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Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I agree with it, too.

Mr. Hill: I understand it now receives the endorsement of the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman--that is endorsement indeed. Hon. Members have made some specific points to which they would like GoVia to sign up, to ensure that their constituents receive the standard of service that they need. GoVia is already committed to some of the points. I shall deal briefly with the main ones.

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All stations will be brought up to secure station standard, with investment in lighting, CCTV, help points and appropriate staff presence. GoVia will work with the British Transport police and the civil police to crack down on crime. Punctuality will be improved. There will be improved information and additional retail staff, customer assistance and revenue protection staff.

Slam-door rolling stock, to which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred, will start being replaced by late 2001, and all mark 1 stock will be replaced by the end of 2004 at the latest. GoVia will be introducing new trains each year through the life of the franchise. We expect GoVia to deliver those commitments, and it is the franchising director's job to monitor delivery and to ensure that it is secured.

Additionally, trains will have automatic passenger-load monitoring facilities to help GoVia to provide the resources to meet demand. GoVia is also committed to investment in depots, which includes improved cleaning facilities. All train interiors and stations will be cleaned daily.

I am aware that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has written to GoVia's group marketing director, who I am sure will give due consideration to all the concerns put to him. The hon. Gentleman has also sought assurances on safety. GoVia has undertaken to support all forthcoming industry safety initiatives and to comply with all relevant recommendations of current inquiries.

I should like to deal with the early benefits expected from the new franchise, and have already mentioned new rolling stock. It is intended that 396 vehicles will be delivered by the end of 2002, a further 334 by the end of 2004, and a total of 1,000 new vehicles throughout the term of the franchise.

The infrastructure on the Arun valley line will be upgraded in 2004, and the Brighton main line in 2006, to provide greater capacity.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Does my hon. Friend know whether GoVia has agreed to take on Connex's obligation on the Hastings to Ashford upgrade? That is a particularly important route to Europe for my constituents in Hastings and Rye.

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Mr. Hill: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has asked that question, as I know that he is eager to represent his constituents' interests. I am therefore delighted to add that, also in 2004, there will be upgrading of infrastructure facilities to allow faster trains to overtake stopping services on the south coastway, and the electrification of the lines between Ashford and Hastings and between Uckfield and Hurst Green, providing through electric trains between London and Uckfield.

I tell hon. Gentlemen that £200 million will be invested on station improvements over the duration of the franchise, and 37 stations will be developed as community and retail centres. There will also be improved access for disabled passengers, new car parking, and rail/bus integration in conjunction with local authorities, to form quality partnerships.

I shall deal now with the essential issue of the Sutton and Cheam stations. I understand that, on 10 November, the shadow Strategic Rail Authority wrote to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam to reassure him that existing and planned work on Sutton and Cheam stations should not be adversely affected by the change of franchisee. I hope that that will be of reassurance to him.

Mr. Burstow: Will the hon. Gentleman also ensure that the Strategic Rail Authority takes on board the 10 points that my hon. Friend has made to him today?

Mr. Hill: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Hansard record of this debate will be sent to the Strategic Rail Authority. I also assure him that the Orbirail concept is the subject of current investigation and discussion between the Mayor of London and the Strategic Rail Authority.

I trust that the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Sutton and Cheam will be reassured that selecting GoVia as the preferred counterparty for the replacement south central franchise was done after full consultation and will reinforce the higher standards that we want to establish across the industry. If there are any questions with which I have not dealt, I shall write to hon. Gentlemen in due course.

Question put and agreed to.



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