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Railways Security Equipment Trial

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Alistair Darling): Yesterday I informed the Transport Select Committee that I have given the go ahead for new security techniques to be trialled on mainland rail and underground stations.

The trial will begin in the New Year. It will test how effective new and existing technology could be to help counter the continued terrorist threat to the UK transport network.

The trial will form part of our ongoing consideration of transport security. It comes after the review of rail security following the Madrid rail attacks in March 2004.

I informed the House of that review on the 10 March 2005, Official Report, column 130WS. It examined security measures in place and potential improvements to current systems on the UK's underground and rail networks. The review identified a package of
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recommendations to enhance rail counter terrorist security. Some of these measures will be obvious to the public, others are not.

The attacks of 7 July and the continued threat from international terrorism make this work more urgent. The equipment trial I am announcing today is a further stage in this work.

Transport security measures have to be proportionate and responsive. Around 3 million people travel on the London Underground network and well over 2 million people travel on the country's rail network every day. It is important that we reduce the risk to those passengers whilst recognising that accessibility is important to people and business.

It is equally important that we do not ignore the benefits that new technology could provide us. Potential security benefits should not be disregarded without due consideration. We have to be ready to look at whether further action is appropriate and practical.

The equipment trial I am announcing today is an important part of our considerations. It will use some currently available screening techniques on the national rail and London Underground network for the first time. It will help establish whether there are benefits in the introduction of a system of fractional screening. This is the screening of a small proportion of passengers on either a random or targeted basis using new technology or other systems available to us.

The equipment trial will begin in the New Year for four weeks on the Heathrow Express platforms at Paddington station. Further locations for a small number of trials will be identified by my Department in consultation with London Underground, Network Rail and others over the next six months.

The trial will be a series of tests of screening equipment. At selected locations a small number of randomly chosen passengers will be asked to take part in the tests. This may involve either going through a scanner or being searched either by hand, with the use of portable trace equipment or with sniffer dogs. Bags may be passed through x-ray machines.

Most techniques will be familiar to the public, especially to those who fly. However some technology will be new. This includes the first use on the UK railway of body scanners using millimetre wave technology. This enables the operator to check for objects concealed in or under clothing.

In itself the trial is not designed to be part of the current security regime. It will test the usefulness of the specialist equipment and help examine the practical issues that may affect its future use in a normal rail environment.

It is not suggested that it will be possible to turn our rail or underground network into a closed system like an airport. Widespread screening, even on a fractional basis, as to be tested now, would be a huge step and not one to be taken lightly. No decision on its the future use has been taken. This equipment test is essential to ensure that when it is, the decision is based on reliable evidence and experience.

The trial will be followed by a period of evaluation. I will of course keep the House informed.
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Leeds Supertram

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): In July 2004, I took the decision to withdraw funding for the Leeds Supertram because of excessive cost increases. Since then we have been in discussion with the scheme promoters, West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (WYPTE), about their alternative proposals.

I have considered very carefully all the new information provided by the promoters. The latest tram proposals are still very expensive—costs are nearly 40 per cent. higher than originally planned. This proposal is also for a reduced scheme which places more of the risks with the public sector. It does not represent the best value for money for the people of Leeds or the best use of public money—particularly when compared to alternative proposals put forward by WYPTE for a top of the range rapid bus scheme. I therefore cannot support requests to re-instate the tram proposal.

Leeds Supertram was given approval in 2001 with a cap on the public sector funding of £355 million in 2001 present value terms. By July 2004, costs had escalated considerably to over £500 million.

Since funding was withdrawn, the promoters have made great efforts to reduce the scheme costs. Their submission of November 2004 suggested that the funding requirement for a revised proposal was £392 million, in present value terms. This was for a reduced scheme (the current proposal truncates the southern line) and with some risks taken back into the public sector.

The promoters say their latest proposal requires public sector funding of £348 million in 2001 present value terms. However, this simple comparison is seriously misleading because:

At a meeting with local Council Leaders on 26 July 2005, the Under-Secretary of State asked for additional information on tram costs and for further work to be done on a top of the range bus option. The aim was to consider whether buses could deliver a better solution than light rail when all possible existing levers were used in an imaginative and cost effective way.

We commissioned Atkins to carry out the study, working closely with WYPTE and its advisers. I am grateful to WYPTE for all the work they have done with the Department on this study.

Atkins based their work on that previously done by WYPTE to look at a bus rapid transit (BRT) system as an alternative to Leeds Supertram. This work was submitted to us in November 2004. Atkins concluded that the work undertaken by WYPTE was "very thorough, and a good basis for considering a high quality bus alternative in the current study".
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A BRT system is a new approach to meeting public transport needs. It would involve superior quality vehicles with many features similar to trams, including high quality vehicle interior, air conditioning, double glazing etc. It would be accompanied by fixed physical infrastructure in terms of dedicated stops, high quality shelters, real time information, off-board ticket machines etc. And it would be developed to operate as a complete system, with destinctive branding, priority at junctions, lengths of segregated track etc.

Atkins concluded that:

Atkins recognises that BRT has most of the advantages of the tram scheme, but not all, and there remains an element of risk in their conclusions given that a comprehensive bus system has not been delivered in this manner before in the UK. They also noted that, in a deregulated bus market, there were delivery risks that would need to be addressed.

The tram proposal remains extremely expensive, and in cash terms still costs much more than the scheme we approved in 2001. I cannot, therefore, approve the Supertram proposals. On the other hand, the bus study suggests that a top of the range bus system, designed and
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delivered in a way similar to a tram network, has considerable potential, and would be significantly better value for taxpayers. It could benefit more people and would be more flexible with scope for further extensions.

With the right commitment from central and local government, and the local bus operators, there is an opportunity here for Leeds to develop a showcase bus stytem that could lead the way for other cities.

I would encourage West Yorkshire PTE to take this opportunity and to work with my Department to develop proposals. The funding will be there for the right proposals.

We acknowledge Atkins' comments about risks in delivering a BRT system. However none of the problems identified by Atkins is insurmountable. I very much hope that the bus companies in Leeds will work constructively with the PTE to show what a high quality bus system can deliver. There are clear benefits to the bus companies in so doing. However, should it be necessary, I am prepared to work with WYPTE to give them the powers they need to make sure we get a system that works properly as part of an overall transport policy.

We have always recognised that trams can be very effective in heavily trafficked areas. We will continue to be prepared to support trams, where they are the right solution. But we will not do so at any cost, and in many cases a well designed and promoted bus based system is likely to provide a more cost effective solution.

Where trams are promoted, they will need to be developed as part of an integrated approach to tackling an area's problems, and they will need to be supported by commitments to complementary measures to deliver the benefits of increased public transport usage and reduced congestion. We will continue to work closely with promoters and the industry to seek to ensure that these benefits can be realised, and that the costs of tram systems are minimised and properly controlled.