TRANSPORT Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Network Rail executives look set to be grilled by MPs over the decision to shelve two major railway improvement projects in Yorkshire.
Louise Ellman, recently re-elected chairman of the Commons transport select committee, confirmed she would be asking colleagues to agree to an inquiry into the handling of Network Rail’s £38 billion investment plan.
Mr McLoughlin announced on Thursday that delays and rising costs would mean electrification of the Midland mainline and the transpennine route would be “paused” as part of a review of Network Rail’s operations which will also see the installation of a new chairman, Peter Hendy, and directors forego their bonuses.
Mrs Ellman told The Yorkshire Post: “When the committee is elected I will be asking them to look at this issue and to look at how Network Rail are operating.
“As far back as January we did warn that the costs of the Great Western line had trebled and we said we were very concerned about the impact this could have on other electrification.
“The response from the Government was this was being addressed. Clearly it wasn’t being addressed.”
Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher, the Barnsley East MP, challenged the Prime Minister directly over when Minsters became aware of Network Rail’s problems.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Dugher wrote: “It appears that despite you and your Ministers knowing that these projects were in serious difficulty before the election, you decided to wait until after the election to reveal the extent of the problems before reneging on the commitments you had previously made.
“The public have a right to know if they have been deceived and if members of your Government knew for months that these projects would not be delivered as promised.”
Mr Dugher asked the Prime Minister to explain why his official spokeswoman had refused on Thursday to comment on whether he was aware of Network Rail’s problems before polling day.
Pointing to comments by Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne that it knew “very early on last year” that its investment programme would be hard to deliver, Mr Dugher asked Mr Cameron when those concerns reached the Government.
Mr Dugher also called on the Government to publish a report to the Transport Secretary by Network Rail on its electrification plans from last year.
Asked when he first heard of Network Rail’s difficulties, Mr Cameron told a press conference in Brussels: “The first substantive conversation I’ve had about this was with Patrick McLoughlin when he came to talk to me about the need to change the leadership of Network Rail and his plans for Peter Hendy - who I think is an excellent choice.
“He did a great job for Transport for London, and I think it’s right to let him get on with the job.”
The Liberal Democrats launched a petition calling on the Government to press ahead with Midland mainline electrification.
Former Sheffield City Council leader Lord Scriven said: “This is a kick in the teeth for cities and town across the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
“The Liberal Democrats pushed hard in Government to secure the cash to fund improvements to this vital rail link which would have delivered new, faster trains with more services and more carriages to ease congestion and overcrowding on this busy line.”