Lords Oral Question
30th June 2021
Answered on: Tuesday 22 June 2021
Lord Berkeley: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to integrate (1) HS2, and (2) the East West Rail project, into their Great British Railway plan.
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport):My Lords, HS2 Ltd and East West Rail Ltd are currently separate from Network Rail and are delivering important additions to our rail network. The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail is clear that they will retain their current roles and work closely with Great British Railways as it takes over responsibilities for integration.
Lord Berkeley (Lab):My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification, but it seems that the statement in the Williams report that it will bring together the rail
“network under single national leadership”
is not correct. The report also states that there will be “a new focus” to deal with
“escalations in cost, gold-plating and over-specification”,
which clearly applies mainly to HS2 as the worst offender. Can the Minister explain why there are plans to remove funding from Northern Powerhouse Rail and give it to the bottomless pit of HS2?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):My Lords, there are no such plans. In reference to the noble Lord’s statements about HS2 and East West Rail being separate infrastructure managers, I say that there are 13 different infrastructure managers already on the rail network. GBR will obviously work closely with them, as indeed it will have to with Transport for Wales and ScotRail. GBR will be set up to collaborate; that is what we want to see it doing.
Lord Snape (Lab):My Lords, bearing in mind that the recently issued White Paper stressed the importance of a “guiding mind” so far as the railway industry is concerned in future, is it not completely illogical to leave out HS2 and East West Rail, its two major construction projects? Surely there will be considerable involvement in both projects. Does the Minister not remember John Junor’s famous phrase in the Sunday Express : “Who is in charge of the clattering train?”
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):Sadly, I do not remember that from the Express. One of the words that the noble Lord said was absolutely critical: “construction”. HS2 and East West Rail are indeed both in construction at the moment and will be for some time. There is therefore ample time as both become operational railways for them to collaborate with GBR to ensure that all their services interlink.
Lord Mackay Of Clashfern (Con):My Lords, what is the place of Scotland in this Great British Railways plan?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):There is a place for Scotland in Great Britain. The Scottish Government will continue to exercise their current powers and to be democratically accountable for them. Great British Railways will continue to own the infrastructure in Scotland, as Network Rail does now. The Government will of course explore options with Transport Scotland to enable the railway in Scotland to benefit from the reforms on the wider network of Great Britain.
Baroness Jones Of Moulsecoomb (GP):If HS2 is to be managed separately, can the Government guarantee that any of its cost overruns, whether in construction or operation, will not see a bailout from wider rail network funds and that it will be responsible for its own overruns?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):I think the noble Baroness has just answered her own question: she stated that HS2 would be separate from Great British Railways. That is the case but in any event, as she pointed out, HS2 is under construction. It will be a while before it is an operating railway and then it will work closely with GBR.
Baroness Randerson (LD):My Lords, the Williams-Shapps report promises welcome expansion and better co-ordination of the railways. The Government also say that they are committed to levelling up the north, so can the Minister explain to us why the proposed new timetable for the east coast main line halves the number of trains from Newcastle to Manchester via Durham and Darlington? It also cuts one-third of the trains to London from Berwick and Darlington. In what sense is this expansion and levelling up?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):As it happens, I had a conversation yesterday with all the northern leaders when we met as the northern transport acceleration council. They raised this issue, which is of course one of capacity because there are more services, for example, between Newcastle and London. We have heard the pleas from various areas of the north on the timetabling. We are taking that away and doing what we can, but this is one of the reasons why we need Great British Railways. Timetabling is fiendishly complicated and we need to ensure that local areas are heard and get the services they deserve.
Lord Moylan (Con):My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity to rebut the current rumours that Northern Powerhouse Rail is going to be scrapped?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):My noble friend should not read too much into media reports on the front page of—I think it was—the Yorkshire Post . The Government continue to consider all options for Northern Powerhouse Rail as part of the integrated rail plan. Once that plan is published, we will work with Transport for the North to finalise a business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail. This will need to be consistent with the IRP’s policy and the funding framework.
Lord Bradshaw (LD):My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the East West Rail link, certainly between Oxford and Bletchley, needs to be electrified from the outset because of the heavy freight traffic from Southampton to the west coast main line passing through Bletchley? It would be a crying shame if electrification were postponed until after the passenger service started.
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):The case for electrification of East West Rail is being considered. A review is being undertaken by EWR Co, looking at all the options, including full electrification along the whole route as well as the various options for partial electrification, including battery-electric hybrid rolling stock.
Lord Mccoll Of Dulwich (Con):My Lords, what proportion of the existing railway will be used in the building of this east-west extension? What is the latest estimate of the overall cost?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):I am grateful to my noble friend for advance notice of this question, because I too had to get my head around how the existing track and the new track all work together. There are three connection stages. The first one will rely on existing track, which will be upgraded, and the second two will be either small sections of existing track or mostly new track. The cost of connection stage 1 is currently £1.288 billion. We do not know the cost of future connection stages at this time, as of course the new track has not yet been fully scoped.
Lord Rosser (Lab):My Lords, assuming that the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, HS3, is not going to be scrapped—some parts of the media have suggested that it will be—will the Minister confirm that HS3 will be part of the integrated railway and Great British Railways, in the same way as other private companies are contracted to run the trains for the service and fares that Great British Railways sets?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):Goodness—I think we are a little early in the game to be discussing those sorts of arrangements, but I have answered the question about Northern Powerhouse Rail. The integrated rail plan will be published soon.
Lord Herbert Of South Downs (Con):My Lords, is it not time to slay the urban myth that HS2 will not significantly cut travel times? The London to Birmingham travel time will be reduced by a third, or 30 minutes; the London to Manchester time will be halved to only around an hour. In Japan, growth is much more evenly distributed between the cities because of the Shinkansens; they are not content with existing speeds, but are building new lines. Is that not the global standard to which we need to aspire?
Baroness Vere Of Norbiton (Con):My noble friend is quite right but HS2 is not just about speed, as I so often need to say in your Lordships’ House. As he mentions, it is about bringing our regions closer together and delivering the capacity that our transport network absolutely needs. HS2 will give us a step change in capacity, while almost halving the time it takes to travel between our largest cities. If we were to do that by refreshing our existing railways, it would cause decades of inconvenience and disruption to passengers.
Lord Mcfall Of Alcluith (The Lord Speaker):My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.