Railway electrification pause: Patrick McLoughlin says public not misled at poll
The public were not misled about railway electrification at the general election, Patrick McLoughlin has insisted, as he was challenged on when he knew projects would need to be shelved.
The Transport Secretary announced to MPs on June 25 that electrification work will be "paused" on the Midland mainline and on the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester, allowing Network Rail to focus on completing work on the Great Western Line.
But reports have suggested Network Rail knew its five year, £38 billion, electrification programme would need to be rewritten in March.
Speaking at transport questions in the Commons, shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said ministers had "repeatedly promised" to deliver the projects during the election campaign, accusing them of a "con" and making "shabby" promises.
He said: "Will you say categorically when you first became aware Network Rail thought a decision would have to be made on the future of these vital electrification upgrades.
"Was it before or after the election?"
Mr McLoughlin replied: "When I made the statement, you said something to the point it had been well known the electrification programme was in some trouble. It's interesting, if it was well known, why you never raised a question on it.
"The first time I was told there needed to be a pause was a week before I made the statement to the House of Commons."
Following up, Mr Dugher said: "That isn't the answer to the question. You said you were in the dark but we know the Government was warned by the rail regulator in November last year and by the transport select committee in January this year that costs were escalating and big rail projects like these were in trouble.
"The chief executive of Network Rail Mark Carne said 'people knew perfectly well there were high levels of uncertainty about this, it was widely flagged at the time and it would not be fair for people to forget that'. I wonder who he is referring to?
"Ministers knew all along they were going to shelve these projects but they continued to con the public. This is completely shabby. Shouldn't the Government now live up to their election promises, reinstate the work of the electrification and not pull the plug on these vital upgrades for the north and the midlands?"
Mr McLoughlin said: "The last time a major upgrade was done by Labour, it set out as a £2 billion scheme. It ended as a £12 billion scheme and then was scaled back to a £9 billion scheme, I think.
"It would be wrong of me therefore to say exactly what the course of action will be in the future until I have got Sir Peter Hendy's report, he starts work today, but I am committed to seeing the electrification as laid out."
Shadow transport minister Lilian Greenwood returned to the subject, asking: "Network Rail knew Northern Powerhouse projects would be paused in March. Either you were told before the election decisions would have to be made in June, or you were not.
"This means one of two men must be guilty of abject negligence and failing to admit the truth to voters - the chief executive of Network Rail or you? Which one is it."
Mr McLoughlin replied: "I have told you when I was told and asked about giving a pause. That's when I came to the House. Mark Carne has been doing a fantastic job trying to upgrade a railway while at the same time delivering a railway service to the passenger.
"He did describe it as open heart surgery. I pointed out when I went to the transport select committee back in March that there were problems as far as TransPennine electrification was concerned and that's why the TPP for Northern Rail was deliberately worded so we would have diesel trains pulling service on that line, because it was thought electrification may have to slip."