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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) on securing this debate, and moreover, on the way that she has put forward the arguments on behalf of her constituents, my constituents and all the people who live in south-west London and the south-west area. She has made a cogent case, as does the Arup report, for ensuring that the five platforms at Waterloo, to be vacated by Eurostar in less than two years' time, should be used by trains from our area.

This is an historic opportunity, which we must seize. I am delighted that Arup and the Minister have rejected the argument that shops and offices could be built on those platforms, and that they will be used for public transport. This is the chance to make the moral and economic argument for more services for our areas. We have been starved of major public transport infrastructure in our areas, not just since privatisation, as my hon. Friend said, but for decades prior to that. Now is the time to put that right. My constituency has 10 train stations, all serving the local population, funnelling into Waterloo. We have no access to the tube network, so the rail service is key to my constituents and absolutely essential.

Our hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who cannot be here today because he has gone to visit one of his schools celebrating Trafalgar day, wishes to be associated with those remarks, as he is part of our campaign. As he said to me, this is an historic day. On the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, this is the battle for Waterloo, and we are waging it because we believe that these services are essential.

I share some of my constituents' problems, because I commute on the train from Surbiton station on almost every day that the House sits. We find the congestion just outside Waterloo, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park referred, to be one of the most galling experiences of that journey. Sometimes, one can sit outside Waterloo, almost within touching distance of the station, for 10 minutes, which is exceedingly frustrating. This is a kind of solution to that problem. It can deal with the overcrowding, which can still be a major problem. I have often experienced feeling like a sardine in some carriages, despite some good refurbishments by South West Trains in recent months.

When the invitation to tender is made, no doubt in March next year, whoever wins the franchise should be asked to include proposals in their bid as to how not
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only mainline services from far afield but suburban services will utilise the benefits of more platforms. Even if suburban trains do not go into the five platforms vacated by Eurostar, the benefits would be huge. If mainline services were moved, platform use would be much more flexible.

I urge the Minister to make a speedy decision. I know that a number of feasibility studies are necessary in the light of the Arup report, but may we have an early decision in principle—well before the invitations to tender—that the platforms will be used for services from the existing South West Trains franchise area? That is critical and, as my hon. Friend said, there are several ways in which to make it happen over a short period. There is the £10 million investment to bring in the Windsor line; there is the £30 million investment to free up the extra line that the Nine Elms viaduct uses; and there is the more expensive investment required to secure maximum flexibility at Clapham Junction. All that could be done in a staged way to deal with what is a very practical problem. It would provide huge value for money for the taxpayer, and it would mean a huge potential transport gain for the Government. I urge the Government to take that opportunity.

2.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) on securing the debate, and thank her for describing her ambitions for the future of Waterloo station and the train service in her area.

As the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) will know, last week, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the five platforms at Waterloo International would be retained for domestic passenger use after Eurostar moves to the new channel tunnel rail link terminal at St Pancras in 2007. That announcement removed uncertainty about the future use of Waterloo International, especially given press speculation about the development of the site which surfaced during the summer.

We are now focusing on three phases of further work. They involve short-term options for improving performance and capacity on South West Trains by diverting existing services to the international platforms, medium-term flexibility to use the platforms as a diversionary destination for trains that would otherwise be disrupted by Thameslink works, and potential longer-term step change improvements that would require significant additional investment.

We need to do more work. Improving the use of Waterloo is often not as straightforward as it might seem, and most of the complexities concern infrastructure constraints further down the line. What may seem a perfectly sensible proposal at the Waterloo end, such as running longer trains into the longer platforms, needs to be considered in the context of the rest of the infrastructure along the route. We need to consider, for instance, whether the platforms at stations along the line of route are long enough for the purpose.
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I should make clear that we have not turned our back on redevelopment of the station, and do not wish to do so. Property projects could bring significant benefits, and help contribute to the meeting of costs. We are, however, determined that train use should come first. We are not waiting for any development scheme before beginning to use the terminal, and any property proposals would have to conform to rail needs rather than vice versa.

The Department for Transport is now beginning to examine the options, and the initial analysis should be completed by spring next year. That will allow the conclusions to be fed into the franchise specification and tender documents for the South West Trains franchise, which is due to go out to competition next spring.

Mr. Davey: Will there be time for the Department's conclusions to be debated before they are fed into the bid specification, so that there can be some accountability for them?

Ms Buck: I am afraid that I cannot give any further details of the timing, as it is not specifically within my brief. I shall, however, ensure that my fellow Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), gives the hon. Gentleman the information.

The report sets out in detail a number of issues that need to be addressed before Waterloo can be used for domestic services. It is also clear from the report that platform availability at Waterloo is not the only constraint on capacity, and as a result a number of other schemes may be required for full use of the available capacity.

Hon. Members will be aware that Eurostar services actually join the route into Waterloo relatively close to Waterloo station in the vicinity of Vauxhall, using the Stewarts lane viaduct. Constraints on capacity exist further out from Waterloo and thus the availability of platforms at Waterloo, although easing the problems at the station, does not totally solve all problems for passengers entering London on South West Trains services.

Some improvements are deliverable in the short term while others may be deliverable over a longer time scale once affordability and value for money have been determined. Given the time scales to which we are working, we are focusing on what benefits can be gained for passengers in the short term, so that the platforms do not lie idle for a substantial period after Eurostar's move to St. Pancras, although it is inevitable that some delay will occur, as conversion works are required.

For a number of reasons, the international station as currently configured cannot be used for domestic services, and works will be required to alter the station layout for domestic passengers. That may at first sight seem rather strange, but it must be remembered that the international station was designed for low-frequency, long-distance services with passenger flows being generally in only one direction at a time and with long train dwell times on the platforms. Commuter services, on the other hand, are typified by relatively high-frequency, quick-turnaround services, with a number of competing passenger flows. As a result, work will be required to allow the international platforms to function
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properly as a domestic station, and a number of small infrastructure schemes are likely to be required to allow domestic services to use the platforms.

In the short term, the provision of additional platforms at Waterloo can be used to improve performance further since the number of platforms available for services will increase. As I have said, the next stage of work will assess which train services can be moved into the available platforms to improve performance most. South West Trains is obviously the candidate most likely to use the platforms, but given the track layout at Waterloo it is likely that Windsor line services—those to Reading, Putney, Hounslow and Richmond, which will be of specific interest to the hon. Member for Richmond Park—would be strong candidates for use of the platforms. However, performance and platforming analysis will be carried out to judge whether that is the correct assumption.

We will assess whether any additional peak-period services can be added to take up the capacity available. That will need to be carefully considered, and we shall have to ensure that any additional services that could be provided can be afforded, can provide value for money for the taxpayer and are not detrimental to overall performance.

Once we have determined the short-term options, we will further assess the longer-term requirements for the route as a whole. We shall look at whether the station can be used to mitigate the impact of other rail projects during their implementation phases. For example, the additional platforms might be of use as a temporary terminus for some services that will be impacted during the construction phase of Thameslink.

In the longer term, a number of options exist, which need to be examined in greater detail and that would lead to fuller utilisation of the platforms. All those options require some significant infrastructure enhancements and are likely to be costly. Waterloo main line services, such as longer-distance services to Southampton, Portsmouth, Weymouth and so on, could be shifted to the international platforms and lengthened to, for example, 15 cars. However, that would require significant infrastructure enhancements in the Clapham area, such as a flyover, to move the service group to the south side of the route approaching Waterloo. That would be a costly exercise and would require removal of the Stewarts lane flyover, which links the south-eastern lines approaching Victoria to the Waterloo route, and the reinstatement of tracks approaching Waterloo. Again, such options will need to be examined in further analysis.

Other infrastructure changes further from Waterloo, such as platform lengthening, would also be required. The report notes that such works could cost £300 million but I stress that that is only an estimate. I quote it so that hon. Members become aware of the scale of investment that might be required fully to utilise the platforms.

As I have noted, further work is currently under way to assess further and costly elements that are under consideration. In the short term, we are focusing on schemes that can be implemented quickly. The work will identify a programme to convert the station from international to domestic use as quickly as possible so that benefits can swiftly be passed on to the passenger.
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By later next year, drawing on that and other pieces of work such as the south-west main line route utilisation strategy, the southern regional planning assessment, which covers that corridor, Transport for London's route corridor plan and the agreed south-west franchise, we shall be able to develop a longer term strategy for the route to utilise fully the platforms at Waterloo. It will be important to ensure that any schemes highlighted are judged against considerations of affordability and value for money.

To conclude, the decision by the Government to retain Waterloo International for domestic passenger services allows for the longer term development of the railway into Waterloo and removes one of the constraints limiting that possible development in future years. Other barriers remain to be tackled, and I hope that Members will note that it is not as simple as just running more trains into the vacated platforms. The work we are pursuing at present will provide benefits for passengers in the short term and scope for growth in the longer term. It thus recognises the importance of Waterloo in London's transport network as a hub for future development.

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