HC Deb 11 January 1993 vol 216 cc598-9
10. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received regarding the implementation of the new Networker trains on the north Kent suburban lines.

Mr. MacGregor

There has been a very positive response to the introduction of the new Networker trains.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Naturally, my constituents are delighted with the new trains, which are improving the service. As my right hon. Friend knows, however, the Dartford line—which goes through Erith and Crayford, my constituency—has a long way to go before it provides a good service. Can he give my constituents any hope that his plans for the future of the railways will improve the service for commuters to south-east London?

Mr. MacGregor

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. His question raised two points. The total route modernisation, plus improvements to track, infrastructure and stations, is costing about £800 million. It is the largest investment project to take place on Network SouthEast in recent years, and many of the benefits are still to flow through. For example, new Networker trains are now coming on to the line at the rate of one a week, and all 764 coaches will have been delivered by mid–1994. My hon. Friend can tell his constituents that the number of new trains will continue to increase week by week.

As for the second point, I am sure that franchising will lead to improved passenger services in 1994 and beyond.

Mr. Mackinlay

Who is to blame for the decay of the railway network in the south-east which has been mentioned by the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), for Chelmsford' (Mr. Burns) and for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman)?

Mr. MacGregor

A number of factors are involved. The fact is, however, that a substantial capital investment is being made. That, combined with all the organisational changes made by British Rail—changes which were very necessary—will produce better services in the future. I also believe that our privatisation proposals, including the proposal for the franchising of passenger services, will provide even more benefits than those produced by the management changes that have already taken place.

Mr. Dunn

Will my right hon. Friend accept my constituents' congratulations for his part in pushing British Rail to supply fresh rolling stock for the north Kent lines? Will he now turn his attention to the need for new signalling equipment, which would make the service not only of good quality but reliable in future? The need for such equipment is the last major impediment to the breakthrough that north Kent commuters require.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I understand his point. Of the £800 million that I mentioned, £150 million will be spent on improving track, power and signalling equipment, as well as on extending platforms at 63 stations. My hon. Friend can be assured that work is going ahead on signalling.

Mr. Bayley

Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the work force and management of ABB Transportation Ltd. in York, which built the magnificent modern Networker trains that are used on the north Kent line? Is he aware that the company has invested many millions of pounds in its factory in the expectation of orders from British Rail, but is now running at little more than two thirds of capacity? Further orders could be dealt with; commuters in the south-east need the trains, and people in York need the jobs.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that in the autumn statement we announced a £150 million leasing programme in the run-up to privatisation. Indeed, only the prospect of privatisation enabled us to do that. It is now for British Rail to decide what use it makes of that programme. Late last week I had a discussion with the chairman and board members of British Rail, and I know that they are considering how they may take full advantage of it. It is for them to decide on the rolling stock to which the programme will be applied.