Rail minister Claire Perry was unable to give cross-party MPs the assurances they were looking for over the suspended Midlands Mainline electrification programme in a Westminster debate.
Electrification of the Midland Mainline linking London to Sheffield was officially paused this summer along with electrification on the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester, following a dismal run of project delivery from Network Rail.
Harry Harpham MP (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour) secured the debate to raise cross-party concern over the issue, with Ms Perry in attendance to give a response.
However Ms Perry did not concede to demands to guarantee a date for resumption of the programme and other smaller works on the line while electrification is paused.
Rail minister Claire Perry
She suggested that no firm assurance could be given until after the Hendy review of the Network Rail’s project delivery plan under the current investment period – control period 5 2014-19 – however listed works that were currently in progress.
Sir Peter Hendy, former commissioner of Transport for London, is the new chairman of Network Rail and was asked by government to report by autumn 2015 with a plan ‘to get the rail investment programme back onto a sustainable footing’.
Ms Perry said: ‘I am happy to give what perhaps shouldn’t be a cast-iron, but a stainless steel guarantee that £38bn of investment will be spent on British railways over the next few years.
‘A pause is a pause…Network Rail are tasked with delivering these improvements we are relying on Hendy and his team to come back and set out exactly what that delivery programme looks like. He will shortly deliver a plan that will approach the delivery of these upgrades and set out specific clarity around these electrification projects.’
In the meantime Ms Perry said the four-track work is currently going ahead at Corby to Kettering, while work is also being done to remove bottlenecks at Derby station and improve the speed of the line south of Chesterfield.
Cross-party MPs made a passionate and generally comradely show of concerns. Chair of the CLG select committee Clive Betts highlighted the strong business case for the line, its potential to unlock development and the value for money already delivered on improvements, including 10 minutes shaved off journey times through less than £100m of investment.
The debate came after the leaders of all main political parties at Nottinghamshire County Council wrote to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, calling for a firm date for the resumption of the electrification works and assurances that no approval be given for electrification of any other routes before the Midlands Mainline.
In a statement to Transport Network, Ms Perry said in response: ‘We are committed to electrifying the Midland Mainline and it will be part of our future plans, but we want it done properly, which is why it has been paused while Network Rail reviews how its programme of rail improvements can be brought back on track.
‘I recognise that people in Nottinghamshire will be disappointed by the difficult decision we had to make about pausing this important work. However, we are working with Network Rail on improvements that can be made to the line before electrification, to allow faster services and more capacity. Our massive investment in Nottingham station underlines our commitment.’
The news comes as the Government announced the direct award of a contract extension for Stagecoach to continue to operate train services on the East Midlands franchise until 2018.
East Midlands Trains’ parent company Stagecoach Group will pay the government £150m to run the franchise from October 2015 to March 2018. Prices will be frozen on the line for the duration of the deal.
Around 26 million journeys are made on East Midlands Trains services every year.