widely.

Since the start of 2019, my Department has provided around £4.75 million in funding through its first-of-a-kind competitions, which are run by Innovate UK, to help decarbonise the railway. That includes £750,000 to facilitate trials of the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train, which was showcased at COP26. Earlier today, the Minister for technology and decarbonisation, my hon. Friend Anthony Browne, launched the latest round of transport research and innovation grants, offering organisations and academics the chance to win their share of a £1.3 million fund to seek solutions to some of transport’s greatest challenges.

My Department has also helped to get innovations off the ground by supporting trials, including approximately £2.15 million of rail network enhancement pipeline funding for the UK’s first fast-charging, battery-only train. Remarkably, a recent test train travelled a record-breaking 86 miles on battery power alone. We hope to see the first scheduled passenger service later this year. It is that type of technology, which we are investing in, that will allow us to reach our 2040 target to take all diesel trains off the line, and will be the type of solution that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble has rightly called for.

I was pleased to see that some of those new technologies are already being deployed in the area. Headbolt Lane station, which the Secretary of State opened last year, is the first station to benefit from battery technology on the new class 777 trains, removing the need to extend the third rail beyond the existing Kirkby station. Of course, the matter of further extension of the Merseyrail services, either over the Burscough curves or from Ormskirk towards Preston, is a local one. Merseyrail is a devolved concession, with key strategic decisions made at a local level by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. It is right that local leaders, not Ministers in Whitehall, decide whether such projects are the best way to meet local needs. It is that ethos—more power and more investment in local hands—that is driving the Government’s new approach to transport, and that has seen us double the Liverpool city region’s sustainable transport settlement to £1.6 billion.

I close by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble for securing the debate, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Southport. I assure them both that I take on board their points about local public transport needs. The fund is made available, including for business cases, for projects such as those we have heard championed this evening. I want to see those projects being invested in, so I have great hope and optimism that we can assist my hon. Friends with their campaigns. I assure them both that my door is open to them to discuss wider transport opportunities that will benefit their constituents, and I will do what I can to help sell the case for their rail projects.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.