HC Deb 10 March 1997 vol 292 cc11-3
10. Mr. Betts

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on investment in the national railway infrastructure. [17762]

Mr. Watts

In the first six months of 1996–97, Railtrack spent an additional £100 million on the renewal or enhancement of its infrastructure, 25 per cent. more than it spent in the first six months of 1995–96. In its network management statement, published last month, the company announced that it intends to spend an average of more than £4 million a day between 1995 and 2001—some £10 billion in total—on maintaining, renewing and enhancing the rail network.

Mr. Betts

Will the Minister explain to the users of the midland main line what possible benefits they will receive from privatisation, given that Railtrack's plans show no significant investment in that line, although it is one of the slowest and worst-maintained main lines in the country? Does he accept that the franchise operator has told me that there is no provision in the franchise for tilting trains, which is the only other way in which speeds on the line can be significantly increased? Was any thought given during the privatisation process to the interaction between investment in track and investment in rolling stock? It seems that users of the midland main line will get neither under privatisation. Apparently, the only benefit that my constituents will get will be free cups of tea and coffee, and longer times sitting on the trains in which to enjoy them.

Mr. Watts

The main benefits for passengers on the midland main line will be the provision of an extra 22 trains a day, served by new rolling stock which the company has ordered, and the refurbishment of all existing high-speed train sets. Because of the additional services that will operate each day, journeys to Sheffield will be shorter, and because stations will be served by the new rolling stock and the extra 22 services, the high-speed trains will have to make fewer intermediate stops. Moreover, passengers are already benefiting from the "foursight fare", which allows four people to travel anywhere on the network for a flat fare of £29.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Will my hon. Friend continue to put pressure on Railtrack to implement, sooner rather than later, the multi-million-pound plans for upgrading the west coast main line? Does he accept that those of us who use the line regularly expect to experience an altogether higher level of service in the coming years as a result of Mr. Richard Branson's takeover of the line?

Mr. Watts

Railtrack will spend £1.5 billion on the west coast main line, in addition to the £500 million that Virgin Rail will spend on the new tilting rolling stock to reduce journey times on the line. On current plans, the tilting trains and shorter journey times will be introduced from 2002, and there will be further improvements in journey times in subsequent years.

Mr. Bradley

Can we really have any faith in Railtrack's investment plans, given its record to date? Has the Minister seen the findings of the Railway Development Society? According to those findings, because of a lack of investment and for other reasons, private train operators in southern England are running fewer trains than agreed in the minimum service level requirements.

May I ask the Minister again whether the private train operators have broken their franchise agreements? Will they do anything about that? Will the Minister intervene? What protection will he give the public, given that thousands, if not millions, of pounds of taxpayers' money is still going to the private train operating companies, to ensure that they are given the decent, reliable, efficient service for which they are crying out?

Mr. Watts

As I said in response to the initial question, Railtrack's expenditure is £100 million, or 25 per cent., up on last year in the first half of the current year. As for the passenger service requirement, on South West Trains there are some minor discrepancies between the PSR and the timetable that was written by, and inherited from, British Rail. Those discrepancies will be corrected when the new timetable is introduced in May or June.

The Office of Passenger Rail Franchising has described the discrepancies to me as minor. They arise from the fact that the private franchise operator has not yet written a timetable based on the PSR. As I said, it inherited timetables drawn up by British Rail.