Westminster Life: Rail deal is on right lines for Peterborough

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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Last week came the news that once again commuters from Peterborough station on the East Coast Main Line will see a real terms freeze in their season tickets and other regulated fares, pegged to the July Retail Prices Index at 2.5% by the Treasury.

It was one of a number of “cost of living” issues on which I have lobbied Ministers in the last few years, such as Air Passenger Duty, beer duty, fuel duty and council tax.

Now, I accept that it’s a lot of money to pay for an annual season ticket (over £7,000) but at least we’re not seeing the fares outpace wages (for most people).

In addition, more than 97% of the increase will go back into rail infrastructure like tracks, stations and rolling stock, a recent example being the upgrade of Peterborough railway station including platforms, walkways and ticket hall.

Both Labour and Conservative parties in government know that if you are to continue the growth of a long term sustainable and financially viable rail network, then a balance must be struck between asking the taxpayer or the travelling passenger to pay – and it’s a choice fraught with controversy. Passengers will pay more but only if punctuality, reliability, safety, cleanliness and value for money also improve.

The new Stagecoach-Virgin train franchise of the East Coast Main Line starting in March next year will cement Peterborough’s position as a major rail transport hub, which must be great for our local economy and prospects for more jobs and growth in our area.

Not only will the Treasury see a cash payment to the taxpayer of over £3billion over the course of the eight-year franchise but we’ll see more trains, more seats and faster journey times with new carriages and Intercity Express trains being built in County Durham.

The truth is, the decision to privatise British Rail in 1994 has brought unprecedented investment into the railways, and rail use in the last 15 years has increased hugely and outstripped every other country in Europe. The railways had been starved of cash for years prior to this. Train companies have actually increased the amount of cash they pay back to the Government by 400% since privatisation and now stump up almost £2 billion a year. UK commuters – according to an EU survey – are the most content when compared to their compatriots across Europe!

Yet the only answer from the Labour Party is re-nationalisation, a policy dictated by their union paymasters and that means more taxpayer bail outs, less investment and reduced performance for the travelling public. Would you want Ed Balls and Ed Miliband running our railways, let alone the country?

I’m not an ideologue and the State can sometimes run things better than the private sector (though not often) but if it works, is good for my constituents as passengers and taxpayers, and keeps Peterborough in the front rank of commuter cities, then it will have my support.