HC Deb 18 May 2004 vol 421 cc817-8
12. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the reliability of information provided to passengers (a) on stations and (b) on trains about services and alterations to them. [173504]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Kim Howells)

The latest national passenger survey shows that 13 per cent. of respondents were dissatisfied with the provision of information about train times and platforms at stations and 23 per cent. dissatisfied with the provision of information during the journey.

Mr. Luff

I thank the Minister for that genuinely helpful reply. I have decided that, should the charms of this place ever be subdued in my breast, I will find another way to serve my constituents—to stand on the platforms at Droitwich Spa, Worcester Shrub Hill or Worcester Foregate Street stations and advise them what the trains are actually doing. I remind the Minister of scenes of chaos at Worcester Shrub Hill on Monday when trains were transformed while standing at platforms or eventually, of course, cancelled. When the Minister is talking to train operating companies, will he ask them to review all their procedures in relation to information? When he is talking to the Strategic Rail Authority, will he ask them to give a high priority to information systems within the funding available to them?

Dr. Howells

I can certainly do that. The hon. Gentleman will have to put on a bit more weight if he is going to become the Fat Controller of Worcestershire, but I have no doubt he could do the job if he were asked.

There is nothing more infuriating than being on a train that has stopped without explanation or indication of when it is likely to move again. The point is a very important one.

A number of train operating companies have taken this task very seriously. I pick out—

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)


Dr. Howells

Certainly. I think First Great Western is improving a good deal and South West Trains now has some impressive electronic kit at stations which keeps the public well informed in real time about where trains are and how long it will be before they get to the station.

John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a contributory factor to the problems that have just been alluded to is that when the railways were privatised eight years ago there was a complete lack of vertical integration? Britain's railways had always been vertically integrated going right back to the 1820s when construction was first started on the network. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be some move towards reintroducing vertical integration? There seems to be indications from the Government that that may be the case. If it is to take place, the most Sensible way to do it would be inside the public sector rather than our handing ever greater tranches of power to the private sector, which has already made such a hash of running Britain's railways.

Dr. Howells

I would not agree with my hon. Friend's last point. He is very young still, but I can remember what British Rail was actually like. I advise him not to look back at that bit of history through rose-tinted spectacles. It was very difficult, at times. One of the key themes of the rail review is to discover how the parts of the railway can speak to each other much more coherently, so that we can inform passengers where trains are, how long delays are likely to be and so on. Some interesting experiments in integration are taking place, including one run by South West Trains in which the Wessex train control centre is doing some valuable work.