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11 Dec 2007 : Column 67WH—continued

In the December 2008 timetable, Penrith will be served on a broadly hourly pattern, with a second train in some hours. Across the day, five trains to London are proposed. Journey times will be considerably quicker, with the standard journey time to and from
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Euston being three hours for the 281 miles. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that is an impressive average speed of well over 90 mph. It will also be a reduction of 30 minutes on today’s typical journey. In the mornings, trains from Penrith will be a full hour quicker.

Journey times for Birmingham services will also be reduced by around 15 minutes to just under two and a half hours. As with London, Birmingham will be served by a spread of trains across the day. The Birmingham service will continue to provide connections with a number of important stations en route, such as Crewe and Stafford. First TransPennine Express services between Edinburgh and Glasgow and Manchester airport will also call there. It might help if I explain that the 07.20 Manchester airport to Glasgow train will call at Penrith at 09.17. Those services will also provide local connections with stations such as Oxenholme and Lancaster.

Significant journey time reductions of around 20 minutes to Manchester—one hour and 40 minutes rather than two hours—will also be possible, and Penrith will gain a through link to Manchester airport, which can be reached in just under two hours rather than two hours and 20 minutes as at present. For northbound journeys, we anticipate that services to Glasgow will be around 15 minutes faster than today. Glasgow will be about 90 minutes from Penrith.

It is worth noting that those changes will benefit other towns nearby. For instance, Carlisle and Oxenholme will benefit from faster journey times. For significant portions of the day, Carlisle to London services will run hourly, with typical journey times of under three and a half hours. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Carlisle. There will be extra services to Carlisle in the December 2008 timetable.

During modernisation work, Saturday and Sunday services have been disrupted along the entire west coast main line. That will be rectified with the new timetables and the provision of weekend services similar to those in the Monday to Friday timetables, and it will not be interrupted with prolonged engineering activity.

There has been extensive consultation on the matter. The plans were originally consulted on in 2002, and formed part of the 2003 strategy. More detail was contained in the west coast main line progress report, published in May 2006, and more recently in a timetable consultation exercise co-ordinated by the Department for Transport.

Although it is normally the task of operators to undertake consultation exercises, the Department led with that work to present a complete picture of key services over the entire route. That information has been shared widely with numerous stakeholders, including peers of the realm, Members of Parliament, passenger transport executives, regional bodies, local authorities, Passenger Focus, user groups and, most important, passengers. I have asked officials to meet again with Cumbria county council in the new year.

In the two minutes remaining, I can say that the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman will understandably resonate with his constituents. He read through the list of services he wanted to be added to the December 2008 timetable, but I am sure that he realises that organising a real timetable, especially on the west coast route, is pretty much like playing three-dimensional
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chess. If it were as simple as stopping a particular train at a station, the Government would want to consider it. However, stopping a train and adding another five or six minutes to its journey could have a knock-on effect.

For example, if one of the services that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of stopped at Penrith, it would miss its access pathway to get into Glasgow Central station, which would make the train 10 minutes late. Having invested £10 billion, that is not something that we would readily contemplate.

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None the less, my offer remains on the table. I am more than happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman. If there is anything that we can bring to the timetabling group that might address some of his concerns, I will be happy to do so. On this occasion, however, I cannot promise that he will leave that meeting with a light heart.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Two o’clock.

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