HC Deb 28 January 2003 vol 398 cc706-7
5. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What recent assessment he has made of the quality of main line rail services to Penzance. [93533]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The Government recognise the importance of main line rail services to Cornwall. Delivering significant improvement is our top priority. The Strategic Rail Authority has correctly made improving performance a clear priority; it is the passengers' prime requirement.

Andrew George

The Minister knows that punctuality has got worse for passengers in my constituency in the past five years. There are plans for further main line service cuts. Does the Minister therefore understand the extreme disappointment at the news that the SRA is due to terminate the rail passenger partnership fund, which we had hoped to use for the important dualling of the Probus and Burngullow eight-mile section? That would improve the efficiency of services that run to my constituency. Will he confirm that the lack of RPP funding will not jeopardise such services?

Mr. Jamieson

The number of trains from Penzance to Birmingham has reduced by one under the scheme that was announced earlier. The same service as last September now exists. The service passes through my constituency and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the new Virgin Voyager service, which is a considerable improvement on the line. I know about the Probus to Burngullow section of the line, which is important for improving the reliability and throughput of trains. Under the Connecting Cornwall partnership for redoubling the line, Cornwall county council is consulting Network Rail. They are preparing a bid under objective 1 funding. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is glad that the Government fought hard to get that funding, which makes such a bid possible, for Cornwall. The SRA knows about the scheme, but it has not been presented formally for funding. When that happens, it will receive careful consideration.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

Does my hon. Friend know that Railtrack signed an agreement that gave priority to local runners for the intercity services to and from Penzance? That leads to long delays through Cornwall. Will he urgently ask the SRA to reconsider the decision?

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am aware of the effort that she and others made to get objective 1 funding in the area. I assure her that her important point will be considered in the review of the services.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

Why did the Government and the SRA pour scorn on First Great Western's proposals, which were announced last October, to upgrade the rail link to Penzance that passes through my constituency in Plymouth when they now back a £6 billion upgrade of the rail link to Scotland? Is there one rule for the west country and another for the rest of the country?

Mr. Jamieson

Many of the improvements that have been made to other parts of the network, for example, on the west coast main line and services into London benefit the west country as well as other parts of Britain. Congestion on other sections of the line is part of the reason for the services' failure to get through. If the hon. Gentleman had travelled on the service recently, he would know about some of the improvements. He smiles, but I do not know when he last travelled on the service. If he had, he would know about some of the improvements.

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