Rail Services (Portsmouth Harbour)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 11th November 2014.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:31 pm, 11th November 2014

As we see rolling stock introduced, it will cascade down, so that benefits will be felt not only by those using the new rolling stock. When Stagecoach South Western Trains introduces these new trains, existing fleets will be cascaded which will see a further four evening peak services strengthened on the Portsmouth main line to maximum formation, addressing some of the under-capacity issues. This is part of plans to provide capacity for an extra 24,000 peak-time passengers each day. This is in addition to the 108 additional carriages that are already starting to arrive and are being put into passenger service, to increase capacity each day by 23,000 in the peaks. A similar cascade is also adding capacity to a number of peak services from Portsmouth.

Over the same period, Network Rail will carry out some major enhancement and renewal works in and around the Waterloo area at a cost of several hundred million pounds. Signalling is an important part of our rail infrastructure. It is often forgotten, but it can be low-hanging fruit in efforts to gain additional capacity. The signalling system that covers much of the suburban network needs to be renewed and, as part of that project, a new turn-back facility will be created at Hounslow so that an additional four services can operate in the peak.

By 2017, Network Rail will have carried out works to bring the remaining four platforms at the former Waterloo international terminal back into full operational use—from its current theatrical use, which we have heard about—for scheduled domestic services, restoring a vital piece of the south-western route infrastructure for railway use. Having those extra platforms available is also essential in the plans that have been developed to then extend platforms 1 to 4 at Waterloo, which serve the main suburban routes, so that they can accommodate 10-car length trains. This removes the last constraint that has hampered plans to increase main suburban capacity from a maximum eight-car operation for many years.

All of this takes time and considerable effort in planning to minimise the impact on passengers as these major engineering schemes are implemented. There will undoubtedly be significant levels of disruption at times, but high quality communication about what this means to passengers and their daily journey will be key.

My hon. Friend mentioned the infamous 450 carriages and their 3 plus 2 seating configuration, which can make the journey elbow to elbow for some people. As people get bigger, that will be an even greater problem. As my hon. Friend Mr Hancock said, some people with back pain cannot use those trains.

I have heard the passionate calls from hon. Members about the rolling stock on the Portsmouth to London line. The class 450s that were put in place by Stagecoach South Western Trains on that route following the 2006 franchise competition have increased the amount of seating capacity available. Operational constraints of the route ruled out any additional services, so this was South West Trains’ solution to the requirement to accommodate demand within those constraints.

The train operator takes the decision on where to deploy the rolling stock across the franchise network to address capacity issues as efficiently as possible. Stagecoach South Western Trains has chosen to deploy a mixture of class 444s—the white ones—and 450s on services between Portsmouth and London. The 10-car formation class 444 provides 598 seats, whereas a 12-car maximum formation class 450 provides 738 seats. The additional seats provided by the class 450s provide vital capacity for passengers closer to London.

My hon. Friend Mr Turner could not be here for this debate as he is chairing a debate in Westminster Hall, but he wanted to raise the issue of passengers who cross the Solent after their train journey. All too often, the trains depart a couple of minutes before the ferries, which means a wait of half an hour, or even an hour in the evenings. I am aware of the problems, and we support the idea of a taskforce to look at the transport issues on the island. I encourage my hon. Friend to work with the Isle of Wight council to establish that taskforce. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has written recently to the leader of the council to invite them to meet.

The solutions that we have contracted will address the capacity issues on the Windsor and main suburban routes, but we know that capacity issues remain on the main line. We are doing what we can in the short term to add more capacity where this is possible. However, we know that more is needed, as has been made clear during this evening’s debate. We expect the industry to continue to work in the same collaborative way to address and implement a significant solution for the main line in control period 6, and the planning process for that is under way.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.