Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate issues relating to rail travel in the south-east. I am a regular user of the services myself and I am a great fan of rail travel. I want to put that on the record because, inevitably, we tend to focus on negative points during these debates. I had thought that more hon. Members would be here today because problems exist throughout the country. The fact that there are not perhaps means that there is more satisfaction with rail services than the press leads us to believe.
I asked for this debate after local issues came to my notice as a result of the retendering of the south-western train franchise. The key issue in the Romsey constituency and in the neighbouring constituency of Eastleigh is the proposed curtailment of the Chandler's Ford service. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) cannot be with us today owing to a prior commitment, but he would very much liked to have been here.
Other hon. Members have concerns about their services, but I shall leave it to them to raise the details of their localities. I would also like to talk about a few general issues such as the barriers to increased train usage: fares, problems with car parking, capacity and inadequate integration with existing transport networks. The latter includes lack of provision for cyclists and the difficulties of integrating that.
I shall begin with the retendering of the south-western train franchise. Before I come to the local difficulty, I should point out that one positive aspect of that service is the extension of many of the Waterloo to Southampton Central trains so that they travel onwards to Bournemouth and Poole. That will be welcomed by the increasing number of commuters who live beyond Southampton and who have a relatively reduced train service at the moment.
However, as always in these debates, we concentrate on the problems, and the big problem is the plan to truncate the Romsey to Totton passenger rail service, replacing it with a Romsey to Eastleigh shuttle. That plan has certain knock-on effects. To provide some background, I should explain that this rail route is very new. It opened in May 2003 and the justification for opening it at the time was that the area surrounding Chandler's Ford station has the fourth highest population catchment per station in Hampshire. It was a high-profile openingour local celebrity Charlie Dimmock came alongand everyone was positive about it; many local councillors of all parties had fought for it for some time. The project was so successful that it was shortlisted for a national transport award in 2004.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 350WH
All looked well, particularly because passenger usage exceeded the target set. It seems somewhat perverse to me that we are planning to get rid of something that is exceeding its targetsthe world works in strange ways sometimes.
At the moment, 1,500 people a week use the service from Chandler's Ford. Many go to Southampton and beyond, and some travel in the other direction to Romsey. When the system changes, many people using the existing line will have to change trains at least once to make the same journey, which will be a barrier. A public meeting on the matter was held just after Christmas. I did not think many people would attend because there had only been a few days in which to publicise it, and trains do not usually attract quite so much attention as health, but the meeting was packed. It is worth raising with the Minister a number of points made in the meeting.
The train network could lose passengers. It was pointed out that three quarters of the passengers who use the service travel beyond Eastleigh or Romsey, which are the end points of the service mentioned in the franchise document, and simply would not use the train if they had to change at Eastleigh, or could not go directly to Southampton Airport Parkway to catch the fast train to London.
The franchise document suggested that the termination of the service would reduce congestion in the rail network around Southampton. However, the changes imply that the Romsey to Eastleigh shuttle would occupy Eastleigh or Romsey platforms for up to 25 minutes per hour and it would double the number of times that the main line would have to be crossed at Eastleigh. That could have a greater impact on main-line passengers and cause more delays to main-line passengers and freight trains at both stations.
The change would not reduce the number of trains terminating at Southampton, because the Chandler's Ford train currently terminates at Totton. Indeed, it would probably add to the existing problems. The other proposals of the Department for Transport for trains currently terminating at Southampton to continue to Bournemouth would reduce congestion at Southampton far more than the removal of the Chandler's Ford service. One suggestion in the document will address the congestion problem, but those who understand rail movement far more than I do tell me that the change will not positively affect it in any way. It will have a negative effect. It was also pointed out that the First Great Western franchise has included services with far lower passenger numbers than that service. There is, therefore, a precedent for supporting worthwhile services in the refranchising process. Others pointed out that cost savingsif it were a matter of costcould be achieved by leasing types of train that are more suited to local operation, rather than the high-speed, air-conditioned trains used at the moment.
There has been support from all political quarters for the retention of the rail line. The leader of Hampshire county council, Ken Thornber, wrote a letter to the south-western franchise replacement consultation manager about the matter. It is worth pointing out that
24 Jan 2006 : Column 351WH
Hampshire county council invested a significant amount of money in the station and the opening of the line. Ken Thornber's letter states:
"We know from surveys that prior to the station opening, 41 per cent. of Chandler's Ford's customers previously travelled by car and 35 per cent. by bus. It would be a disastrous blow to public transport in South Hampshire if the service at Chandler's Ford became so unattractive that newly won customers were to abandon the railway and add to the congestion on our local roads."
Hampshire County Council, as owners of the stationwhich received funding through local development and from council funds of more than £3 millionhas a vested interest in the continuing success of this station. The downgrading of the service which is proposed in the Consultation Document is frankly unacceptable.
The County Council believes that providing good viable alternatives and taking cars off the road wherever possible is a good thingfor commuters, for residents and for the environment and this was the motivation behind our substantial investment in constructing Chandler's Ford station.
If the changes proposed for the Romsey-Totton service do go ahead despite our protests, and those of neighbouring local authorities concerned, the County Council's role in supporting rail initiatives will be difficult to sanction."
The Minister should know there were representatives from Eastleigh borough council, Test Valley borough council and Southampton city council at the meeting, all of which are under different flavours of political control, and all of which are concerned about the future of the route.
"Its future relationship and stakeholder role with the rail industry is considered valuable and I would not wish to jeopardise this in the longer term. As it is, we feel profoundly let down over Chandler's Ford, given the commitment we have shown over the project, both in constructing the station and since it opened."
which obviously has an impact on how people choose to get to work. It also points out that businesses have relocated to Chandler's Ford because of the new rail service, which serves a large employment area in the vicinity of the new station. Existing employees can travel to Chandler's Ford more easily and there are some quite significant business parks close to the station as well. The Hampshire Economic Partnership concluded:
There are further concerns. A recent debate in Westminster Hall highlighted some of the issues relating to the south-east plan and PUSHthe Partnership for Urban South Hampshire. The point made strongly in
24 Jan 2006 : Column 352WH
that debate was that unless the infrastructure was put in placeparticularly road and rail infrastructures, and some of the support servicesit was difficult to see how the proposed new housing build could be sustainable.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing an important debate. Some Members may not be here today because they are stuck on trains. The point that she is making about the development of her area and the extra houses and infrastructure is exactly the problem that we face north of the river in Wellingborough. Wellingborough is almost becoming a part of the south-east. A road to the station and 8,000 houses are being built, but the rail service is not being improved, even though it is busy at the moment.
Sandra Gidley : Later, I want to return briefly to the point that often the road and rail networks are not properly integrated and there does not seem to be any great strategic overview. The approach is bitty and fragmented. Clearly, we are not alone in my part of the south-east in having these problems.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Lady is talking about the integration of rail and other services. I frequently travel on the midland mainline. It is an excellent service; it was the first to recover after the Hatfield rail disaster. It serves substantial parts of the north-east and Luton. Will she pay tribute to the frequency and reliability of that service, particularly as it integrates very well with Luton airport, which is a major airport serving the south-east, the midlands and wider parts of England?
Sandra Gidley : I would find it difficult to pay tribute to a service that I have not used, but the hon. Gentleman has already done so through his intervention, and his words probably bear more weight that mine in that context.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I thought that while the hon. Lady was taking interventions it would be wise for me to speak about the south-east. Canvey Island is in the south-east. She is addressing the important question of capacity and fixed infrastructure, rather than rolling stock, but there is an area where the two coincide. While I have the Minister's attention, I would like to ask whether the hon. Lady knows whether the Government intend to invest in extending platforms so that trains can run with more carriages and capacity can be increased, and also whether she is aware that Canvey Island is one of the largest communities44,000 people live on itwithout a rail service. It would be easy to stick a terminal line from the c2c line on to Canvey Island with a terminus station there, which would help to serve
Sandra Gidley : I am afraid that I have no intimate knowledge of Canvey Island, but I hope that the Minister will address the points that have been made. On the route that I use most frequentlyWaterloo to Southampton Airport Parkwaythe train sometimes
24 Jan 2006 : Column 353WH
stops at a station with short platforms and announcements have to be made, so clearly there are many areas where improvements could be made to the existing infrastructure.
I return to PUSH, in the context of which others have raised significant concerns. We must look at where housing growth is planned and ensure that the rail and road infrastructures match that growth. It seems perverse to reduce a service in an area of particularly dense housing. An expansion of Southampton International airport is also proposed, which will require enhanced rail access, not a reduction in services.
All those points are supported on a cross-party basis. I want the Minister to look into the proposal very carefully. I do not pretend to be a complete expert on train movements. I freely admit that I leave that to others. However, will the Minister commit to meeting me and some of the people who know the local rail service like the back of their hands to discuss fully the flaws in what is planned in the franchise document? It is not just a case of people losing a service that they need to access employment and that they have chosen to use to reduce the impact on the environment; there are wider implications.
I want to talk briefly about some of the barriers to train usage, one of which must be cost. Although some routes are regulated, I noticed that there was a large hike at the beginning of the year in the price of fares from local stations into London. Some commuters have told me that that has made them rethink how they can afford to travel to work.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She is quite right to say that cost is a barrier to train use. We should also consider the service that people get for the cost that they pay. A constituent of mine, Mr. Lynn Wilson, wrote to me to say that he had a first class ticket to travel from Kettering to London St. Pancras just before Christmas, but he had to stand all the way because the train was overcrowded and there were not sufficient carriages. Does the hon. Lady she share my belief that if commuters pay high prices they at least expect to get a seat?
Sandra Gidley : That is a major concern. Some work doneby the City of London, I thinkhas shown that overcrowding on trains entering London has increased quite significantly. Clearly, that needs to be addressed. When the Minister sums up, hopefully he will indicate how the problem will be dealt with and what the Government input will be.
"reportedly reject increases in capacity, failing to recognise that their railway station belongs as much to their hinterland as to the city itself. I don't think I need to go onyou must be aware of the arguments!"
The point about capacity is true; I have experienced it. At some local stations, unless one arrives before 8 o'clock in the morning, one simply cannot get a car parking space. I remember one occasion when I had an appointment in London later in the day. I drove from Southampton Central to Southampton Airport Parkway to Winchester, and none of those stations had a single car parking space left. Although there are plans to improve parking at Southampton Airport Parkway, the issue crops up at many other stations in the area.
That issue is linked to the notion that one could take the bus instead of driving one's car to the station. Perhaps one couldif the routes were integrated. They are not, however, and that is another barrier to using the network. The lack of integration means that if buses and train times do not co-ordinate, one may have to hang around for up to three quarters of an hour, depending on the route, in order to catch a train. Or, perversely, if one is late and misses the train, one may have to wait for an hour on a cold, dark station at night. Again, no one seems to have a strategic overview. I have to say that Hampshire county council has been willing to listen on occasion when mistakes have been made and services that did coincide were suddenly changed for no apparent reason. However, there seems to be no onus on anybody to address the problem more holistically.
I receive a lot of correspondence about provision for cyclists. Some people would be happy to cycle to the station, take their bike on the train and cycle at the other end. However, train operators on many routes do not allow cycles at certain times of the day. Not all cyclists are lonely people who cycle by themselves, so if one is part of a group it is well nigh impossible to combine any cycling experience with rail travel. The issue is dealt with much better in some continental countries, and I wonder why we cannot crack the problem in this country.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to our research, two thirds of train services coming into London at peak times do not allow cycles? Does she agree that there is an issue with secure cycle places at stations? Many people travel with their bikes, but they do not want to leave them at the station because they are concerned about losing them.
Sandra Gidley : I had not realised that the figure was quite as bad as my hon. Friend suggests, but I am sure that his research is accurate. I speak only about the services from the neck of my woods, but if my experience is replicated, his research would represent an accurate
24 Jan 2006 : Column 355WH
picture. Secure cycle storage provision would go some way to addressing the problem: it would increase the number of people who cycle only at one end of their journey, because they are content to leave their bike at the station.
The other big bugbear for some of my constituents is the lack of disabled access. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 has come into force, and it seems strange that more effort has not been made to ensure that our stations are fully compliant with its terms. It would be helpful if the Minister in his summing up outlined whether there is a date by which all stations must be compliant and whether there are any mechanisms to help to achieve that. Some of my constituents undertake complex journeys that would be relatively simple if they did not use a wheelchair.
David Taylor : I am pleased to hear the hon. Lady's near-comprehensive list of barriers to increased rail patronage, particularly the point about cycling, given that some stations have a Tie Rack but no bike rack. I should appreciate her response to one point that she has yet to include on her list. Would she care to say a word or two about those people who have concerns about their personal security when using the rail network, particularly at night, because of unstaffed stations and inadequate lighting?
Sandra Gidley : The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As somebody who uses the rail service late at night, I generally feel relatively secure. However, there are instances on a train when one can feel vulnerable, although that is probably no different from anywhere else. If I know that I am coming back late at night, I choose carefully the station to which I return, ensuring that it is well lit and that I do not have to return to a darkened area to get into my car. Although some of my local stations have been upgraded, I am less keen to use others, precisely because of the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises. If the Minister could mention any planned improvements in that regard, it would be helpful.
I received a briefing from the City of London corporation. It is worth pointing out some of its concerns, because they echo points that I have made. The economic viability of the City of London and its ability to attract the work force that it needs is an important consideration. The corporation says:
"The retendering of the South Western Trains franchise poses important opportunities for both the City and areas such as Hampshire and Surrey to press for the improvements required. The significant number of commuters travelling from Hampshire and Surrey to the City by rail is indicated by figures showing that 16,000 people make their way from Waterloo (being Hampshire and Surrey's terminus) to the City on the Waterloo & City line in the morning peak. The City Corporation has made representations in support of the need to address overcrowding by running additional trains and increasing the number of carriages. With Waterloo forecast to exceed its passenger capacity by 2012, the opportunity to expand platform capacity presented by the vacation of Waterloo International by Eurostar must not be missed."
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The City of London corporation is quite right to complain about the lack of direct services to London Waterloo, because it affects my constituents as it affects those of the hon. Lady. Does she share my surprise that the Government have backtracked on the network utilisation strategy and the promises made by the Minister's predecessor about the enhancement of service? I am not sure whether that move relates to the Chandler's Ford to Southampton service, but it certainly relates to the Waterloo to Bristol service, which stops at west Wiltshire towns in my constituency.
Sandra Gidley : Again, I am not familiar with the route that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but the proposals in the franchise document backtrack on the original proposals. Other routes are affected, too. One problem with the train companies is that they sometimes think that the solution is to run fewer trains so that they are not held up so frequently. There is a capacity problem on the rail network, which greater brains than mine do not seem capable of sorting out. The City of London corporation rightly points out that we must sort out some of those general capacity problems. Their resolution would have a knock-on effect on those services to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
From speaking to some of my constituents who need assistance, I know that when the service works well, it is very good and they have nothing but praise for it. However, the service is patchy, depending on which members of staff people come across on the day.
City businesses consistently rank transport problems, including delays and overcrowding, among their major concerns. A detailed study calculated that transport delays cost City businesses £230 million a year and their employees £100 million in lost leisure time. Reliability of train services must be improved to tackle that.
I started by speaking about a small local difficulty, but clearly there are problems on the network that have a much more widespread impacta national impact, in factand I would appreciate it if the Minister dealt with some of those points when summing up the debate.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) on securing the debate and on her contribution. I have the privilege of representing Kettering, in Northamptonshire. In case the Minister feels that Kettering is not in the south-east, I should say that it represents the greater south-east, because it is included as one of the growth areas in the housing expansion agenda of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I therefore feel that I have every right to speak
24 Jan 2006 : Column 357WH
in this debate. Also, trains from Kettering travel through genuine south-east towns, such as Bedford and Luton, and many of my constituents suffer problems in relation to those trains.
I thank all those constituents who work on the local railways and on the midland main line in particular, all the staff at Kettering railway station, and all the drivers and crew. Midland Mainline is the franchise operator for the train service through Kettering, and it is fair to say that that is a good service. I have been travelling on the line since 1999. I was a regular commuter for many years before arriving in this place, and it is fair to say that, five or six years ago, the service was horrendous. As a daily commuter, I often arrived home late in the evening because of lack of trains, overcrowding and so on.
David Taylor : I use the same services as the hon. Gentleman. Is he not being a little unfair, in that the period he describes was the immediate aftermath of the Hatfield derailment, which caused chaos on railways throughout the land? Will he acknowledge that Midland Mainline, which serves Leicestershire, has improved in numerous ways, not least in respect of doubling services that serve the midlands and which therefore serve towns in the south-east and the northern south-east, if that is where Kettering is located?
Mr. Hollobone : I am grateful for that intervention, but I do not think I am being unfair. We all understand that, after the Hatfield experience, the railways were not operating as they should have been, but a large part of my travelling experience is pre-Hatfield, when the service was pretty dreadful. Thousands of people who are now my constituents were extremely frustrated at the rail service provided to the town.
I shall raise two issues. One is occasional overcrowding on Midland Mainline services and the other the threat to the rail service from the ODPM's growth agenda. There are far too many instances of overcrowding on train services to and from Kettering, particularly on the service that runs between Kettering and London St. Pancras. Normally, that journey should take about an hour, and it is fair to say that punctuality is pretty good. However, most people would regard it as reasonable that, if they buy a train ticket for a journey of such length, they should be entitled to a seat. Sadly, that is all too often not the case, which is unacceptable.
As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Lynn Wilson wrote to me, detailing his tragic travelling experience on Thursday 20 December, when he purchased a first-class rail ticket for the journey from Kettering to London St. Pancras and had to stand all the wayfor an hour. The next station down the line is Wellingborough. Mr. Wilson says:
After the Wellingborough stop the situation was three times worse with people standing the carriage length and by the toilets and exit doors. Just how that conforms with Health & Safety regulations I have no idea, but moving up and down the carriage was practically impossible."
Tom Brake : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, soon after coming to power in 1997, the Government introduced legislation covering the transport of animals and the space available for them? They have yet to introduce similar legislation on the transport of passengers.
Mr. Hollobone : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Commuters on far too many train services in the south-east sometimes feel as though they are packed into cattle wagons. I had a similar experience on Friday. Travelling back to Kettering after the Adjournment debate in the House, I got the 5.30 pm service from St. Pancras. I travel second class: I choose to do that on my parliamentary allowances so that I can share my constituents' pain when they have to stand all the way. I had to stand for 40 minutes, all the way to Bedford, because there was not one spare seat on the train. That is unacceptable. There were tens of my constituents standing for 40 minutes, which is far too long.
I hope that the Minister takes these points on board when it comes to the renewal of the franchise arrangements, particularly with regard to Midland Mainline. In the 21st century, surely it is possible to devise a system whereby if someone buys a train ticket for an hour-long journey to or from London, they are entitled to a seat all the way.
Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman some leeway, because there is an interconnection with the train services, but this debate is on trains in the south-east. I know where Kettering is geographically, and I have to say, with the best will in the world, that he is straying pretty well off the mark. Also, we are talking about railways, not housing.
Mr. Hollobone : May I endeavour to bring myself back on track, Mr. Olner? Given that there is already overcrowding on some key services, residents in Kettering are concerned about how Midland Mainline will cope when the population of Kettering goes up by about one third within 20 years. There is a genuine concern that local train services simply will not be able to cope with the expansion in the local population. Local residents want an increase in the number of coaches available on the existing service to give them some comfort that, when the population growth comes along, there will be proper train service provision for local people.
Finally, I need to make an apology, Mr. Olner. I am interested in the debate and would very much like to stay for the rest of it, but the Committee considering the Animal Welfare Bill will drag me away at about 10.30 am. I appreciate your indulgence today.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 359WH
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) on securing this debate. She and I share an interest in the subject, because what we are largely talking about today is the post-South West Trains franchise that will run from February 2007. In truth, there are no real frontiers when it comes to the franchise in the areas that she and I serve. They are very much interconnected and will suffer, I fear, unless the Minister is prepared to allow some smaller services to continue post-February 2007. He knows that I have corresponded with his office on the matter, and I hope he will meet me and some of my concerned constituents, who are worried about the post-February 2007 franchise.
My particular interest lies with the London Waterloo to Bristol service, which stops at stations in Surrey, Hampshire and Wiltshire before finding its way to Bristol. It is a good example of a direct service that has been well served by the public in the past, and if it were to be enhanced, it would go some small way towards discharging the aspirations laid out in the 10-year transport plan, about which we hear so little these daysI wonder why.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Chandler's Ford to Southampton service, which is in many ways similar to the one about which I am concerned. The closure of those services will reduce the number of people who opt to travel by train rather than take their cars. We talk about multi-modal transport and car parks are very important, but overall, we must reduce the number of people travelling on roads. Trains seem to be the way to do that, but we must make it attractive for people to travel by train.
We cannot just say to people, "Here's a train, but you will have to change several times to get to your destination." They simply will not buy that. We must make trains attractive to people. I fear that, with the refranchising exercise under way, there will not be that ability for train operating companies to make their service attractive to customers. That is a pity, and it will certainly defenestrate, if that were necessary, the 10-year transport plan.
I am particularly upset because the June 2003 network utilisation strategy seemed to be quite promising in the context of the forthcoming refranchising exercise, which is now just around the corner. It certainly looked fairly good for my constituents, and my subsequent meetings with the Minister and his predecessors suggested that the service was going to be enhanced. That was the promise, and we were looking forward to it. Then, all of a sudden, there appeared to be a complete volte-face. We now find that the service is not in the post-February 2007 requirements, and it looks like it may be stopped once again.
The Minister's predecessor, wisely in my view, brought the service back. However, I found it interesting that the passenger usage survey was done shortly after the service restarted. Those are the figures on which the Department for Transport is now relying to make its assessment. That is a pity: methodologically, this is problematic because there is a stop-start service and people will get out of the habit of using it, and figures will be artificially deflated.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 360WH
I hope that the Minister will look critically at those figures before making a final determination on whether that service should continue. I certainly recommend to him, en passant, the figures produced by the West Wiltshire rail users group, which are different from those compiled by the Department. My spies tell me that it is considering conducting more passenger user surveys on that route. If it is, I welcome that. If the surveys are done properly, they will paint a picture different from the one that I think the Minister has for that service.
That is all I want to say. I hope the Minister agrees to meet me and my constituents to discuss the London Waterloo to Bristol service, which stops at intermediate stations in four counties and is of great importance to much of the public in the south-east and south-west.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): May I start by welcoming this debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley)? She has raised a number of matters that are clearly of great concern to her constituents, as have other hon. Members, and I want to comment briefly on some of those points. First, on overcrowding, which has been raised by a number of hon. Members, it is worth reminding ourselves that the figures that are calculated relate only to London and Edinburgh. There are no statistics on overcrowding outside those two areas. Secondly, overcrowding figures do not take into account the number of people who are left standing on a platform as a very crowded train goes through. That is an area that the Government must consider.
Sandra Gidley : I apologise for intervening as I have had a lot of time in which to speak, but concerns have been raised about the possibility of injury on overcrowded trains. When I tabled a parliamentary question on the matter, the response was to the effect that people get a different sort of injury. It was very vague about whether there are any risks and I am unclear about whether any work has been done on that. Does my hon. Friend have any knowledge on that subject?
Tom Brake : I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. She may recall that a year or so ago I had a constituency case involving a woman who was travelling on a very overcrowded train and who believes that she suffered a miscarriage as a result. There is evidence to suggest that, although the types of injury may be different, in practice, people on overcrowded trains are suffering injuries. It is difficult to calculate the statistics on that, because people do not often report them, but at the very least, I am sure that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will have witnessed people having to get off an overcrowded train because they are starting to feel too claustrophobic and cannot continue their journey. That is a significant issue that is not being properly addressed.
My hon. Friend also mentioned disability access, and I want to put on record yet another example of the frustration that commuters feel about that. At Sutton station, which I use regularly, one exitthe one closest to the car parkhas never been opened. Commuters are not allowed to use it because there are no staff to open it. That has been going on for many years, and there
24 Jan 2006 : Column 361WH
seems to be no prospect of that exit, or entrance, being opened to allow people, particularly those with disabilities, to get from the car park into the station.
Secure or safe stations have also been mentioned. There are some interesting statistics that show, for instance, that one in five people would make more journeys if they felt safer. I understandperhaps the Minister can confirm thisthat the Government's secure stations initiative is going backwards in terms of the number of stations that have qualified. There has been a recent change to the requirements with which stations have to comply to obtain secure station status. I understand that that has to do with the market research that the operators have to conduct with their customers to ascertain whether people feel safe. That might kick-start the programme so that more stations achieve that status, but the initiative is going backwards at present.
More generally, hon. Members have rightly focused on their constituencies, but it is appropriate to raise some wider issues. I want to consider three key matters: aspects of the south-western franchise; Crossrail, because no debate on rail in the south-east can take place without a brief discussion of that; and South Eastern Trains and the integrated Kent franchise. I hope, Mr. Olner, that you accept that those are all in the common definition of the south-east.
It is proposed that the south-western franchise will last 10 years. Does the Minister believe that that is sufficient time to allow the investment that will be required to deal with some overcrowding issues? He and the Secretary of State have talked at length about double-decker trains, for example. Will a 10-year franchise allow for that investment? I suspect not.
Furthermore, I hope that the Minister says a little about how he sees the balance between fare increases to pay for services and a reducing subsidy. He will no doubt be aware of an article on saver fares that appeared in The Times on 20 January. As hon. Members know, such fares are available on all longer distance routes, but can be used only outside peak hours. There is a price cap on them, but the article said:
For people who want to turn up and go, there some extremely expensive fares for travelling from A to Babout £200 for return journeys if the tickets are purchased on the day. Does the Minister agree that the price increases are about managing demand on overcrowded trains? That is the view of Christian Wolmar, a well-respected expert in transport matters.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 362WH
As he believes, and this would be fairly easy to quantify, one effect of the high fares is to switch people on to the roads, thereby increasing road congestion.
I want the Minister to respond on a further point, which is significant and pertinent to rail services in the south-east: have the Government considered how they undertake cost-benefit analysis of rail projects and the value of those projects to the economy? In other countries, in Europe in particular, greater weight is given to other factors such as the ability of rail projects to relieve congestion and to regenerate rural areas.
What does the Minister expect the south-western franchise to deliver in respect of overcrowding? What will the Government be seeking? During morning and evening rush hours, the number of people travelling on main commuter lines in and out of Londonmany of whom are from the south-eastin excess of the recommended train capacity has increased by no less than 53 per cent. since 1996. Overall, according to the latest figures, 2.9 per cent. of people travelling on the main commuter lines in and out of London were in excess of capacity, which is the Government's official definition of overcrowding.
As I have said, those in excess of capacity figures do not take into account the people left stranded on the platform. At peak hours in the morning as I travel in from Wallingtonsometimes I get a seat, sometimes I do notthe further down the line we go, the more passengers are left stranded on the platform unable to get on the train. Incidentally, the figure for South West Trains passengers who are travelling in excess of capacity in the morning peak is 6.8 per cent.one of the highest overall.
The Minister and the Secretary of State have referred to double-decker trains as a possible way to sort out overcrowding problems. It has been reported that Network Rail has been told by the Government that all future engineering projects must take double-decker trains into account. Can the Minister confirm whether that is so? Moreover, apparently there have been informal talks between the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the train operating companies about where the double-decker rolling stock could be used. What preliminary thoughts do he and the Government have on where that stock could be used?
The bids that will be made for the south-western franchise are being developed at the same time as the route utilisation strategy issued by Network Rail that covers services from Waterloo station. Will the Minister explain how those two processes interlink, as it is not immediately clear how that happens? On the one hand, Network Rail has issued a shopping list of what it wants to do; on the other, we have the bidding process for the south-western franchise. I want reassurance that those two processes meet in the middle.
Crossrail is an important transport project that will have a significant impact on rail services in the south-east, London and beyond. We cannot debate rail in the south-east without giving the Minister yet another opportunity, which has been declined on many occasions, to say where the funding for Crossrail will come from. A couple of weeks ago, we debated the instructions to the Select Committee when the matter was raised, but he did not use that opportunity to reply to us.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 363WH
The project has been kicked into the long grass. The answer is hiding behind Sir Michael Lyons's review, although perhaps the Minister can put on the record the fact that, apparently, Sir Michael Lyons has not been asked specifically to consider Crossrail as part of the review. How are the two matters linked if Sir Michael Lyons has not been asked to look at Crossrail? It is a pity
Tom Brake : Thank you, Mr. Olner. I shall conclude my remarks on Crossrail by saying that, because it is central to rail in the south-east, we need feedback from the Government on whether it will happen and whether funding will ever be available for the project.
I have an ideological question about South Eastern Trains. I know that the Government do not like ideological questions, but it concerns the reason the Strategic Rail Authority gave for not allowing the South Eastern Trains management team to bid for the integrated Kent franchise. I am about to refer to the SRA, but clearly it and the Government were one in the same thing in this respect. It has been stated that the SRA decided that the South Eastern Trains management team
The same is true of all those who are bidding for the integrated Kent franchise. They have all had to use their management teams to spend time and effort on that, as opposed to running existing services in other parts of the country. Therefore, that is a feeble reason for taking such action.
Will the Minister explain why the Government were not willing to allow healthy competition between a publicly run South Eastern Trains, which according to commuters who use the service improved it significantly when it took it over, and the private sector, so that we could make concrete comparisons between the two? It seems that that was an ideological decision taken by the Government. They were not going to allow the public sector to compete in that way, which is extremely regrettable.
I hope, but do not have much confidence, that the Minister will respond to that point, which is of interest. Generally, commuters would have liked a public sector operator to operate a service, so that they could make comparisons with the private sector and see which did things better. That way, the two sectors could learn from each other and we could all benefit.
To conclude, I will listen carefully to the Minister's reply to establish whether there is any prospect that, in the next decade, the issues of overcrowding, undercapacity and unreliability of rail services in the south-east will be addressed. If he can give no such guarantee, the future for commuters in the south-east is extremely bleak.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 364WH
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): This has been an interesting and important debate. I am aware of your stricture that we should give the Minister 20 minutes in which to respond, Mr. Olner, and I shall try to allow him that much time.
In this debate, we have already covered the wide definition of the south-east, as well as a number of problems that rail travellers in the south-east face, including overcrowding, disability access, fares, security andperhaps most importantlycapacity. However, we ought to give some context: the railways now carry 30 per cent. more passengers than they did 40 years ago, on a 40 per cent. smaller network. In recent years, billions of pounds have been spent on headline rail projects, such as the west coast main line upgrade and the channel tunnel rail link. Also, the Government promise to spend in excess of £15 billion on Crossrail. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) rehearsed some of the arguments on that subject, and we look forward to hearing assurances from the Minister. Also, I understand that the Government talk of spending more money on a London to Edinburgh high-speed link.
Those projects are undoubtedly crucial, but they tend to overshadow their less glamorous relativesthe south-east network and, in particular, the workhorse commuter services. That section of the network delivers 120,000 people into the economic heart of this country every weekday morning. Also, local services around regional centres, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), take people into centres such as Bristol, Southampton, Reading, Croydon and Brighton. Those commuters are increasingly packed on to overcrowded trains.
The Minister will be aware that the Office of Rail Regulation has forecast a nationwide 28 per cent. increase in rail usage by 2014. That looks to be a particularly grim experience, given that it is suggested that the increase in capacity in that period will be in the order of 2 per cent.
Many hon. Members touched on the misery of passengers having to pay fare increases that are well above inflation. That would all be very well if the extra money went into improvements but, as it is, punctuality is just about returning to pre-Hatfield levels. It is clear that on some routesthe Minister may wish to comment on thispunctuality is improving only because journey times, and timetables, have been lengthened significantly. That has been confirmed, to the Minister and to many of us, by London TravelWatch.
One of our principal concernsand the focus of this debate, which was secured by the hon. Member for Romseyis rail services in the south-east and local services. The Department for Transport said in its consultation document for the new south-western train franchise that such services can be underused and that services nearer to London could make better use of capacity if local services were cut back. That is an interesting argument, but there is also an argument that if the Government persuaded Network Rail and franchisees to run a hub-and-spoke service, those local services, far from being cut back, should be increased.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 365WH
In the South West Trains franchise area, services under threat include the Reading to Brighton via Winchester service, the Bristol to Salisbury service, the London Waterloo to Plymouth and Paignton services, and, of course, the Chandler's Ford service, which the hon. Member for Romsey mentioned. I am particularly interested in that service, because I was born and raised in Chandler's Ford. I spent the first 11 years of my life there. Then, there was no station. Many of my relatives and friends still live in the hon. Lady's constituency.
Chandler's Ford makes an interesting case study, and it is worth rehearsing some of the hon. Lady's arguments for the Minister. The area has a valuable, local service that is used by 1,500 people a week; 10 or 15 years ago, that would have been impossible. Now, it is proposed that the service be cut. Up to three quarters of those people travel beyond Eastleigh and Romsey, and they would not use the service if they had to change at Eastleigh for Southampton, or if they could not go on to Southampton Parkway to catch onward trains there.
One argument for cutting the service is that it will help to ease congestion in Southampton, but the Chandler's Ford trains terminate at Totton. The problems at Southampton would be much better dealt with if we did not remove the Chandler's Ford service and if trains were allowed to continue on to Bournemouth. Indeed, that is one of the proposals in the Department's document, and I urge the Minister to consider whether that might not be a better way forward than cutting the local service that the hon. Member for Romsey spoke about so eloquently. I look forward to the Minister's response on that point.
If the Government do not support the South Hampshire light rapid transit system, taking the Chandler's Ford to Southampton service off the network will be a double blow. Surely the overall consequencesthis is why this case study is so interestingwould be, as elsewhere, increased local car usage, as people would travel to a main-line station or just abandon the rail service. Also, there would be implications for the environment. I look forward to the Minister's response on that case study.
On some of the general points that have been made, the workhorse commuter services, as I described them, get a particularly difficult deal on fares. I asked a question about fares in the House last week. Regulated fares have gone up, on average, by 3.9 per cent.; that is despite the fact that the formula is retail prices index plus one. I note that in December the RPI was at only 2 per cent., so that is an interesting, moot calculation of the formula. Unregulated fares have risen by between 4 and 4.5 per cent., and many fares have risen by more than 8 per cent. One or two faresthis is particularly true of those under the more difficult structurehave trebled because of the abolition of saver tickets. Like the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance about saver tickets and the ability to get walk-on fares.
I commend the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington on his recent report, which says that £10 of commuter spend on railways buys an average of 38 miles of rail traffic. In France, that would get triple that distance. In Slovakia, one would get 350 miles, and in Italy 200 miles. It is interesting that those on the commuter network in the south-east are paying
24 Jan 2006 : Column 366WH
above-average fares for a service that is at best overcrowded and at times completely unacceptable. I shall come back to the issue of overcrowding later.
As was illustrated earlier, the bidding war for franchises has meant that many train operating companies are accepting less subsidy. That would be fine for those paying ticket revenues to the Government if they got increased capacity or punctuality improvements. The Minister will be aware of one service not yet mentioned today: National Express, one of the franchises that took over services in the East Anglia region last year. It connects into the south-east. It is paying the £500 million back to the Government over 10 years out of ticket revenues. Will the Minister comment on representations that he has received from hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), about the problems that the Government are having with that new franchise? The franchisee is saying that there is no money for increased capacity and that there will be no new rolling stock and no extra track capacity. That is particularly important in relation to commuter services in the eastern part of the south-east network, which include services into Cambridge andperhaps more importantly for the development of the south-eastthe fast train to Stansted.
Stephen Hammond : I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. He will have noted that I have only been in my position in the party for a month. However, I have already had representations from a number of franchise holders about that matter and the benefits that it would secure in rail traffic, particularly in terms of capacity.
Overcrowding, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members this morning, is a real feature and has risen dramatically. The number of people travelling on main commuter lines in and out of London, in excess of the recommended capacity, has risen more than 50 per cent. in the past eight years. The Association of Train Operating Companies has warned that the network will not be able to absorb the increase in passenger traffic. The 2 per cent. increase in capacity that is being suggested over a period to 2014 will not cater for the real issues of overcrowding. That has been recognised in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) asked about that last week in the House and the Secretary of State said:
I wonder whether the Minister will give us some assurances when we get to the nub of the problem for rail services in the south-east. For instance, we all know that, in terms of capacity, there has been an upgrade to the electrical circuitry. However, much of the new rolling stock that has replaced the old slam-door stock has to run at less than full capacity because the power is not available to run them at full speed. Will the Minister talk a little bit about what further electrical upgrades he would expect from Network Rail?
24 Jan 2006 : Column 367WH
Hon. Members have already mentioned lengthening stations and the improvement to the throat at both Waterloo and Liverpool Street. We should be commissioning more rolling stock, rather than decreasing it. In the short time that I have been asked by the new leader of the Conservative party to consider rail services, it has been explained to me on more than one occasion that the Government have paid, in certain contracts, to decrease the size of trains rather than increase them. I should be interested to hear the Minister reassure us and say that we will see greater commissioning of rail stock.
To finish, I shall mention three things that will be crucial to the south-east and to improving the network services: first, the increase of local hub timetabling in the system to allow more local services; secondly, extending the East London line and upgrading Orbilink; and, thirdly, I think that everybody would be interested to hear some comments from the Minister about the delays to Thameslink and when we might see that work coming through.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman) : The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has indicated that he has just taken up his post and will be studying issues to do with the railway system in the coming weeks. Based on the tone of what he has said, I would advise him to study carefully the actions that were taken between 1979 and 1997, particularly the impact of the rail privatisation process. Those things are not unconnected to the difficulties that we now face on the railways.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) on securing this debate and on some of the constructive comments she made. She did at least recognise that there have been significant improvements to rail services in the south-east. I shall deal in detail with some of the points that she raised.
The hon. Lady asked for a meeting with me, but I am not usually the Minister who deals with railway issues, so I am probably not the best Minister for her to meet. However, I will pass her request to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who normally deals with such matters.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) also requested a meeting. I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is due to write to him in the next day or two, offering that meeting, so he will get his opportunity to put his points directly.
Before I get into the detail of my speech, I shall deal with a number of general themes I detected in the debate, which was slightly wider ranging than I was expecting. My officials and I sat down the other day to
24 Jan 2006 : Column 368WH
try to work out what the scope of this debate would be so that we could prepare for it. We decided that, because the hon. Lady's constituency is in the south-east but is affected by the south-western franchise, we might need a slightly wider scope than one would normally work out for a debate on the south-east. However, in deciding what the scope of the debate would be, we did not get as far as Kettering and Leicestershire. Nevertheless, the debate has been interesting.
It has been interesting to hear some of the comments about capacity and overcrowding, which is a real problem that I will deal with in a moment. However, there was a contradictory theme in the debate, which was that many services around the south-east are running under capacity at the moment, yet everybody is adhering to them and wants them to continue. It does not seem to have occurred to hon. Members that, if they want to deal with problems of overcrowding and capacity issues, they will perhaps have to look at the resources going into services that are under-utilised. Sometimes we have to be prepared to take some difficult decisions and shift resources from under-utilised service into the ones where there are capacity problems.
Some of those difficult decisions have to be faced, although they are never easy and are always unpopular. Of course, Members of Parliament will always do their duty by their constituents and will say in debates that services that are vital to just one or two of their constituents have to continue. However, they should at least recognise that there is a contradiction. If we want resources to go where they can be most beneficial, sometimes we have to take some tough decisions.
I noticed another theme from several hon. Members. I did not hear any hon. Member talking about cutting services. I heard Members talking about fare increases, but I also heard a demand for more investment. The money for the railways can ultimately come from only two sourcesfares or the taxpayer. The Government have no money of their own; they have only the taxpayer's money. If we cannot raise the money through fares, the subsidies have to be provided by the taxpayer. Sometimes there are justifications for subsidies, but let us at least recognise that they will have to go on the nation's tax bill, so they have to be introduced carefully and only when they can be thoroughly justified. Sometimes we will have to accept that fare increases will be necessary and will need to be above the level of inflation to get the investment into the railway system, which did not get investment for many years, and which Members from all parties have identified as necessary.
Sandra Gidley : I take the Minister's point, but will he respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), which was that the length of the re-franchises is 10 years, which is not really an incentive to the train company to invest as much as they might, were the franchise to last longer?
Dr. Ladyman : First, the franchise process is not a vehicle for levering investment into the railway system. Secondly, I say to the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that he raised that matter in respect of the integrated Kent franchise and suggested that the new franchise won by Govia is too short. Of course, a long franchise worked
24 Jan 2006 : Column 369WH
so well last time, did it not? We had to fire Connex halfway through the process. The disaster that was Kent's railways was down to the fact that somebody was given a franchise for far too long, the franchise system did not lever investment or good management into the system and we ended up with a disaster that we had to deal with by throwing somebody out.
I believe that the Government have got it right on the franchise arrangements that have been put in place for Kent. I speak with some passion on this subject, because my constituency is in Kent and there are major benefits in the new franchise for my constituents. I believe that the franchise is long enough to get the investment needed. The company concerned believes that it has the basis for a productive franchise and for delivering certain increases in capacity that I shall talk about in a moment. As far as I am aware, it is not complaining about the length of the franchise at all. We also have the benefit of knowing that the franchise will be terminated early if the company does not meet its very tough punctuality targets. That franchise has been correctly judged. We should learn a few lessons from history and what has happened when we have given long franchises.
Tom Brake : The Minister said that we should learn the lessons of history. Presumably, the Government have learned lessons from the history of the Connex franchise, but he seems unclear about whether franchises are to allow for investment. He said that they were not, but literally in his next sentence said that the new integrated Kent franchise would allow for investment and tackle some of the capacity issues. Are franchises for investment or not?
Dr. Ladyman : My point is that, in accepting a franchise, a company knows the length of that franchise and its objectives on increased capacity, improved service and increased punctuality. The company makes its bid accordingly; it will have made its decision on how much investment can be levered into the system in the franchise period. The Government decide whether that will meet their objectives when they let the franchise. That is exactly what has happened in Kent.
I bring to Members' attention the fact that, after some difficult years, Britain's railways, in the south-east and nationally, have improved considerably. I am not saying that they are yet all we want them to beof course they are not. No Member of Parliament with a constituency anywhere in the south-east of England, particularly in Kent, would dare suggest that. However, services have improved significantly.
During the last period for which information is available, a moving annual average of 85.7 per cent. of trains arrived on time. Performance levels are increasing all the time. Passenger numbers are growing significantly: 2005 saw the highest number of passenger journeys in 50 years. Last year, 1 billion journeys were made on the national railway network, an increase of 2.5 per cent. on the figure for 2004. Some £87 million a week is being invested and major improvements are being delivered as a result of that major investment.
The growth in demand for rail travel will continue to increase and there will be major problems, particularly in the south-east. However, that investment has given us 2,025 new vehicles that now operate on the network
24 Jan 2006 : Column 370WH
south of the Thames; they replace 1,700 slam-door coaches, at a cost of about £2 billion. My own constituency in Kent has only just seen the back of slam-door trains, which were first introduced in 1950.
In the final six months of last year, slam-door trains were replaced in constituency of the hon. Member for Romsey. She said that trains should be more appropriate for the lines on which they run rather than provide the fully air-conditioned services now used on some of her lines, but a fully air-conditioned modern railway coach is a damn sight better than those old slam-door trains with which many of our constituents were struggling not so long ago.
Some 40 per cent. of our national rolling stock is now new and we are, of course, still investing to try to increase capacity. More seats are to be provided as part of the new Thameslink-Great Northern franchise. Some 10,000 additional seats a day will be provided as part of the timetable and eight-car trains will be used across the peak-hour period. The Greater Western franchise will deliver a redesign of the high-speed train fleet and a new timetable to increase capacity on trains between London and Reading in the morning and evening peak periods, by 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. respectively. That is a significant increase in capacity. The integrated Kent franchise that we have talked about also involves a considerable increase in capacity. Such things are happening not only in the south-east but across the country.
Despite those record levels of investment, we recognise that capacity in the south-east remains an issue and that it will continue to be a problem. That brings me to some of the specific matters raised by the hon. Member for Romsey. She talked about the south-western train refranchising. That franchise is the next to be let in the south-east of England and it will certainly impact on her constituency. The franchise will combine two existing franchisesSouth West Trains and Island Lineboth of which are currently owned by Stagecoach. During the 200405 financial year, South West Trains accounted for 15 per cent. of total passenger rail journeys, 11 per cent. of national fare box revenue and 11 per cent. of the 4.6 billion passenger km travelled on the rail network.
South West Trains operates 1,635 trains each week day with a fleet of 333 units, and the rolling stock has already seen considerable investment. The fleet of 91 inner suburban class 455 units is undergoing a major refurbishment programme, while a new fleet of 45 class 444 and 110 class 450 Desiro units have been successfully introduced during the past couple of years.
By contrast, Island Line, which carries more than 1 million passengers a year on 1938 former London underground rolling stock, receives fare box revenue of just £1 million. The new franchise is scheduled to start on 4 February next year, and five companies have pre-qualified to bid to run it.
The South West Trains consultation document that set out the proposed specification was issued on 7 November 2005. Department for Transport officials met with local authorities, passenger groups, regional bodies and industry stakeholders to discuss the proposals. The consultation period closed on 13 January this year, and the Department is considering the responses prior to finalising the specification on which the bidders will be asked to price their bids.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 371WH
The new timetable introduced in December 2004 has already significantly improved performance; nine out of 10 of the trains now arrive on time, and significantly changing the timetable so soon was not deemed necessary. However, it was considered appropriate to review a number of services to the west of the franchise area. As hon. Members have mentioned, the review considered changes to the services on the Waterloo-Exeter routespecifically those going west of Exeter and to Bristolthe removal of the direct service between Reading and Brighton and a review of services in the Southampton area. I shall make sure that the comments made by Members about those services are passed to the team considering the consultation so that they will be taken into account as the way forward is determined.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Romsey-Totton service in particular. In its south-west mainline route utilisation strategy, Network Rail has identified Southampton as an area that creates significant delay to train operations. That is related to a number of factors, including the use of the station by four different passenger operators, a significant volume of freight traffic and the constraint of a two-track tunnel at the eastern end of the station. The proposed specification attempts to address those problems by improving train movements through Southampton Central station. That package of measures will improve performance, offer better journey opportunities and provide more frequent and faster journeys to south Hampshire and Dorset.
The proposals include the extension of the Waterloo-Southampton service to Bournemouth, the extension of the Waterloo-Poole service to Weymouth to provide a second train each hour, the acceleration of the existing service to Weymouth from Waterloo so that it is 10 minutes faster, and the provision of a regular and improved service between Brighton and Southampton.
To facilitate improvements to the Southampton area, the proposed specification has reduced the Romsey-Totton service so that it operates as a shuttle between Romsey and Eastleigh. The hon. Lady will be aware that the service between Romsey and Totton was introduced in May 2003, with the opening of the new station at Chandler's Ford. The service is currently supported by money from a rail passenger partnership scheme established by the Strategic Rail Authority, but that expires in April 2006. Discussions about continuing to support the service until the end of the franchise are in progress. On the consultation on the limitation of that service in the future, I shall make sure that the hon. Lady's comments are referred to the team considering those proposals.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|