Who, what and when? Labour demands answers over delays to Network Rail projects

The shadow transport secretary has written to the PM asking whether voters were 'deceived' over promises to complete plans to modernise railways

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David Cameron has been accused of misleading the public over delays to multi-billion pound railway upgrades, with Labour claiming ministers knew they were in "serious difficulty" before the election.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, announced on Thursday that major parts of five-year plans to modernise key parts of the northern railway network, worth £38 billion, were being paused.

He blamed the delays on under-performing Network Rail bosses and concerns over whether the projects would be completed on budget.

However ministers have today been accused of a “betrayal of promises” by Labour and the shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher is demanding to know who was the first in government to know about the failings, when they were informed and what details they were given.

Patrick McLoughlin raised concerns over whether the projects would be completed on budget (PA)

He has written to Mr Cameron asking whether he “deceived” voters at the election with a manifesto that promised to deliver the projects.

Mr McLoughlin announced the departure of Network Rail chairman Richard Parry-Jones as he told MPs in the House of Commons yesterday about the delays in the electrification of the Midland Mainline and the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester. He will be replaced by Sir Peter Hendy, the current London transport commissioner.

Mr McLoughlin insisted none of the executive directors would receive a bonus for the past year.

Writing to the Prime Minister, Mr Dugher said: “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 cites several pieces of "evidence", including the transport select committee's Investing In The Railway report from January, warning key rail projects had been announced by ministers "without Network Rail having a clear estimate of what the projects will cost, leading to uncertainty about whether the projects will be delivered on time, or at all".


He then refers to answers to parliamentary questions he says show the Government was aware last year that the costs of electrification had risen from £257 million to £1.3 billion for the Midland Mainline and to £300 million for the TransPennine route.

The letter concludes: “In light of all this evidence, and of the huge anger felt in many parts of the country at this betrayal of promises you repeatedly made during the election, I’d be grateful if you could answer the very specific questions I have outlined.

“This is a matter of public trust. The public are entitled to know what you and members of your Government knew and when.”

Speaking at a press conference following his summit with EU ministers in Brussels, Mr Cameron denied he knew about the delays before the election. He said: "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."