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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to his answer of 19 January 2005, Official Report, column 958W, on railways, what assessment he has made of the priorities for the expansion of rail freight in the next five years (a) in the UK and (b) in the South East; what account will be taken when decisions are made on supporting such expansion of (i) corridors of need for rail freight services, with particular reference to ports and (ii) the need for transportation of particular products, with particular reference to (A) oil and (B) waste; and when he expects to make an announcement regarding his policy on rail freight. 
Mr. McNulty: Rail freight is a private sector industry and the expansion of the industry should be carried forward through the actions of rail freight operators and their customers. However, the Government have clearly set out their support for encouraging growth in rail freight through measures in the White Paper The Future of Rail".
The Strategic Rail Authority have made ongoing assessments of the demand for freight on the railways, and these market studies were referred to in the answer of 19 January 2005, Official Report, column 958W.
With particular reference to ports, the studies imply that the demand for the movement of goods through deep sea ports is likely to increase. The SRA's analysis has informed the work carried out on the network, evidenced by the recent completion of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton gauge enhancement project.
The information is also used in planning network use through the Route Utilisation Strategy and Regional Planning Assessment processes, ensuring that provision is made for the needs of the freight industry.
3 Feb 2005 : Column 1036W
Mr. McNulty: It is not the normal practice of the Government to release details of meetings with private individuals or companies. However, Ministers regularly meets a wide range of private companies with rail freight investment interests.
Mr. McNulty: In March 2004 the Strategic Rail Authority published the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Policy. The document is on the internet at the following address: http://www.sra.gov.uk/publications/strategy/freightinterchange/interchangepolicy and will be made available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) if he will make a statement on the timetable for the distribution of services provided by Central Trains between other train operating companies; 
Mr. McNulty: Work is in hand to analyse options and then to determine the exact nature and timing of the redistribution of Central Trains' services. This is primarily a matter of redistribution of services among other franchises and so through services between Droitwich Spa and Malvern are currently expected to continue to be provided.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to improve the quality and reliability of information to passengers (a) on trains, travelling between and (b) at stations in Birmingham and Worcestershire. 
Mr. McNulty: Real time information screens are to be provided at Ledbury, Colwall, Great Malvern, Malvern Link, Worcester Foregate Street, Worcester Shrub Hill, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster and Stourbridge. The works should be completed by November 2005. All conductors on Central Trains have been issued with mobile phones in order to provide a means of communicating train-running information and alternative service arrangements during times of disruption.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to ensure that expansion of powers to passenger transport executives does not have an adverse impact on train services in surrounding shire county areas. 
Mr. McNulty: The Future of Rail" White Paper and the Railways Bill will give the Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) greater flexibility to make trade-offs between heavy rail and other modes. Our aim is that the choices that the PTEs make under the new framework should not have an adverse impact on the train services in surrounding local authority areas.
Although the PTEs will be able to propose reductions to rail services in their areas and retain the savings, this will only apply to any services wholly within their Metropolitan areas and those outside which are wholly funded by the PTE. Similarly, although PTEs will be able to fund additional services themselves, they will only be able to introduce them where they do not significantly adversely impact on the wider objectives for the rail network in that area.
Following enactment of the Railways Bill, PTEs will be able to propose closures of rail services, networks and stations. However, they will only be able to propose closures that fall wholly within their Metropolitan boundary or that they wholly fund themselves.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the impact of line speed restrictions in Worcestershire on the punctuality and reliability of local train services. 
Mr. McNulty: Speed restrictions are applied by Network Rail to ensure the safe operation of services. I understand from Central Trains that current speed restrictions in the Worcestershire area can result in some journey times being extended by one or two minutes, which can have a detrimental knock-on effect on performance. It is for Network Rail to determine in consultation with train operators how best to deal with these operational matters.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what plans there are (a) to renew signalling in the Worcestershire area and (b) to introduce a new signalling section between Worcester and Droitwich Spa; 
Mr. Norman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) how much is available in the Access for All fund to improve disabled access at railway stations; and what criteria are used for distribution of grants from the fund; 
Mr. McNulty: The Strategic Rail Authority intends to publish a consultation document on its Accessibility Strategy shortly. The document will deal with the prioritisation and funding of work at stations to improve accessibility. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.
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