HL Deb 23 July 2001 vol 626 cc1673-4

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of toilets on passenger trains in the United Kingdom now drain into retention tanks; and, from the remainder, how many tonnes of raw sewage are estimated to be discharged every year on the railway track.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, the information is not available in the precise form requested. I can tell the House that 38 per cent of passenger trains do not discharge sewage on the railway track, either because they have toilets that drain into retention tanks or because they do not have toilets. It is estimated that from passenger trains with toilets that do not drain into retention tanks approximately 4,000 tonnes of raw sewage is discharged on railway tracks every year.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that most helpful Answer. I declare an interest—

Noble Lords


Baroness Wilcox

I live in Cornwall and travel each weekend to St Austell in old rolling stock—a journey of 300 miles, both there and back. Given that the Minister has just referred to the fact that only 38 per cent of passenger trains do not discharge sewage in this way, it fills me with horror to think that there are 947 million passenger journeys taking place on national railways in Great Britain. That gives us some idea of the size of the problem. Does the Minister agree that the present state of affairs is not very satisfactory? My biggest worry is that those who are looking after our interests while working on the tracks are being exposed to danger. Therefore, can the Minister say whether the Government have a policy for urgently securing improvements in this area?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, a code of practice was adopted by the rail industry in 1996. It stated that all new rolling stock with a toilet should also have a retention tank installed underneath its frame. By December 2004, all the older rolling stock on London commuter services will have been replaced. Therefore, the vast majority of London commuter trains will have retention tanks by that time. It will take longer for long distance and other services to meet those requirements. I cannot tell the House the precise time in that respect. However, a process of change is taking place.

The noble Baroness expressed concern about those who have to work on the tracks. The danger that arises in this situation would obviously be worse for those who actually work on the underside of carriages that have toilets, but no retention tanks. A study was carried out some years ago which indicated that the risk of infection associated with working on vehicle underframes is insignificant, provided that normal hygienic precautions are observed. It also found that the level of risk is similar to that of changing a baby's nappy.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the state of tracks, especially in our stations—and, indeed, in our terminal stations in London—leaves a great deal to be desired, not only because of the problem of the discharge of sewage on to the tracks but also because of litter and other rubbish that seems to be left where it falls, without being picked up? In view of the fact that the Railtrack corporate responsibility report states that station litter contracts require discharges on our tracks at stations to be removed, will my noble and learned friend draw the attention of Railtrack to the unsatisfactory situation in stations and ensure that that requirement is followed through?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as my noble friend says, the responsibility rests with Railtrack. I note his concern, which I shall certainly pass on.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the Minister referred to trains with toilets and those without such amenities. But what about trains with toilets that do not work? What sort of sanitary problems does that situation create?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, again, one would very much hope that those trains that do have toilets work—that is, both the toilets and the trains themselves.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that old rolling stock without retention tanks could not be licensed by the HSE if they were introduced now. Given that it is possible to "retro" fit tanks, why is that not required?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we have no firm estimate of how much it would cost to fit a retention tank to an existing train. The Association of Train Operating Companies states that that would cost at least several thousand pounds. Rather than taking existing trains out of service to get them fitted, it would be more practical to introduce retention tanks as new rolling stock comes on stream.