HC Deb 10 February 1997 vol 290 cc1-3
1. Mr. Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received concerning the transit of bicycles on trains; and if he will make a statement. [13344]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Sir George Young)

Representations have been made recently to my Department and to the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising about the carriage of bicycles on trains. I am very encouraged that franchisees are being ever more responsive to cyclists' needs, simply because they want more people travelling by train.

Mr. Barnes

Is it not a good idea for cyclists to make use of the railway? I understand that the Secretary of State has an honourable record on this in connection with work that he produced when he was a Back Bencher, which involved my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). However, has not a new situation arisen with the railways' fragmentation? It has presented many blocks and problems, so that information to cyclists about moving throughout the system is difficult to obtain. Pre-booking is beginning to be required. There is the costs problem and there is no official monitoring of cyclists' problems. Perhaps it is time for the Secretary of State to get on his bike and sort those things out.

Sir George Young

The Secretary of State never got off his bike. It is true that, in the 1970s, some hon. Members, including my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Acton, and I launched initiatives to make it easier for people to carry their bicycles on trains, and I think that we achieved modest success. I am happy to say that, since privatisation, there are signs that the new system is even more cycle-friendly. For example, at Paddington, a station that I use regularly, there are now many cycle racks. Franchise operators that order new rolling stock are making provision for bicycles. Great Western Railway has tripled the capacity of its high-speed trains to carry bicycles; the franchising director has invited franchisees to make it clear, when they bid, what they propose to do for cyclists; and the regulator has a role to play in ensuring that any charges are reasonable—so a brighter dawn is before those of us who like to carry our bicycle on the train.

Mr. Waller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the routes from Bradford and Leeds to the Yorkshire dales, particularly Airedale and Wharfedale, are among those that are of particular value to cyclists? Does he agree that it is therefore particularly good news for cyclists and visitors to the dales that the franchising director has today awarded the franchise for the service on those two lines to MTL Rail Ltd? Would it not be good to ensure that the new electric multiple units, which replace the existing class 308 rolling stock, have adequate space for cycles and for equipment carried by walkers?

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has reminded the House of what is happening throughout Britain: where a new franchise is let, provision is often made, through either refurbishment or the introduction of new rolling stock. I am anxious that, when rolling stock is refurbished or new rolling stock ordered, adequate provision should be made for the bicycle. My Department recently funded the cyclists public affairs group, which is known to my hon. Friend, to draft the "Bikes and Trains" publication, which identifies opportunities for new operators and explains how they can broaden the market base by making it easier for cyclists to travel by train.

Mrs. Wise

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that in many cases new rolling stock has no physical capacity to carry bicycles at all? Would not the simplest, most efficient and most effective thing for him to do simply be to make it obligatory for all trains to have adequate space to carry bicycles?

Sir George Young

That is what is happening. Connex will introduce new stock on the south-eastern network which makes provision for the carriage of cycles. For Anglia, GB Railways is committed to ordering a number of new trains that must have space for the carriage of at least four cycles. The new operators are introducing rolling stock that will make it easier for people to put their bikes on trains.