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15 Oct 2002 : Column 703Wcontinued
Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what progress has been made towards meeting the Government's target of increasing the proportion of journeys made by bicycle. 
Mr. Jamieson: We have an extensive programme of action to support and promote cycling. As part of their Local Transport Plans, local authorities are now expected to develop and deliver local cycling strategies. These strategies are currently being audited by the National Cycling Strategy Board for England, with help from a new team of experts based in the regions. We have also recently announced the first tranche of awards from the new national Cycling Projects Fund, from which we are supporting 138 projects at a cost of #2.18 million.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what plans he has to introduce free off-peak travel for pensioners on public transport. 
Mr. Jamieson: Under the Transport Act 2000, our standard minimum requirement for concessionary travel in England ensures half fares for pensioners and disabled people on local buses, with a free pass. Local authorities may make more generous provision, including free travel, at their discretion. From 1 April 2003 men aged 60 and over will benefit from existing schemes.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what guidance the Government are giving to local authorities in respect of Freedom travel passes for blind people who are not of retirement age; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Transport Act 2000 (and the GLA Act 1999 as amended by the Transport Act) provides for the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to local authorities, including the London Boroughs, which they must take into account when deciding whether someone is eligible for concessionary travel under the disability criteria. Blind or partially-sighted persons are listed in guidance issued last year as one of the seven eligible categories of disabled persons. The guidance can be viewed at www.dft.gov.uk/itwp/consult/cf/disabled/index.htm.
The Transport Act 2000 provides for a statutory minimum 50 per cent. discount on local bus services for elderly and disabled people in England and Wales. Many local authorities, including those in London, choose to offer better schemes and under the Act are still free to do so.
In London, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (GLA 1999) requires the 33 London local authorities to agree arrangements for concessionary travel for their elderly and disabled residents with Transport for London annually. This scheme is known as the Freedom Pass. It provides free travel on buses, tube and rail services for all blind people meeting the disability criteria in the statutory guidance.
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Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment he has made of the need for improved trans-Pennine rail links. 
Mr. Spellar: The Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan sets out proposals for improved services for both passengers and freight.
Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what progress he is making on improving the rail network on the North of England. 
Mr. Spellar: The Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan sets out investment priorities for the networkincluding the North of Englandand identifies how the Authority expects the key targets in our 10-Year Transport Plan to be delivered.
Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when railway tracks and signals will be upgraded to allow Virgin to operate its tilting train. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Strategic Rail Authority's proposed strategy for the West Coast Main Line would provide for the first major stage of renewal and upgrade work on the line to be completed by September 2004, when the new Pendolino trains will be able to operate at 125mph using their tilting abilities.
Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, when he expects the new rolling stock on the Hastings to Charing Cross line to be fully operational; and what account he has taken in the 10-year plan of the need to upgrade the line to facilitate this. 
Mr. Jamieson: Connex has ordered 618 new vehicles of which 84 are now available for passenger service or driver training. Further vehicles are expected to enter service this year. The 10-year plan provides for investment in new rolling stock and infrastructure to achieve our targets for performance quality and growth.
Andrew Bennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make a statement on funding of trams in Greater Manchester. 
Mr. Spellar: The Government approved in principle funding for a package of three extensions to Manchester Metrolink two years ago. Tenders have now come in at prices that are significantly above forecasts. We are therefore considering whether the project is still affordable and will reach a view as soon as possible.
Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what recent discussions he has had with the Strategic Rail Authority regarding high-speed rail lines to the North of England and Scotland. 
Mr. Jamieson: None. The Strategic Rail Authority's study into the need for and viability of a high speed line running between London and the North of England and
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Scotland is due to be completed later this year. The Authority will report the findings to Ministers at that time.
Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what measures the Government are taking to improve train punctuality. 
Mr. Jamieson: We have made it a priority objective for the Strategic Rail Authority to work with the rail industry to achieve substantial and lasting improvements in performance. They are doing so.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what changes to the rail network he plans. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Strategic Plan, published by the Strategic Rail Authority in January 2002, sets out a series of projects and timescales which, if met, will deliver the targets set out in the Government's 10 Year Plan for transport.
Phil Hope: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make a statement on passenger rail services to Corby. 
Mr. Jamieson: Under their franchise agreement Midland Mainline provide a bus shuttle service between Corby and Kettering Station to connect with train services. Initial studies have indicated that a rail service would require considerable continuing financial support. I understand that Catalyst Corby (the urban Regeneration Company for the area) is working towards a bid for Rail Passenger Partnership funds from the Strategic Rail Authority.
Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what progress has been made over the past three years in increasing the public use of rail services. 
Mr. Jamieson: Usage of the railways, measured in passenger kilometres, has increased by nearly 8 per cent. over the past three years, from 36.3 billion in 1998/99 to 39.1 billion in 2001/02.
Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make a statement on investment in respect of the Norwich to Liverpool Street railway line. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Strategic Rail Authority is creating a new ''Greater Anglia'' franchise, through which it will consider ways of improving performance and replacing rolling stock on the Norwich-London route. The infrastructure on the route is currently affected by a backlog of renewal work and the SRA is considering options for addressing this.
Judy Mallaber: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make a statement on the progress of bus quality partnerships. 
Mr. Jamieson: Quality bus partnerships are helping to attract more people to public transport by improving the quality of local bus services. A survey undertaken for my Department recorded that 134 voluntary quality bus partnership agreements were in place in England
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and Wales in 2001. Some authorities are actively considering statutory quality bus partnership schemes as part of their bus strategies.
Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what action he is taking to improve transport links between England and Scotland. 
Mr. Jamieson: The majority of transport functions have been devolved to the Scottish Executive. On reserved matters, we consult regularly with the Executive. We are currently in discussion with the Executive on a number of issues, including regional air services and rail infrastructure, in conjunction with the Strategic Rail Authority.
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