HC Deb 08 July 1953 vol 517 cc1448-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Redmayne.]

1.33 a.m.

Mr. Græme Finlay (Epping)

At this hour I am very pleased to be able to turn from gastronomic difficulties to the problems of traffic in Central London and its eastern regional approaches. To put this problem of congestion in Central London quite shortly, I would say, first, that the Central London line used to terminate, at its eastern terminal, at Liverpool Street. It was not until the London Passenger Transport Board obtained powers, in 1936, to extend the line to Epping, and to make a loop line before Epping was reached, that there was any prospect of extending it for the benefit of the eastern environments of London.

There was so little foresight in the coordination between the London Passenger Transport Board and the local authorities concerned that the development took place without taking into account the great incursion of population into Essex, which has totally changed matters. The population of London has spread gradually into Essex. While in 1935 the total population of the districts of Wan-stead, Woodford, Ilford, Chigwell, Theydon, Epping and North Weald amounted to 209,596, by 1953 it had reached 315,880. The target figure under the Essex County Development Plan is 312,450.

It is abundantly clear, therefore, that the great increase of population has created entirely fresh traffic problems, which were not envisaged when the powers were taken in 1935 to extend the Central line. This, together with other minor factors, which I have not time to discuss tonight, has resulted in a tremendous congestion on that line. It is unnecessary for anyone familiar with travel on the Central line to have described to him at any length the conditions of congestion which obtain during the peak hours of travelling. Suffice it to say that between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning, or between half-past 5 and a quarter to 6 in the evening, the congestion is extremely intense.

To put it in physical terms, scarcely an extra passenger could be crammed inside the coaches when they move off. When the doors open as another station is reached, the people on the fringes of the crowd inside the train have to be extremely agile not to be pushed out rapidly. There are many stories of people who have been so pushed out from inside the trains that they have slipped down the gap between the platform and the open door. Those are the sort of physical conditions which obtain. In terms of figures, the evening trains going eastward to Leytonstone carry about 350 standing passengers between 5.30 and 6.15. In the quarter-hour around 6 o'clock, there is a maximum of about 450 standing passengers. The same position applies roughly between 8.30 and 8.45 a.m., with about 350 standing passengers as the train comes from Leytonstone towards London.

The present Central line trains consist of seven coaches each with a seating capacity of 40. giving a complement of 280 seated passengers for the whole train. That contrasts unfavourably with the old steam train coaches, which carried 12 seated passengers to a compartment, or 980 seats for a seven-coach train. This raises the question of whether, when a line is extended so that it is no longer a purely urban line but goes well out into the environs of London and suburbia, the rolling stock is entirely suitable for its purpose. If one comes from Epping one has to make a journey of more than an hour before you reach London, and facilities as regards racks and luggage are non-existent.

I want to be as realistic as I can about overcrowding at peak hours. I know the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have to make the best of the economic resources at their disposal, and, while there are a number of long-term remedies which have been planned, I should like to confine myself specifically to the question of coaches. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about the possibilities of extending the facilities in that respect. At present about half the number of trains at the peak hours have eight coaches. The remainder have seven. If something could be done even to make up the other half to the same number of coaches, then the passengers who travel during the peak hours will be extremely grateful.

Of the longer-term schemes which were got out in 1949 by the London Working Party I would just mention route C, which envisaged a new tube from Tottenham and Edmonton, via Finsbury Park, to Victoria, with possible branch lines to Walthamstow, and route D, which envisaged the electrification of the Eastern Region, with suburban services to Chingford and Enfield Town. These are very expensive schemes which may take five or even 10 years to bring about, and I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some good news about the extension of passenger coach facilities on these lines, because he would earn the undying gratitude of the passengers who have to use the service at congested hours.

1.43 a.m.

Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

I am sure that any hon. Gentleman who travels on the Central line—and I appear to be the only one here now who does—or any of their constituents who do so, will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) for having selected this topic. One must try to avoid using exaggerated language about the conditions which exist on this line, but it really would not be far from the truth to describe them as positively indecent. Passengers are pressed against one another. When trains stop and doors open they are ejected on to the platform. Before the train leaves again they make a rush and scramble back into the coaches. There are certain steps which might alleviate those conditions, and my hon. Friend has referred to one or two. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that some steps will be taken in the direction which my hon. Friend has already indicated.

The real trouble in this matter lies in the fundamental errors made by the predecessors of the London Transport Executive in planning this railway. I remember being told that the Ilford Borough Council urged them to run trains direct from Stratford to Wanstead and to serve Leyton and Leytonstone on the Woodford line. The old L.P.T.B. rejected the proposal on the ground that they would not pick up sufficient traffic to make the line pay its way. The present conditions are one of the consequences of that.

Another cause of this trouble is the policy which has been followed so long of separating each major public service in London from every other public service and placing it under some independent authority which conducts its own affairs in its own way. A representative of the Passenger Transport Board told the South-West Essex Traffic Advisory Committee the other day, when he was asked to comment upon this matter, that the extensive building programme carried out by the L.C.C. was not envisaged when the line was contemplated in 1935. That illustrates the consequence of separating one of the major public services from other public services in London. We have I am afraid got a number of separate authorities with all the paraphernalia of machinery for bureaucratic administration. I hope tonight that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that some steps will be taken to relieve the situation that exists on this unfortunate railway.

1.46 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

I am credibly informed that on the occasion of my seventh birthday I selected as my treat a journey from the Bank to Shepherds Bush, which was the extent of the Central London Railway then known as the "Twopenny Tube," due to the fact that that was the fare for any distance upon it. I come of a large family, all of whom had to conform to the wish of the member whose natal day it happened to be. Today I should not travel on that tube for pleasure, and certainly not for twopence. Much has happened since.

I would immediately support the views expressed by my hon. Friend that this is a grievous problem, causing the utmost discomfort to residents in their constituencies. I want to take this opportunity of trying to put the problem in its proper perspective. When I knew that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) was to raise this matter tonight I naturally made some inquiries from London Transport. They are not happy about the loadings on the Central line, but they supplied me with figures which show, however unpalatable this may be, that traffic conditions are in fact worse on other tube lines than this.

The loadings on the Central line east of Liverpool Street are easier than on several other sections of the system both as regards total passenger traffic carried during the peak periods and passengers carried in the quarter hours of maximum traffic density. At its worst, on the Central line east of Liverpool Street, there are carried some 6,000 passengers per quarter of an hour. It is a formidable figure but the Northern and District lines have to carry, for roughly comparable services, as many as 8,000 passengers during the same period of a quarter of an hour.

Perhaps I may here interpolate that although more agreeable methods of transport are offered to me in these days I make it my business to travel very frequently on the tubes in peak hours in order to see how bad the problem is. In the works programme of 1935–40 North-East London happened to receive a lion's share of transport improvements. These included the extension of the Central line to Epping, the loop line to Hainault via Grange Hill and via Newbury Park and the electrification of the main line from Liverpool Street to Shenfield.

I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will have studied the Report of the Transport Commission for 1952—it is a voluminous but very interesting document—and in particular the observations on page 108 regarding this problem of the tube railways. They will find that London Transport are naturally alive to the importance of increasing the capacity on the Central line itself and have reconstructed the original portion—the Liverpool Street-Shepherds Bush sector—and built the stations on the extension so that eight-car trains can be taken.

As regards the length of trains and availability of coaches I find that last year 21 seven-car trains were lengthened by one car, making them into eight-car trains and making a total of 33 eight-car units out of a total of 79 on the line. It is hoped to lengthen a few more trains this year, but the extent to which the London Transport Executive can make progress with this programme depends on the rolling stock replacement on the Piccadilly line, where the congestion is even more serious. The programme for replacing the Piccadilly line rolling stock had to be deferred because of cuts in capital investment and the heavy increase in the price of cars which were proposed. Had this programme been carried out as planned, it would have set free rolling stock for lengthening the Central Line trains.

Looking to the future, as we must—I fear the distant future—examination of the London Plan Working Party's Report by the Ministries of Transport and Housing, and also, of course, by the Commission, has led to general agreement that the key to easing pressure on the underground railways lies in the building of a new cross-London tube from Walthamstow via King's Cross to Victoria, with an extension to South-West London. The Commission have asked that this tube should be accepted as the next major work to be undertaken in the London area, and this matter is still under consideration by the various Ministers involved.

It is however generally agreed that the Northern suburbs have the greatest claim to some improvement of travelling facilities in the London area, and many suggestions have been considered, among them the electrification of the surface lines which serve Enfield and Chingford. The London Plan Report proposes the electrification of these lines to be operated by trains of the tube type in connection with a second new tube into the centre of London via Liverpool Street. Continuing study since the publication of that Report shows that progress is more likely to be made by a scheme for the operation of main line electric stock.

I would point out to both my hon. Friends, however, that the electrification of the Chingford and Ilford branches would not of itself provide a solution of the traffic problem in the North-Eastern sector, but might aggravate it. While it might enable services to be improved and would stimulate further traffic, the problem does not end there as it is necessary to consider the movement of increased traffic westwards from Liverpool Street to the centre of London. It would, in fact, add to the difficulties on the Central line.

As has been so well stressed by my hon. Friend, the Central line is already heavily overtaxed at the peak periods, and an improvement in the rail services entering Liverpool Street from the north and north-east would merely aggravate the position which the new tube via King's Cross and Victoria is designed to alleviate. But my hon. Friend has done well to bring this matter before us in view of its great importance to his constituents, whom he represents so energetically, and, indeed, to all those living in the north-eastern area on whose behalf he has boldly taken the initiative tonight.

I am bound to say, despite the hour, that it is a matter of some surprise to me that hon. Members opposite, who are intimately concerned with this matter from a constituency aspect, have not taken the trouble to be present. I find myself confronted with something of a vacuum. I would have thought they might have found it possible to be here but, in their absence, I would say that this whole situation is merely another example of the grievous wounds inflicted upon our economy by two world wars and a burdensome rearmament programme. I can, however, give the assurance that the whole problem of improved conditions of rail travel in London, both surface and undergrounds, is kept under constant review by the British Transport Commission as a most urgent feature of their future construction programme.

It happens, quite fortuitously, that this matter has been raised on the day that my right hon. Friend the Minister announced after Questions the names of those who are to conduct the inquiry into London's public transport system, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's remarks, together with the valuable addendum of my hon. and learned Friend the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) will both be studied by that body in the course of its deliberations.

Adjourned accordingly at Two Minutes to Two o'Clock a.m.