HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc668-70
7. Dr. Marek

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received the report of the City Commuter Services Group; if he will discuss it with the chairman of British Rail; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Mitchell

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend has had several discussions with the chairman of British Rail about the need for new rail investment in London and the steps that British Rail is taking to improve reliability and quality.

Dr. Marek

If the Minister does not believe what he has been told by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport Users Consultative Committee about the state of the railways in the south-east, will he believe his friends in the City? Will he give a categorical assurance that when the Channel tunnel opens and international trains come to London, City commuters will in no way be inconvenienced by the extra traffic?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman has asked two questions. I recognise that in much of Network SouthEast the quality is not as good as it should be, although on many lines it is very good indeed and up to continental standards, and I pay tribute to the staff for what they are achieving. I shall shortly be meeting the director of the south-east sector to see what can be done about the laggard lines. Very substantial investment is taking place in new rolling stock, signalling and track improvements designed to deal with the problems.

As for City commuters and Channel tunnel trains, I am expecting from British Rail early next month a report looking into that aspect over the next decade.

Mr. Simon Coombs

What discusions has my hon. Friend had with the chairman of British Rail about the principles of park and ride schemes? At the next meeting, will he raise with the chairman the social value of such schemes to medium-sized towns such as Swindon in trying to supplement the existing public transport infrastructure in those areas?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend makes a valuable and useful point. Park and ride schemes have not only social advantages but substantial commercial advantags. British Rail is alive to that and is looking for suitable sites. I am sure that if my hon. Friend has one in mind he will write to the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Foulkes

Has the Minister seen the proposal to use alternative rail routes around London—through the midlands of England and over Settle and Carlisle, on which I understand he is to comment later, and up to the Kilmarnock line—as ideal routes for Channel tunnel traffic? Is he seriously considering that proposal? If so, will he consider siting one of the customs clearance depots at Kilmarnock, which is an ideal centre for the whole of the west of Scotland?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that British Rail is currently studing carefully the pattern of freight movement and where it will be brought together in all regions of the country. British Rail will be reporting on that in due course, and when it does I shall bear in mind the attractions of Kilmarnock. I shall be in Scotland later this week and will take the opportunity to discuss the matter with Scot Rail.

Mr. Jack

In addition to discussing matters concerning London, will my hon. Friend find time to convey to British Rail the thanks of those of us in the north-west for the improved timetable, the increased investment in traction units and the improved track maintenance facilities that are benefiting services on the west coast main line? Will he also take time to ask the chairman of British Rail to take into account the needs of tourism in the north-west in planning his future train capacity?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall be happy to draw the chairman's attention to those points, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising British Rail's considerable efforts to improve the time-keeping and efficiency of the west coast main line, the benefits of which are now beginning to appear.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Minister also discuss with the chairman the restoration of local railway facilities, which can be beneficial commercially and environmentally? Does he appreciate that many local authorities would like to go ahead with various schemes but are prevented from doing so by the Government's control of the purse strings?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman knows that British Rail has opened 50 new stations in recent years—including a number in Wales. If he knows of any commercially beneficial services that could be run but are not being run, perhaps he will let British Rail know, as it is always on the lookout for commercially viable opportunities.