§ 23 and 24. Mr. Nabarro
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1) what progress was made during 1955 by British Railways in the installation of automatic train control; how many miles of permanent way operated by the British Transport Commission were fitted with such equipment, and how many locomotives, respectively, at 1st January, 1955, and 31st December, 1955; and what progress in improved railway safety is planned for 1956;
(2) in view of recent railway accidents at Milton, Berkshire, Barnes and elsewhere, unattended signal boxes and similar failures of railway organisation and administration, what consultations he has had with the British Transport Commission and what special steps he proposes to take during 1956 to allay the rising 916 apprehension of the railway travelling public, improve safety measures, and increase automatic and other equipment of the latest types, designed to reduce the number and extent of accidents and smashes on British Railways.
§ Mr. Watkinson
On the general question of railway safety, I would refer my hon. Friend to what I said on 25th January in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut-Colonel Bromley Davenport) and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) about discussions I have had with the British Transport Commission and the steps being taken by the Commission and the trade unions. I would also remind him of the significant statement issued by the British Railways Productivity Council last Friday about planned productivity through work study for increasing efficiency in British Railways. All this shows an improving situation of promise for the future.
As regards automatic train control, the most important thing is to have a system which is safe, efficient and reliable and which will command the unquestioning confidence of the railwaymen. This can only be developed by thorough practical trials, and development during 1955 reached an advanced stage. Three thousand and thirty track miles and 3,462 locomotives are fitted with automatic train control equipment, but these figures include the 2,953 track miles and 3,408 locomotives of the former Great Western Railway and the Tilbury Line. The number of locomotives so fitted is almost the same as at the beginning of 1955, but 27 additional track miles were fitted between London and Grantham towards the new trial length of 210 track miles which should be completed by the middle of this year.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Do not these figures reveal the fact that during the last few years practically no progress has been made in the installation of additional automatic train control devices, excepting those that were in existence at the time of nationalisation on the old Western region? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is rising public apprehension in regard to railway accidents and that what is needed is a specific assurance that there will be an improvement in the rate of equipment in that connection during 1956?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do nol think my hon. Friend was in his place last Wednesday or he would have heard my answers to these questions when I gave a quite clear assurance that we were pressing on with this equipment as quickly as we can.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Will the Minister make it quite clear that he does not accept the suggestion which appears in Question No. 24 that unattended signal boxes are a failure of railway organisation, because it is a normal and safe practice to close signal boxes at different times during the 24 hours?
§ Mr. Watkinson
It would not be proper for me to go into that sort of detail until I have seen the technical reports of recent accidents from my inspecting officers.