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6 Dec 2007 : Column 1068

Mr. MacNeil: And the rest of us.

Jonathan Shaw: Indeed. He said that, after the party, we could all go out to sea, but I am not sure whether that would be very wise. He also made some thoughtful comments about aggregates and applications.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) talked about nephrops and about the 28 days at sea issue. I will correspond with him on that, as we are aware of the issue that he mentioned. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) also mentioned it. We will be taking on that issue.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who talked about coarse fishing and about the fact that there are more fish because the rivers are cleaner. He said that he is now catching bigger fish, which is good news, and that the salmon stocks are recovering. He also pointed out, however, that there was no room for complacency, as some rivers still needed to be cleaned up.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) talked passionately about her position on the common fisheries policy. She has always been consistent on that, although we differ on this occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke about the regional advisory councils. I can tell him that I have brought the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation together with representatives of all the devolved Administrations, and that those discussions have been productive.

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar referred to his fishermen, monkfish, haddock and the 28 days at sea issue. He also mentioned who should take the chair in the discussions. Who should take it? It should be the elected UK representative, who is me, but I will work in partnership with my colleagues in the devolved Administrations.

Question put and agreed to.



Motion made and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Criminal Law

Question agreed to.

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1069

Rail Services (Enfield, North)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr . Michael Foster.]

6 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of rail services to my constituency of Enfield, North. There are four sections of line serving the constituency. Apart from the loop line from King’s Cross and Moorgate to Hertford and Stevenage, which has a suburban service operated by First Group—serving stations at Enfield Chase, Gordon Hill and Crews Hill—all the other sections of railway are part of the Liverpool Street to West Anglia routes with stopping services operated by One. That has three sections of line in Enfield: the Enfield town line; the Southbury and Turkey Street loop to Cheshunt; and the West Anglia main line, which not only carries the Stansted express and through-trains to east Anglia, but provides local trains serving Brimsdown, Ponders End and Enfield Lock.

I refer to these services as essential because, unlike the situation in many other parts of north London, there are no rail alternatives for commuters from Enfield, North. The underground does not extend as far as Enfield, North and road transport into central London is barely an option, because of congestion, travelling time and the obvious environmental issues associated with heavy road traffic.

Until 2004, the train service through my constituency was operated by West Anglia Great Northern—WAGN. In 2004, One Railway, a member of the National Express Group plc, won the franchise for lines on the eastern side of Enfield North, while in 2006, First Capital Connect took over the franchise for the western routes. Under WAGN’s control, my constituents frequently experience delays, cancellations and severe overcrowding on their trains, with very little passenger information provided and stations very much in need of refurbishment.

Where are we today? Perhaps I can start with an overview of the King’s Cross-Moorgate-Hertford line. The main problem facing the loop line is capacity on the trains, and there are two main causes. The train lengths do not cope well with the recent and continuing growth in passenger use, including an expected 14 per cent. increase in passengers up to 2016, yet the Moorgate branch is limited to some six coaches. There is also a timetabling problem in going towards London that limits the ability to run more trains, as there only two inbound tracks between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park for all high-speed outer suburban and inner suburban services—instead of the three tracks in the direction away from London. Problems are also caused by a lack of track access.

West Anglia is one of the most severely pressurised rail corridors in the country, supporting a busy suburban network in north London, Essex and Hertfordshire as well as express services to Stansted airport and East Anglia. It serves one of the fastest growing regions in the UK, including the London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough growth corridor, and the existing track struggles to cope with the travel demand. That can only get worse with an exceptionally high growth in passenger usage of 37 per cent. forecast by Network Rail by 2016.
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For the most part, the railways forming the West Anglia route network have just two tracks—one in each direction, with a short four-track section between Hackney Downs and Bethnal Green, but only two tracks into Liverpool Street.

In outer London, the West Anglia mainline timetable is a compromise between passenger demand and operability, which means having to mix fast and slow trains on the same track. Current services are susceptible to major delays for some very minor problems. This week, for example, a broken down train at Cheshunt in the morning peak led to a suspension of service and major disruption for thousands of commuters. If Network Rail proceeds with four-tracking, as proposed in its strategic business plan, such disruption and delay need not occur. I hope the Minister will be able to say something about that.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to creating a rail network that provides a fast, reliable and efficient service, particularly for inter-urban journeys. I know that more than £10 billion will be invested in enhancing capacity between 2009 and 1014, with overall Government support for the railway totalling over £15 billion, and I know that that represents a higher level of investment than existed in 2004-09 with a lower level of public expenditure. I welcome that degree of commitment to improving our railways. However, as the Minister knows—we have exchanged correspondence, he has been very helpful in discussions with me, and I know that he is pursuing the point further—I am concerned about the fact that the investment is not being translated into tangible benefits for my constituents who use the One Railway services.

I have already outlined the major problems, but according to the Office of Rail Regulation, One Railway received a £2.9 million subsidy for 2006-07, which appears to translate into only 0.1p per passenger kilometre. That seems very low in comparison with other rail operator subsidies. Moreover, it is a premium service, and One Railway will have to start paying money back to the Government rather than receiving a subsidy. In the light of that, I wonder about its bid. If the problems that I have described exist now, how is the position to improve with a lower level of subsidy, when the company has to start paying that money back to the Government? While I approve of the overall principle in relation to premium services, I am very concerned about that particular service, and about the One Railway franchise on the basis of its bid.

My postbag is regularly full of letters from angry and frustrated constituents who are fed up with the poor train service that they are experiencing. I therefore conducted a survey to gauge the most up-to-date views of local commuters and hear what they had to say about our local rail services. Over the past week I have been inundated with replies, and they are still pouring in. I thank all my constituents who took the time and trouble to complete the questionnaire. So far about 15 per cent. of people have responded, which I think everyone would agree is a high level of response, and which, unfortunately, demonstrates the level of dissatisfaction. I also thank a number of groups in my constituency—Enfield Disability Action, Enfield transport users group and the Enfield Lock action group—and councillors Chris Bond, Toby Simon, Geoff Robinson and Del Goddard for their ongoing work and support in seeking improvements in our rail service in Enfield.

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According to the findings of my survey so far, most Enfield commuters recognise that some improvements have been made by One Railway and First Capital Connect. First Capital Connect has told me that it is

that it can provide, and believes that it has made “real and tangible progress” in tackling issues such as performance, punctuality and quality of service. We have seen some improvements to both Enfield Chase and Gordon Hill stations, but as they were in a pretty poor state of repair originally, we started from a very low base. I believe that further improvements are planned for all three stations over the next few years, and very necessary and welcome they will be. As I have said, rolling stock is a problem: we need longer trains.

When One Railway took on the franchise for the Great Eastern line, it aimed to make improvements to the timetable and upgrades to stations and rolling stock. It made a commitment to invest £11.3 million in station improvements on the overall lines, with 50 of the 250 stations to be upgraded within 18 months. One Railway asserts that the Lee Valley area, which includes Enfield, has seen

However, that too was from a very low base, and it must be said that most of the correspondence I receive about rail services in Enfield concerns One Railway. Yes, I receive complaints about First Capital Connect, but the vast majority are about One Railway, and they are often much more serious complaints.

Improvements across both services are a step in the right direction, but a major problem that is still experienced on both networks, but particularly on the One Railway service, is delays and cancellations. According to my survey, all rail users in Enfield complain of delays and cancellations, but particularly users at Enfield Chase on the First Capital Connect line, and Enfield Lock, Turkey Street and Brimsdown on the One railway line. Constituents tell me that trains are often withdrawn without any explanation, sometimes hours in advance, and the public are not even informed. In fact, One Railway has told me that there were 22 cancellations in the space of just four weeks in September and October this year.

Delays are particularly problematic during the peak-time service from Ponders End into London Liverpool Street station, which constituents tell me is often late four days a week. Meanwhile, on the Turkey Street and Southbury line, constituents have noted daily delays—interspersed with cancellations—of 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and on several occasions half an hour. On the First Capital Connect service, the 9.14 at Enfield Chase is late on an almost daily basis and regularly cancelled—which in fact means that it often flies through the station without stopping, which is incredibly frustrating for constituents, presumably because it wants to make a target time at its point of destination. This happens at peak time for services.

Understandably, these problems continue to cause regular, and sometimes serious, overcrowding on the trains. We already have a capacity problem, and the running late and the not stopping make it worse. This is an issue which 73 per cent. of people I surveyed in
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Enfield said they often experience—a figure which is simply too high. While there have been some additional trains to Enfield Lock to help address some of this problem—as I have said, only four-tracking will ultimately resolve this issue—those using Brimsdown station are particularly affected by overcrowding, as there have been no additional stopping trains along that part of the line.

Indeed, in the survey results that I have collated to date, 90 per cent. of commuters said they often experience overcrowding at Brimsdown station. With over 200,000 passenger journeys through Brimsdown, this is a very serious matter indeed. An increase in residential development on the former industrial sites in the Brimsdown area, and up the eastern side of Enfield generally, has meant that more people need to use the train service. One Railway must meet that demand. More commuters mean more money for One Railway, and we want to see improved services as an absolute priority.

First Capital Connect has told me that it is working to maintain what it considers to be “exceptional” punctuality and reliability on the route, while One has told me that its main priority is to maintain the improved performance of the service. My constituents feel they are being taken for a ride—but not a ride on a clean reliable service that runs to time. Many Enfield residents using these services are regularly late for work and other engagements, which simply is not good enough. We have also had problems with changing timetables, and huge amounts of pressure has had to be applied by local groups and people to get reasonable timetables reinstated. Sometimes in peak running times a whole hour will pass without a train, which is totally unacceptable.

Another problem brought to my attention is customer service at some of our local stations. While conducting my survey, I was at Enfield Lock station just two Fridays ago from 7.30 through until 9 o’clock. There was only one member of staff issuing tickets. The ticket machine was not working, which I understand is a regular occurrence. There was a huge queue of people wanting tickets, stretching out of the station. The train comes in, and their choice is either to get on the train without a ticket or miss the train. A large number of them regularly miss their train for that reason, which is unacceptable.

I understand that First Capital Connect is planning to reduce staffing at Enfield Chase station and three other stations on the line. At present, we have one full-time and one part-time member of staff at Enfield Chase, and two ticket windows open during peak times. The plan is to get rid of the part-time job, so we will have one ticket window open. Already in peak time the queue often goes out of the station and on to the pavement—which means a queue of roughly six, 10 or 12 people. It would be completely unacceptable for one ticket window to close because the number of staff was reduced. Train operating companies tell us that they are trying to improve customer service, but this is a peculiar way of doing that. People who live around Enfield Chase and use the stations on the line will be outraged at this shameful decision, and I urge First Capital Connect to rethink it.

As I have said, the state of the rolling stock is also a concern. I understand that First Capital Connect is refreshing its entire fleet of trains, and that is most
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welcome. I am not sure when it will happen, so a little further information would be helpful. I believe that there are also plans to replace rolling stock on the West Anglia routes. I ask that the local stopping services be given the new trains rather than just the older fast through trains. It is not the fast through service alone that should be given the new trains, because that would be unfair and unacceptable—although that is what seems to happen. We should not be second-class citizens in terms of our trains and travel, simply because we use a local service and the fast through trains presumably provide more of the income.

The lack of access for people with mobility impairment is another issue that needs to be addressed. The Enfield Disability Action group has described spontaneous travel by rail as “impossible”. Of the nine stations situated in my constituency, only three are accessible—the other six all have steps up to the platform. Disabled people who wish to use the train service are required to notify the train operator 24 hours in advance of their journey, because often no staff are on site to assist—that is true even where there are no stairs. It is wrong that disabled rail users face that situation, and the issue must be addressed.

Obviously, I cannot cover every issue today. I have tried to put both the positive case and my constituents’ problems. I think that the Minister would have to agree that there are many problems and that the solutions are a long time coming down the line. I want to mention safety, because I am regularly informed by rail users that CCTV at stations is not working. As I have mentioned, stations are often not staffed and constituents have told me that there is also a persistent problem of yobbish behaviour on the trains. I am pleased at the work that the British Transport police are doing with our train operating companies. We would benefit from that being stepped up.

I ask the Minister and the Government to share our determination, and to call on First Capital Connect and One Railway to fulfil their commitment to delivering real improvements for their customers and for the people of Enfield, who have a right to expect that. I spoke out last year against the disproportionate rail and tube price hikes—in some cases there was a 30 per cent. increase—and the people in Enfield do not feel that they are getting a service that could possibly justify those increases. I hope that the Minister will be able to address these issues, and I must impress upon him that this is a serious problem, because the overground rail service is the main way in and out of Enfield for most people there.

6.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) on securing this debate and providing us with an opportunity to discuss some important issues. I pay tribute to her for the huge amount of work that she has done on behalf of her constituents, who are also members of the travelling public. One example of that work is the survey that she mentioned. I am aware that she has had a surprisingly large response to it. The information that she has gathered will doubtless help her, and I hope that it will help me as the Minister responsible for rail services. If she wants to discuss any of the issues raised in the survey after this debate, I would be happy to do so.

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