Railways, London

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd April 1995.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 12:00 am, 3rd April 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to promote greater usage of London's surface railways. [15691]

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

In London, as elsewhere, giving the private sector the opportunity to operate existing services and introduce new ones is the best way to bring about the further improvements to services which passengers clearly want to see and to attract more passengers.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Does the Minister not recognise that imaginative management of London's railways would provide far greater passenger opportunities on many underused freight lines or underused passenger lines, such as the Barking to Gospel Oak line? Is he aware that the principles of the internal market mean that, to save Railtrack from paying penalties, re-routed freight trains are sent down the Barking to Gospel Oak line, passenger trains are cancelled and passengers are taken off the trains and told to take a bus? Railtrack does not therefore lose any money from its freight income, but it inconveniences the passengers, who receive no compensation because that line is not included in the compensation package.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that £300,000 has been contributed towards refurbishment of stations on the Gospel Oak to Barking line. As for rail freight, he will be pleased to learn that the freight companies were vested successfully this weekend. I believe that in the private sector they will offer greater innovation and better marketing and secure an increasing share of traffic for rail freight at the expense of road freight.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I recently travelled from West Ealing to Greenford and back using British Rail. Many passengers travelling in both directions to whom I spoke said that the service was extremely good and comfortable. Will my hon. Friend make absolutely sure, however, that the service from Ealing to Paddington is maintained at all times?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

The franchise for the Thames services is not in the first eight, but I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend's constituents think. I am sure that he shares my confidence that, as franchises are offered in the private sector, we can expect improvements in the standard even of those services that people already find satisfactory.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Is it not clear that, although the Government have a so-called national roads programme, they have no national rail programme whatever—unlike every other major European country? When will the Minister understand that the private sector will not stump up capital for either crossrail or Thameslink 2000 until the Government give a lead by being prepared to invest public money in them?

Is it not also clear that the Minister has been forced to cut the roads programme, but he is still not prepared to invest in alternative public transport systems because the Tory party retains a deep visceral hostility to investment in the public sector?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

Railtrack has oversight of the entire rail network, rather as the Highways Agency has oversight of the trunk road and motorway network.

I note the hon. Gentleman's scepticism about Thameslink—a scepticism that I do not expect to be borne out by the results of the feasibility study conducted recently by Railtrack and British Rail. The hon. Gentleman is so welded—I mean wedded—[Laughter.] That was a slip of the tongue, but perhaps my tongue found a better word. The hon. Gentleman is welded to the idea that nothing is worth while unless it is subsidised by the taxpayer. He seems to ignore the great successes of the private finance initiative, which is delivering more important rail and other transport infrastructure than the public purse could ever deliver. He continually wishes to place further burdens on taxpayers, rather than using the skills and finance of the private sector.

Photo of Dr Ian Twinn Dr Ian Twinn , Edmonton

I thank the Government for their commitment to London's surface railways. Is my hon. Friend aware that in constituencies such as mine, in Enfield and Edmonton, surface rail is very important because we have no tube services? Does he agree that private investment in British Rail provides the best opportunity of guaranteeing an improved service for my constituents in the future?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I entirely agree that opening up rail services to investment and management by the private sector provides the best guarantee of improved services well into the future.