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16.07.15

McLoughlin dodges questions about electrification delays

Secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin MP dodged a series of questions in the Commons today (16 July) about the future of the government’s ‘northern powerhouse’ initiative, writes Luana Salles.

McLoughlin was challenged by MPs on when he found out projects would need to be deferred, after Network Rail board minutes from March suggested the need to make joint decisions with the DfT, but he repeatedly gave answers that failed to address either that issue or the latest on the ‘paused’ electrification projects – TransPennine and Midland Main Line.

All he did say was: "The first time I was told that a pause was needed was a week before I made the statement to the House [on June 25]."

Labour MP Rachael Maskell asked when electrification work would begin and when it was due to be completed to ensure that “work has not hit the buffers”.

The transport secretary replied that he was sorry she could not “welcome the £2.7bn investment in InterCity Express” and said: “The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will operate fast, high-quality, inter-urban commuters services with more capacity, and improved local services, all with a strong focus on serving their customers well.”

He added that the projects will be different to the “terrible franchise that the Labour government relaunched in 2004, based on nil growth for the northern area”.

McLoughlin continued to avoid clarifications throughout the debate, saying that those who are “talking the north down” are “resentful and bitter about the improvements we [the government] have made”.

Labour MPs for York, Manchester and Heywood & Middleton inquired about the potential effect that postponing electrification of the TransPennine route and Midland Main Line could have on the northern powerhouse initiative.

The transport secretary said: “Rail services in the north, including TransPennine, will see a massive boost from the new franchises that come into effect in April 2016, including a 36% increase in peak capacity into Leeds and Manchester. We are developing plans for even better trans-Pennine links, including electrification, as part of the northern powerhouse.”

 He did not elucidate what effects the cessation of electrification work would have.

Conservative MP Julian Sturdy asked what implications the “pause” might have for the York-Harrogate-Leeds line electrification ambition, to which McLoughlin said: “Many people have commented that there has never been as much investment in the rail industry as set out by the government over control period five. That said, the taxpayer, as well as the travelling public, would want us to get best value for money from our investment, and we will want to consider the points he makes when it comes to CP6.”

He later confirmed that the deferral of works is indeed a “pause” and claimed he looks forward to Sir Peter Hendy’s report, which the DfT has previously said should happen by autumn this year. Sir Peter took up his role as the new Network Rail chair today, replacing Richard Parry-Jones.

A Network Rail spokesman said this week: “Two sizeable projects have been paused while others are subject to a review but there are still hundreds of improvement schemes going on across the country with a new railway in Scotland on schedule to open in a few weeks, as well as newly-rebuilt and transformed stations at Manchester Victoria and Birmingham New Street.”

The Commons transport committee has a ‘one-off evidence session’ with the transport secretary and DfT permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, set for the afternoon of Monday, 20 July.

Comments

John   18/07/2015 at 07:57

David Cameron should fire this idiot forthwith!

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