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The increased choice and services for commuters are completely desirable, and my constituents look forward to enjoying them. The expansion of the Oyster card system, which is more convenient and cheaper for people travelling around London, will also be welcome,
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and it will be extended to the over-ground Network Rail services into London Bridge. The extension of the East London line will also mean that many people will be able to avoid using zone 1, as they will be able to travel around the centre of London, instead of having to go through it. That will produce savings not only of time but also of cost for many people. My journey to the Palace of Westminster takes me from Forest Hill station to London Bridge, where I change to the Jubilee line and travel to Westminster underground station. At a meeting with London Rail last Monday, I pointed out that when the new line is operating I will be able to take the East London line to the Canada Water interchange on the Jubilee line and travel through London Bridge to Westminster. London Rail confirmed that the cost would be the same for either journey, so that will be of benefit to people travelling from my constituency and around London more generally.

The reason I asked for the debate relates to a question I tabled to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask

The answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), stated:

I accept the last part of my hon. Friend’s answer, but unfortunately there was a degree of ambiguity about the rest of it, which is why I asked for the debate—I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing it. There is substantial concern that services to London Bridge on the Southern franchise and north-bound services from London Bridge to Victoria on the loop line will be cut after, or even before, the East London line commences re-operation in 2010, because the Southern franchise expires in 2009 and specifications will have to be made before it is renewed either by Southern or another operator.

My constituents are also concerned about some of the notions emanating from London Rail—the TFL body responsible for the London overground project and hence the East London line—in statements such as the following:

However, the document continues:

That last suggestion particularly concerns my constituents, because at present they have a direct service to London Bridge, which is, as I said, one of the busiest commuter routes in the country, so they do not regard the option of having to change to reach the same destination as a benefit.

The current East London line will close at the end of this year for about two and a half years for the necessary works to be undertaken to facilitate the southern extension to Crystal Palace and West Croydon, utilising the existing Network Rail infrastructure. That will result in our part of south-east London appearing on the tube map for the first time. Hallelujah, say we all. However, there is widespread concern that when the new service commences in 2010, with eight trains an hour—four each to Crystal Palace and West Croydon—it will result in a reduction to the peak-hour services to London Bridge from Forest Hill and Sydenham stations, both of which are in my constituency. They are already extremely busy. Even boarding some of trains—let alone any hope of getting a seat—is difficult, if not impossible. I can attest to that, because I started commuting on the line way back in 1963. Although it is accepted that the East London line services will provide greater choice for passengers, the principal demand is for the Southern train services to London Bridge, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

I have spoken to Network Rail’s utilisation strategy team, Southern trains, Transport for London and London Rail, but doubt still remains over the level of service post-2010. There is in existence something called a proving timetable, which was used to demonstrate the case for the East London line extension, but which would seem to indicate reductions in frequency during peak times. I understand fully that the final decisions are some way off and that there are a number of variables still to be resolved, but it is the strong feeling locally—I share it—that if the introduction of eight trains an hour on the East London line service causes any reduction in the current services to and from London Bridge via New Cross Gate, or the southbound service from London Bridge to Victoria, it would be far preferable for the East London line frequency to be reduced, at least initially. I fully understand that people’s travel patterns may change when they have different choices, but, at the outset, the travel patterns that we have in our part of the world are set and people will not welcome a reduction in those services to facilitate a new service that, as yet, is of no direct benefit to them.

I have been advised by some of those involved that it should be possible to accommodate all the existing services and the extension of the East London line, although London Rail appears to be resisting that. I hope that my hon. Friend can clarify the matter and make it plain that we welcome the arrival of the extended East London line, provided that it is in addition to the existing services and not at the expense of some of them.

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In conclusion, I congratulate the Sydenham Society, the Forest Hill Society, the Tewkesbury Lodge Estate residents’ association and other community groups that have put a lot of work into trying to analyse precisely what we can expect in our part of the world after 2010. I hope that my hon. Friend can provide reassurance that the immense benefit of the new East London line will not be diluted by reductions to other services.

2.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Gillian Merron): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) on securing the debate and providing an opportunity for the House to discuss the East London line and, in particular, the impacts of the proposed extension and enhancement to services south of New Cross Gate. I thank him for bringing these issues to my attention on behalf of his constituents in his characteristically good-natured and well-informed style. I echo the comments that he rightly made in congratulating the many community groups in his constituency that have contributed so well and in such a thorough and welcome manner.

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this matter, given that the services pass through Sydenham and Forest Hill, which are important areas in his constituency, and I know that the matter will be of great concern to his constituents. I hope that it will be helpful to my hon. Friend and his constituents if I set out a bit of the background and some details of the situation. The East London line project effectively links the rail networks north and south of the river to the east of the city and will for the first time in a number of years provide regular and fast journeys between north, east and south London, with services between Dalston in the north and West Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south. The East London line will also play a significant role in the regeneration of east London, particularly in the Dalston and Shoreditch areas. I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming that.

It is important to note that significant progress has been made: powers were granted several years ago; new trains have been ordered; work on the upgrading of some existing structures and so on has already been completed; and the main works contract has been let, with works due to start in earnest later this year. Some £900 million is being spent on infrastructure for the East London line and a further £223 million on new trains for the east and north London line.

When the new service opens in 2010, four trains per hour will operate between Crystal Palace and Dalston, between New Cross and Dalston and between West Croydon and Dalston. Eventually, with the planned upgrade of the North London line, eight trains per hour will do the extended run up to Highbury and Islington. That will mean 12 trains per hour on the core route between Surrey Quays and Dalston. South of New Cross Gate, eight East London line trains per hour will operate seven days a week.

The improvements will give passengers a better journey and will enhance the economic competitiveness of London. They will facilitate easier orbital journeys in London, because the central area will be avoided, and will provide better transport links for my hon. Friend’s constituents and others.

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The Government, like my hon. Friend, fully support the work of the Mayor of London and Transport for London in taking forward this project. We believe that it will bring significant benefits to transport in south and east London. Indeed, without the record level of resource given to TFL by this Government to invest in London’s transport network, this project would not have been possible. As with all projects of this scale, changes are required in order to implement it. I recognise that some of the changes impact on my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I understand and appreciate why they cause concern.

The railway south of New Cross Gate is heavily used by existing Southern services into London Bridge, and we recognise that crowding is an issue on these trains at peak times. From 2010, south of New Cross Gate, a number of changes to national rail services are likely to be required to facilitate the delivery of the East London line. That is because track capacity on the route is limited, especially at key locations such as London Bridge, Croydon and Norwood Junction.

As my hon. Friend is aware, the timetable that has been developed is a concept timetable: a basic draft that can be developed and amended. I hope that that will be of interest and reassurance to his constituents. The Department for Transport, TFL and Network Rail have been working together to develop this concept timetable that facilitates these changes with minimum impact on existing services. I assure him that no final decisions have been taken about the timetable that will eventually operate, and I hope that that reassurance will be relayed to his constituents.

The proposed changes will see the peak services to London Bridge reduced from eight to six trains per hour, but that service will be supplemented by an additional eight East London line trains per hour on the core section between Sydenham and New Cross Gate, giving a total of 14 trains per hour northbound in the morning peak. I stress that six trains per hour is not the maximum number in respect of the route, because further enhancements can be delivered over and above what is proposed. However, given the key constraints at London Bridge and Croydon, and the significant planned enhancements on this route, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we also need to examine whether enhancements to other corridors can be facilitated.

It is also clear that a significant number of passengers using this corridor interchange with the Jubilee line at London Bridge to go to the west end or Canary Wharf. They will have a greater range of interchanges available to them, with a choice of using either London Bridge or Canada Water—that has been recognised by my hon. Friend in his own travel patterns. The average journey time for passengers going from Forest Hill to Canary Wharf will be reduced by eight minutes.

I am aware that capacity on the route has been a key concern. It is true to say that East London line trains are shorter than those on the existing services. However, when measurements are taken in terms of available carriages, some 18 per cent. more will be operating on the route from 2010. It is also worth noting that it is planned that the six London Bridge services will all start from the Croydon area, whereas current services start significantly further away. That
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will result in the services carrying significantly fewer of passengers by the time they reach Sydenham, so more capacity will be available.

I emphasise that I am sympathetic to the fact that the changes will have an impact on some individuals, but I stress again that no final decision has been taken. The timetable details are far from finalised, the access option has not been agreed by the regulator, and the franchise specification for the replacement Southern franchise is yet to be developed. Further changes are possible and, indeed, they are likely to reflect changes in demand.

Jim Dowd: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I want to make sure that I understand exactly what she is saying. She says that no final decisions have been taken and that the concept timetable, as she calls it, has no more status thanthat. However, she seems to be talking about the six services into London Bridge as a given fact. It is that proposition, given that people have eight services an hour at peak times at the moment, that is causing the greatest concern.

Gillian Merron: I understand the point that my hon. Friend presses. I can confirm that I will ensure that our debate is drawn to the attention of those who are responsible for developing the final plans, and I will make sure that that point is emphasised as developments continue. We want a better service, but I emphasise to my hon. Friend that change means just that. I want us to get to a point at which we have a better service.

It might assist my hon. Friend if I make the point that the Government will this summer publish the high level output specification for the railway, which will detail the outputs that Government want to buy from the railway between 2009 and 2014. I can tell him that as part of that process, we are actively looking at several schemes to enhance capacity, such as by train lengthening on routes in south London. We will make final decisions on the defined outputs later this summer.

My hon. Friend asked a question about the transfer of stations. I can confirm that we are discussing the possible transfer of stations south of New Cross Gate, although we have not reached an agreement. The transfer would be made to the Transport for London concessionaire.

We recognise that the implementation of the East London line extension is likely to necessitate some changes to existing train services to accommodate the proposed new services. In general, we believe that the revised services will offer better transport services for south and east London, with improved connectivity to other parts of the city and new and more frequent trains. Our view is that a satisfactory solution can be developed for East London line and national rail services. That might involve some compromises, but we believe that the benefits of the project far outweigh the downside of the changes required. I reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents that the final timetable has not yet been defined. As I said earlier, we will seriously consider the concerns of his constituents as we take forward the development of the South Central franchise in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o’clock.

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