West Coast Main Line (Commuter Services)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:48 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 12:48 pm, 24th March 2009

I am certainly willing to help and shall write to the hon. Gentleman with the answer.

Although the overall performance of the railways has improved tremendously, the performance of commuter services on the west coast main line in the south has indisputably fallen. On 14 December 2008, a planned commissioning timetable was put in place on the west coast main line to allow a phased introduction of the high-frequency timetable. At the same time, the London Midland franchise made several changes and improvements: it reinstated direct services from Birmingham to London; and it introduced a new hourly service along the Trent valley lines, as part of the new direct Crewe-Northampton-London service. In addition, a new service from Milton Keynes to East Croydon was introduced, operated by Southern railway, which came into being in the middle of February and provides additional connectivity for commuters.

As hon. Members have said, however, some operational performances have been unacceptable. The commissioning timetable, which has placed additional pressures on the work loads of London Midland train crews, combined with high levels of sickness and low levels of staff volunteering for overtime, led to an unacceptably high level of cancellations prior to Christmas. In addition, engineering and infrastructure failures impacted on engineering works at Milton Keynes Central during late December last year. All that affected performance. Again, in the first few weeks of the year, a number of engineering infrastructure failures and incidents occurred. Network Rail is investigating them, but they do not appear to have been linked. However, steps will be taken and lessons learned. In addition, of course, we must remember the heavy snowfall in early February. All that has led to unacceptable performances.

The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes referred to the delay-repay scheme, which he believes is not working acceptably, but it was supposed to be a simple and quick scheme. The figures for London Midland, which I particularly wanted to see, show that, in period 11—prior to February—a substantial number of reclaims were made, as one would expect, bearing in mind the difficulties experienced. However, that led to a delay in processing, and for the first time there has been a small build up in outstanding claims. Refunds are available on 30-minute delays and beyond, and of course season ticket holders can claim. They are entitled to the same scale of refund based on the daily proportional cost of the ticket.

My noble Friend Lord Adonis is due to meet London Midland and Network Rail. We are keen to govern and monitor the performance of all train operators and regular meetings are held to that effect. I expect London Midland and Network Rail to appear before his performance group shortly. I have put on record the steps taken with other franchisees to introduce remedial plans. First Great Western is one example where improvements have been made.

Demand management falls under the franchise agreement, but it could not be introduced without the Government's full agreement and without going through the necessary processes. No indications have been given that that will happen, but we have taken steps before to delay the introduction of demand management, and we could do so again. However, that is not currently exercising London Midland to the extent implied by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes. It is concerned with improving performance, and that has started to pay off with the introduction of new rolling stock.

I reiterate what my noble Friend said to the Select Committee. Prices will fall if the retail prices index is negative in July, even with the plus 1 per cent. Furthermore, the basket will be removed to deny the flexibility for increases on selected regulated fares of RPI plus 1 per cent. plus 5 per cent. That flexibility will not exist in future timetables. We have taken a number of steps to begin to rectify the situation, but issues remain to be addressed. I guarantee to hon. Members in the Chamber, and to others who have made representations, including the hon. Gentleman's Milton Keynes colleague, my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, that we will continue to take the steps required.


Philip Lawton
Posted on 25 Mar 2009 12:58 pm (Report this annotation)

Despite what Paul Clark says, Demand Management is coming and London Midland are working on it now. It will mean huge increases to those who travel at the height of the peak, not just on this route but ALL commuter routes. It is in their franchise and London Midland have been told that they have to get everything ready by this October and that they are to be prepaered to introduce it in January. DMR must be stopped, not just postponed if it is politically sensitive to increase fares in January. Should the Government decide it cannot be introduced in January, be aware it will be introduced later.