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4 Feb 2010 : Column 516

At its inception, the new franchise will operate the May 2011 timetable and will continue to provide the services at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth and Morpeth, as I described earlier. We intend to invite bidders to make proposals to utilise the additional infrastructure capacity, to be provided by Network Rail by 2014, and, subject to the usual value for money and affordability assessments, we would hope to be able to procure further train service improvements in that year.

Bidders for the new franchise will be expected to demonstrate how they will achieve improvements in service levels and facilities at stations where the franchisee is the station facility owner, and that includes Berwick-upon-Tweed. They will be required to address safety and security, accessibility and improvements to car parking and cycle storage, along with other concerns that the right hon. Gentleman raised. The Department will expect bidders' plans to be informed by the recent review entitled "Better Railway Stations" carried out by station champions Chris Green and Sir Peter Hall, whom the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Reopening of the former station at Belford was mentioned. I know that this has been a local aspiration for some time. Although potential passenger numbers are probably quite modest, a limited service could be provided with minimal additional operating costs, because local trains between Newcastle and Chathill must run north to Belford before changing tracks to return south. I understand that Northumberland county council is considering as early as next week the case for reinstating a platform at Belford, and the Government would welcome that initiative.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke briefly about ticket prices. Let me remind him of the need to strike a balance between the interests of the fare payer and those of the taxpayer. I am sure he will appreciate that the east coast train operator will want to promote increased use of its services while protecting its revenue.

The new inter-city east coast franchisee will also be able to undertake the introduction of the new super-express trains, which are expected to be available from 2014 onwards. The Department is leading the procurement of those trains, which will be designed, financed, built and maintained through a private finance initiative. We expect the new trains to give the franchisee an opportunity to make further improvements to the east coast main line timetable, including further journey time reductions and frequency increases.

I cannot make any precise commitments about the details of the super-express timetable at this stage. An initial outline will be prepared over the next few months as part of the specification for the new franchise, and more detailed development will be undertaken at the appropriate time by the new franchisee in conjunction with Network Rail and other stakeholders.

I thank the House for the opportunity to explain the Government's plans for improved train services on the east coast main line, with particular reference to services at the stations in Northumberland. They illustrate the Government's ongoing commitment to improving Britain's railways.

Question put and agreed to.

3.11 pm

House adjourned.

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