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New Rolling Stock

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 18th March 2010.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 10:30 am, 18th March 2010

What plans he has for the procurement of new rolling stock in the next five years; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The Department for Transport's plans focus on the steps that need to be taken to deliver additional capacity specified in the high-level output specification for the period 2009 to 2014 and the requirements to achieve its longer-term aspirations.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

The Association of Train Operating Companies has complained about the level of micro-management and of overregulation by the Department for Transport in relation to the rolling stock. How is the Minister taking those complaints into account? Will we see some scaling back of the Government's role, for which we have long argued?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is the Department's responsibility to ensure that we get rolling stock that is usable on the long-term network. We develop proposals for additional rolling stock in full consultation with the train operating companies, which have, in the first instance, the immediate use for it.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that proposals to improve the Sheffield to Manchester line are very welcome for the future. Of immediate concern, however, is the East Midlands Trains service between Norwich and Liverpool, because at peak periods the service between Sheffield and Manchester regularly runs at double its proper capacity, with passengers crammed in like sardines. Can he offer any hope that we will get newer and larger trains on that service in the relatively near future?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will be making an announcement on just that, if not today, very shortly.

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Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Liberal Democrat, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Has the Department engaged in any discussions with either of the sleeper franchise operators? Has the Department, via the Scottish Government, discussed with ScotRail the pressing need for new investment in sleeper capacity, because the rolling stock is more than 30 years old? This is a good, green, environmentally friendly way to travel, but the disability access and internet connection are woeful, as are such basics as the heating.

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The accessibility of the rolling stock will be covered by the rail vehicle accessibility regulations, which will require all vehicles to be compliant by 1 January 2020. In the short term, the right hon. Gentleman has reasonably raised wider questions that I shall look into for him.

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Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend has just said about the Sheffield to Manchester line, most of which is in my constituency. On the procurement of rolling stock generally, will he bear in mind the importance of that industry to the east midlands, not just for the major producers, but for the supply chain, which includes the production of brake linings in my constituency? Will he talk to people such as representatives of the East Midlands Development Agency to ensure that we maximise the benefits to east midlands employment and industry arising from such procurement?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The rail industry is obviously an important one for manufacturing industry in key regions of the UK. The Government are keen to see that industry respond to our requirements for additional rolling stock by bidding, for example, to meet the Thameslink key output 2 train requirements, which are currently under consideration. Such opportunities allow the industry to come forward with good bids.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Will the Minister tell the House how many of the 1,300 high-level output specification carriages are in operation on the Northern Rail franchise?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We have made announcements for an additional, I think, 18 vehicles on the Northern franchise as part of the commitment to delivering the high-level output specification, which of course has a delivery end-date in 2014.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Why cannot the Minister just admit that, after four successive Secretaries of State have promised 1,300 extra carriages, only 10 are in use on a line that is pivotal to commuters across the north of England? Will he admit that the Government have effectively junked the intercity express programme contract, because they dithered for so long over electrification, and that Thameslink has slipped again? Will he further admit that Government policy is in disarray and that commuters are paying the price for Labour incompetence?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In the first year of a five-year control period, we have delivered a contract for more than 40 per cent. of the 1,300 target additional vehicles that we committed to. I have already launched some of the additional vehicles-120 vehicles-that will be used on the Greater Anglia franchise to relieve commuter congestion into Liverpool Street.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Since privatisation, there has been a 58 per cent. increase in passenger vehicle miles, but only a 4 per cent. increase in carriages. While the Government have many successes on railways that they can, allegedly, point to, the rolling stock policy has been a fiasco from start to finish, with stop-go policies. For example, Diesel Trains was set up and then abandoned without a single diesel train being ordered. Given that the network will be largely diesel driven for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding the Government's electrification policies, what steps are they taking to ensure that new diesel trains will be ordered for the network, because none have been ordered so far?

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We have record £15 billion investment in our railways over the coming years, and it is disingenuous to suggest that we are not investing in our railways. The hon. Gentleman must understand that the commitment to electrification has changed the nature of our commitment to rolling stock, going forward. Indeed, that will deliver an additional 300 to 400 carriages that can be used elsewhere on the network when we sign the contract with Thameslink. He would expect us to do that responsibly and in a way that gets best value for the taxpayer.

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