HC Deb 19 December 1994 vol 251 cc1381-2
5. Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects that the Fenchurch Street line will be privatised; and which authority will have responsibility for reviewing fare levels.

Mr. Watts

In 1995. The franchising director may include provisions in franchise agreements to ensure the reasonableness of fares.

Sir Teddy Taylor

For many years, commuters from Southend-on-Sea have enjoyed a rather inadequate and erratic service; the line has become known as the misery line. Will the Minister do all in his power to ensure that privatisation brings real benefits to the commuters of Southend? In particular, will the Government ensure that the financial arrangements are published shortly, so that we can attract a wide range of bidders?

Mr. Watts

The franchising director will publish further details of the first eight franchises early in the new year. My hon. Friend will know that £83 million has been spent on major signalling works on the line; I hope that, after years of misery, his constituents will now start to notice some improvement in the standard of service.

Mr. Mackinlay

Will the Secretary of State make it a condition of the franchises that no intermediate stations are closed, that the same volume of trains travel along the lines each week and that the length of trains is not shortened? Will the Minister give an undertaking that that will be a condition of the franchise for the Fenchurch Street line?

Mr. Watts

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to note that, for the first time ever, the franchises let by the franchising director will include provisions concerning passenger comfort. As has been made clear many times in the House and elsewhere, the franchises will be based broadly on existing timetables. That cannot mean, however, that they will replicate those timetables in every detail, because that would not provide scope for the private-sector franchise operator to improve the service that is offered.

Mr. Channon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the privatisation of the line will give travellers the opportunity to benefit from a more punctual service, with reasonable rolling stock and reasonable fares? Is that not a great step forward?

Mr. Watts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.

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