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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the north London line is vital for my constituents in Hackney, as it is the main interchange for access to the underground? While we welcome the line being handed over to TFL, we hope that the organisation will have the capacity to raise money so that that important line for the people of Hackney can receive the investment that it needs.
Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes a good point, as Hackney is the only borough in north London that does not have any access to the tube network at all. However, one exit from the Manor House tube station is in Hackney, so there is a connection to the borough. My hon. Friend refuses to accept that assertion, even though she and I have walked up that very staircase while campaigningone simply cannot persuade some people on those matters.
My hon. Friend is right about the improvements to the north London line and the need for integration. For people in most parts of Hackney, the north London line is the only east-west public transport route that they can use, but some of the stations are, frankly, grim and dangerous. The number of crimes in those stations is tragically high, and they are not safe places late at night. More investment is needed and, whatever arrangement TFL reaches with Silverlink or any other operator, I hope that it will insist that every single station is staffed, as that is the only way in which we will attract people back to the railways. They want to travel on them, but if the stations are not safe at night, they will not.
The Mayor and TFL have reached an agreement, which I believe the Government support, about reopening the east London line extension. It was short-sighted to close it, so I welcome its reopening. I have nothing against Hackneyit is a wonderful place that I love dearlybut why should the east London line stop there?
Some people may wish to get off in Hackney and shop in Kingsland road, but others, understandably, wish to travel on to Islington. It is short-sighted to spend a large amount of public money on rebuilding the area around Bishopsgate and rebuilding the line up to Dalston only to fail to link it to the existing track on the north London line. It could run on to Highbury and Islington in the first stage of development, with the option of extending it to Finsbury Park, which would develop into a local hub. I look forward to some imaginative ideas and I hope that, when TFL takes over, it will be able to put them into effect and develop new stations, including one at Tufnell Park on the Barking to Gospel Oak section of the line.
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Turning to the notion of a community railway, there are concerns about bustitution. The railway map of this country shows a dotted line in north-west Norfolk, pretending that there is a rail substitution bus service from King's Lynn to Hunstanton and on to the network at Cromer. That is not, by and large, the case. The service was provided as a sop to people who, in the 1960s, opposed the Beeching closure of those lines. If we overlay the current railway map with a pre-Beeching one we can get an idea of the huge number of lines that we have lost throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Transport Committee, is right that bustitution is a quick fix. In the short term, it is cheaper and simpler to operate a bus service than a railway. However, many passengers are lost, and people are encouraged to use cars to reach the main line terminus. Having driven there, they then decide that they might as well drive the whole way.
If we are serious about encouraging people in the long term to make journeys by rail, that will not be achieved by bustitution and branch line closures. The examination of branch line use is an undeveloped science and some of it is extremely short-sighted.
When I was first elected to the House, my great friend, the late Member for Bradford, South, Bob Cryer, was campaigning to prevent the closure of the Settle to Carlisle line. He sat where the Liberal Democrat spokesperson now sits and he asked hundreds and hundreds of questions. He bored the House rigid on the subject of the Settle to Carlisle line. He was told that it was expensive, that it was a waste of money, that the bridge infrastructure was decrepit and so on. But the line was saved. It was not closed. Now ask any rail operator, "Should we close the Settle to Carlisle line?" and they would say, "You could not think of closing it. It is a vital bypass for the west coast main line when that does not work, a large amount of freight goes along it, and it has been a contributory factor in bringing some tourist and other life to the villages along the line." It is now seen as a valuable network.
Think of that campaign and compare its success with the suggestion that some branch linesfor example, those in the west country, such as the Exeter to Barnstaple lineare too expensive and should be made ripe for bustitution. That does not help. It diminishes the railways as a whole.
Mr. Tom Harris: I know that my hon. Friend was not present in the Chamber for my outstanding contribution, which I am sure he would have enjoyed. He may be too negative about what community rail partnerships could mean. I accept that he is raising a real concern, but throughout the country community rail partnerships are providing an opportunity to bring out of mothballs rural lines that were previously closed and could now be reinstituted by local people and interest groups. I am sure that he would welcome that.
Yes, and I am sorry that I was not present for my hon. Friend's speech. I recognise, and I am sure that the Select Committee Chair would agree, that community rail partnership in the best sense can be the saviour of lines and lead to their development. What concerns me is that it costs money to run a local line and it should not be seen as solely a local cost or resource but
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as part of a much bigger and wider network. I know that there are examples such as the development of the Alloa line in Scotland and the reopening of part of the Waverley line. I hope that the whole of the Waverley line will eventually be reopened, right through to Carlisle. That is another area of the country that should have been redeveloped.
I hope that the Bill will not be the start of some subtle Beeching-type closure by a curious form of voodoo economics that decides that particular parts of lines are not profitable enough. I hope that the Bill will instead be the protection and renaissance of such lines. There are, however, some strategic decisions that need to be taken. Why, for example, after all these years have we still not achieved a decision on the reopening of the east-west route? The reopening of the line between Bletchley and Bicester, linking up with Bedford all the way through to Cambridge, March, Felixstowe and the east coast ports, would be a massive development and improvement for the rail network. We are speaking about reopening only 25 or 30 miles of track, the bed of which is already in place and in quite good condition. That is the kind of imaginative decision that I look forward to.
I hope that the Bill can be amended in Committee and strengthened in many ways. We are putting large sums of public money into the railway system and the railway network. I welcome that and support it. The productivity of rail workers is as high as or higher than anywhere else in Europe. The amount of public money that goes in is as high as or higher than anywhere else in Europe. Surely there ought to be greater accountability for what happens to that money.
Those of us who read the entrails of the railway press see that large sums of money are being made by some of the train operating companies, even when they are receiving large subsidies for the running of their services. The case for public ownership, where appropriate, of the railway network, particularly of the leasing companies and rolling stock, is overwhelming. Retaining in public ownership franchises such as South East Trains is extremely important.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that the Bill is welcome as a step forward and a stage of improvement. I wish that it went a lot further, however, and I suspect that we will be back here taking it that stage further in a few years' time.
If anyone thinks that railways are a thing of the past, they should look at a little story that appeared on the front page of yesterday's The Independent on Sunday saying that this country was running out of car parks. That may be the case, but if we continue to promote the car industry and road freight at the expense of rail freight, it will be a problem for all of us. Railways are more efficient and better users of land, as the White Paper's simple picture of a Eurostar train running across the Medway and using only a few square metres of land shows when we look at the space and cost of the motorway running alongside that track, carrying fewer people. We must look to a future that is more sustainable, and railways provide us with that opportunity and future. It is a good public investment to invest in railways and it is an even better public investment to invest in railways and own them at the same time.
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