[Ann Winterton in the Chair] — West Coast Route Modernisation

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:31 pm on 25th May 2006.

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Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:31 pm, 25th May 2006

No. Much route modernisation has already taken place, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I am just explaining some ways of considering capacity on the west coast route. He will have to be patient and wait a little longer until we finally decide on the high-level output specification—our future planning for the railway.

The hon. Gentleman also dealt with fares, as did the hon. Member for Rochdale and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. The west coast line is an interesting case to study. Let me make it clear: I agree that the ticketing is too complex. It should be simplified and information given to passengers should be improved. That is in the gift of the train operating companies. I know that some of them are already working on that, and we can bring about improvements and remove a lot of the complexity. If someone turns up wanting to know what the cheapest ticket is, they should be able to get that information.

Having said that, the debate has gone astray quite a bit. On the west coast line, there is clear competition for trains from aircraft, buses and cars. Despite that, the majority of people travel on the west coast line on lower price tickets, rather than the top prices for rail travel often quoted by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and others. There are many excellent deals and good value tickets: I think the cheapest ticket from Manchester or Liverpool is £24. The competition is there, but since the issue of the 2004 timetable, there has been a 30 per cent. increase in usage of the route. I understand some of the concerns raised, but regulated fares are 3 per cent. cheaper in real terms than they were in the mid-1990s.

We need better transparency and we must improve ticketing information and access to the cheapest tickets, but there are already many good-value deals. We have a competitive service, and the west coast line is a good example of how rail travel can compete and provide a very good service.

In conclusion, there is still work to be done. I assure hon. Members that the Government will continue to focus strongly on the project to ensure that we achieve the improvements at the right cost and at the right time. There are still challenges, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned, such as how we can continue to bring about further improvements, not just for passengers but for freight.

It is clear that rail is becoming a much more attractive form of travel that continues to attract many more people. The Government want to continue investment in the railway to ensure that we improve capacity and grow the number of passengers, make further improvements in rolling stock and reliability, and focus strongly on improving performance. As I said earlier, the target for the reliability of trains was 88 per cent. and we are already running at about 90 per cent. However, the Government want to improve that figure further, and it is important that we keep focused on it to ensure further improvements.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Four o'clock.