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Public Transport, Hornchurch

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 2 August 1951

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3.15 p.m.

The subject I am raising, that of public transport in Hornchurch, may appear at first sight to have only local interest, but what happens in Hornchurch is merely an example of the problems which every community on the outskirts of a great town has to face today. Indeed, if any further justification were needed for the nationalisation of road and rail transport it could be found in the chaos and confusion that marked Greater London transport before the war, and if today transport in Hornchurch is far from perfect it is in a large measure due to the unplanned and conflicting transport patterns which were the result of competing private enterprise.

Just to give one example, before the war the principal traffic artery in my constituency, the District line from Upminster, was owned by the L.M.S.; trains were run over it not only by the L.M.S. but by the London Passenger Transport Board; while the L.M.S. steam trains terminated at Fenchurch Street which was the property of the L.N.E.R. From this sort of dispersal of ownership and management we have at last escaped, and the need now is for careful and detailed planning for the co-ordination of transport, not on the old basis of whether or not this particular section gave or did not give a dividend to the shareholders, but upon the new, nationalisation basis of how we can best carry the maximum number of people in the greatest comfort.

In the Greater London Plan Professor Abercrombie made a number of suggestions for dealing with traffic in Greater London, and after nationalisation the British Transport Commission set up a Working Party. Studying Hornchurch traffic, I have had the chance of looking at both these plans. I should like to pay tribute to the great help given me by the Eastern Region and the London Transport Executive, and also within my own constituency by various ratepayers' associations, the Upminster Ratepayers' Association and Town Ward Ratepayers' Association, and above all by the Horn-church divisional Labour Party. However, even with all this help and assistance, I still am unable to secure what must be the basis of any constituency plan—the total number of people who leave Hornchurch each working day.

Last year, for example, from the four District Line stations in my constituency some 5,600,000 tickets were issued, and it is estimated that some 3,500,000 outward journeys were made by season ticket holders over the same period. That gives a total of well over 9 million journeys either by steam train to Fenchurch Street or by the District Line. While, no doubt, steam trains do carry a considerable number of passengers daily, it is at least significant that the largest number of journeys, nearly 3 million, were made from Elm Park station, where no steam trains go. Working from that rough calculation, and allowing for Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, it would appear that some 30,000 of my constituents travel to work each day on this one line alone from those four stations.

From a count made on 8th November, 1950, by London Transport, we can get the actual figures on the other lines. Some 3,300 people joined the Shenfield line at Harold Wood, some 5,100 at Gidea Park, and some 12,500 at Romford. Harold Wood is the only one in the Hornchurch urban district, and probably at least half of the travellers come from the Harold Hill L.C.C. housing estate which is in Romford. Nevertheless, out of a total of some 21,000 people travelling from these three stations on this particular day, probably some 10,000 came from Hornchurch. Finally, on the same day from Rainham some 1,200 constituents joined the Fenchurch-Tilbury-Southend line. If one makes allowance for the Green Line service and for the bus services that leave the constituency, probably some 50,000 people leave Hornchurch every working day.

The census has shown that the population of Hornchurch is around 104,000. Therefore, if my calculations are correct, almost one out of every two people in Hornchurch leaves it every working day. In short, that means that, next to housing, travel is the most important problem in the daily lives of my constituents; any change in fares must affect their household budgets; any delays on the line or bus services must affect the hours of work, and consequently their productivity.

Probably the greatest single move to relieve traffic congestion in Eastern London has been the electrification of the old L.N.E.R. line as far as Shenfield. My right hon. Friend will remember that when he was speaking on the Transport Bill, he gave some figures of the increase in traffic which has resulted from electrification, and I have taken the liberty of getting those figures up to date. The line is today, thanks to electrification, enjoying 70 per cent. increased passenger receipts, and the number of passenger journeys—which is perhaps the better test—has increased by 85 per cent.

I mention this because it is the type of capital expenditure involved in the building of this line which has been most attacked by Conservative economic planners. For example, Mr. Roy Harrod—whose book "Are These Hardships Really Necessary" is, I understand, the Conservative economic bible—had this to say about a scheme which has done more than anything else to relieve the intolerable transport conditions of the ordinary person in Eastern London:
"What could be more grotesque in the existing situation than to proceed with the scheme for electrifying the L.N.E.R. line to Southend. It is said that the immediate target has been reduced to electrification as far as Shenfield."
Then he describes a horrible personal experience which he had:
"I have myself seen on several occasions recently gangs of men at work on the line. Overhead girders are used. A scheme of this sort is bound to absorb a vast mass of material of divers kinds as well as constructional labour."

The hon. Gentleman is, quite unwittingly I think, giving a slightly unfair impression. One of the points upon which hon. Members on this side of the House have fairly consistently disagreed with the neo-Manchester school of economists, of which Mr. Harrod is a member, was their belief that cuts in capital expenditure constituted, in general, the way to solve the problem of the dollar gap. We disagreed with that.

If we had had the good fortune to have the hon. Gentleman in the House in the last Parliament—a loss which we all regret—he would have heard Mr. Harrod's works quoted on many occasions from the Opposition Front Bench as the correct economic policy to be pursued. If I may, I will resume my main speech, because there are a lot of points that I want to cover in the rather limited time at my disposal, if I am to leave time for other important subjects to be discussed.

I was about to say that I mention this point because I think it shows the public the sort of sympathy they would get in their traffic problems from the Conservatives if we had a Conservative Government in power. Needless to say, as in the case of many Conservative economists, Mr. Harrod has got his facts all wrong. The Shenfield system is far less extravagant in the use of steel and other materials than any other method of construction, and I think it could be shown that the time saved through an efficient transport system would soon, in increased production, pay for the cost of the material used.

From a constituency point of view, unfortunately the Shenfield Line is far less important to Hornchurch than is the District Railway and the steam trains to Fenchurch Street. While the Government have gone on with the Shenfield scheme, they have hung back from essential improvements to the District Line. The principal problems involved are quite simple. At Barking, all goods traffic to the docks has to cross over the main line. It takes a goods train five minutes to be clear of the main track, and, as the Railway Working Party pointed out, these delays
"upset the regularity of passenger services over the whole of the District system to places as far afield as Wimbledon, Richmond, Hounslow and Ealing."
In other words, for every additional goods train of exports we manage to send to the London Docks, people over a vast area are that much longer in getting to work and there is that much production lost.

It is true that goods trains are kept from crossing the main line at the peak period, but this delay in goods traffic equally results in a loss of production. The solution is a fly-over at Barking, and it is no use my right hon. Friend saying that we cannot afford the capital expenditure. What we lose by the capital expenditure we gain by increased production and by the saving of time in passenger and goods delays. Secondly, the absence of adequate goods sidings at present results in goods traffic being actually shunted on the lines in the neighbourhood of Plaistow and Barking, and it is essential that the new marshalling yard at Ripple Lane should be constructed as soon as possible.

Finally, the signalling system beyond Barking needs improvement before more trains can go through to Hornchurch. For example, in the morning peak period, from 6.45 a.m. to 9 a.m., 66 trains run from Barking to London, but only 25 of them originate from Upminster. In the evening peak period, of the 59 trains which leave London only 31 get through to Upminster.

But this reconstruction is a long-term solution. In the meanwhile, the problem is to get as many people as possible from the Upminster and Hornchurch areas to travel on the Shenfield Line, which is more capable of expansion than is the District Line in the present circumstances. Something can be done by lengthening the District trains, and by trying to see that the Fenchurch Street steam trains run as punctually as possible.

I should like to congratulate the Eastern Region on the great improvement they have made in that direction in recent months. In January, only 56 per cent. of trains into Fenchurch Street ran to time; this June 86 per cent. did; but I should like my right hon. Friend to consider whether more use cannot be made of the single-track line from Upminster to Romford. At present very few people use this line. On the count on 8th November, 1950, only 912 people made the journey on the line from Upminster to Romford; and even some of these appear to have been discouraged, because only 840 made the return journey from Romford to Upminster. One train carried no passengers at all, and a number of others had fewer than 10. This may be because the time-table on this line seems still, in the old-fashioned way, to be designed to fit in with the Fenchurch Street steam trains rather than the electric trains on the Liverpool Street line.

Quite clearly, there must be some policy decision soon in regard to this line. The Railway Working Party suggested that it should be doubled and electrified, and, if I might respectfully suggest it, I think that is by far the best solution. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will say that with the prior needs of defence the capital expenditure cannot be found. But even looking at the matter from the point of view of the narrowest defence issue, I think it is quite obvious that in the vital Tilbury Port area a second effective railway line of communication is essential.

If, on the other hand, my right hon. Friend decides against immediate electrification, then other policy decisions are equally important. He must tackle the problem of the inter-availability of tickets. At Upminster the number of journeys made by season ticket holders is more than the normal passenger bookings. If, therefore, the present policy of cancelling the trains on the Upminister-Romford line is continued, the season ticket holder must be given season ticket facilities on the buses between Upminister and Romford if there is to be any chance of diverting him on to the Shenfield Line. When there are breakdowns, and unfortunately they sometimes occur, these facilities are permissible and I cannot see why they cannot be permissible when the train does not break down but is cancelled.

Finally, there remains the third line in my constituency, the Fenchurch Street-Dagenham Dock-Rainham-Shoeburyness. Just under 3,000 people either alight from or join the train each day at Rainham Station. But this is a small proportion of the population living locally, and it is obvious that the failure to electrify this line means that most of the traffic goes by bus or Green Line. Even so, this comparatively small number of people leaving the station produces a problem of dispersal. It has been analysed by the Rainham Labour Party and provides an interesting commentary on the transport problems of the area.

Historically the centre of Rainham is the clock tower, and here is the bus interchange point. However, the centre of the population is now half a mile away to the east at Chandlers Corner. This area is served by only one bus at an interval of 30 minutes and the inhabitants of the principal street, Upminster Road, which stretches a mile and a half east, are served only by this No. 87 bus which has to cater for all those who arrive by train, country bus or Green Line bus.

The timing of this 87 bus is dictated, not by the needs of those congregated at the Clock Tower, but by the scheduling of its service from Barking. As a consequence, from 5 p.m. onwards of the 20 buses arriving there 10 leave from one to five minutes before a Green Line bus or train arrives, six leave in a minute or two of the advertised times of arrivals, and only four out of the 20 are certain of connection. London Transport see the problem but point out that to increase the service would mean further buses, and this raises the question of Government restriction of capital expenditure. Does my right hon. Friend think that the frustration and delays resulting from these factors really justifies the limiting of this type of capital expenditure?

So much for facilities. Let me say now a word about costs. I have never understood the. argument which holds that it is perfectly right for the Government to control rents, whatever hardship this may impose on the landlord, and yet will not control surburban fares because this might involve some additional hardship on surtax payers. If families are forced, by the present system of allocating houses, to live at a distance from their work, then fares are really part of their rent, and if rent can be artificially stabilised, I cannot see what is the case against stabilising fares.

Quite apart from this aspect of the problem, there is one other general consideration. Two of the principal roads in my constituency are former turnpike roads. They both went bankrupt, whereupon the State assumed full liability for their maintenance. The main cost of transport in the Hornchurch area depends upon the maintenance of the various permanent ways of the railways. If the State can maintain the former turnpike roads, why cannot it maintain the permanent way of the railways? Leaving aside this question, which is perhaps rather too broad to discuss on this Adjournment debate, there is a further point in regard to fares that we commented on strongly by the Railway Working Party. They said:
"Disparity in charges between the main line railways and London Transport at present causes artificial distributions of the traffic and prevents an economical utilisation of transport facilities."
That is particularly true of Hornchurch. The improvement in the electric services has to a large extent reduced the usefulness of the Green Line service for long distance. It would, however, be extremely valuable for shorter distances if only there was a lower minimum fare. I will quote one letter which I have received:
"I and many others have to travel long distances to get to work—as far as Surrey Docks, Millwall, Blackwall, Rotherhithe, Tilbury, etc., being a ships' plater by trade. The fares hit me if I dare to travel by Green Line, the most expeditious travel on the road in the early morning. We have no 2d. all the way from the above address. To East Ham it means three changes for me at cheap workman's rate, 5½d. By Green Line, 10d., net saving 4½d. but three bus queues to line up for."
To take another example, no bus runs along the main road from Hornchurch to Dagenham and travellers must crowd on to the District Line. If the Green Line minimum fare was reduced this would do something to reduce the pressure on the District Line, and inter-availability of season tickets between bus and rail would of course also help.

But by far the worst example of this failure to plan traffic by a co-ordinated policy of charges is shown in the treatment of early morning fares. This is a matter on which I have had considerable correspondence with Lord Hurcomb and I have not been particularly impressed by his answers. On 27th July he wrote me as follows:
"In the first place I should explain the reasons for two different systems in force at London Transport and the Railway Executive stations respectively. On London Transport Lines these tickets are available on trains leaving the departure station before 7.30 a.m. Whereas on the main line suburban service the rule is that the passenger must meet the destination station not later that 8 a.m.… The two different principles are, I am afraid, inevitable.…"
Why on earth should this be? On the Upminster Line the Eastern Region issue early morning tickets up to 7.30 a.m. Why cannot they do the same on the Shenfield Line? If the passenger is travelling to Liverpool Street, of course, the problem does not arise, because he can then travel by a train leaving Harold Wood after 7.30 a.m. and still be at Liverpool Street at 8 a.m. But supposing he wishes to change on to the London Transport system at Stratford, he then must leave by a time which brings him to Stratford before 7.30.

Consequently, early morning tickets for interchange passengers cease being issued at Harold Wood shortly after 7 o'clock in the morning while they are still issued up to 7.30 on the District Line. Passengers, therefore, are persuaded to join the District Line, which is already overcrowded, and not to go on to the Eastern Region line, which could far more easily accommodate them. Alternatively, passengers are persuaded to get out at Liverpool Street and rebook, all of which occupies more labour and adds to the terminal traffic congestion. The problem is all the more serious because the office workers, who used before the war to work in the City, are now, owing to war-time destruction of City offices, scattered over the West End.

Finally, let me add a few words about travel within the constituency. Horn-church is a growing area. If we are to develop a sense of community and a real corporative existence, its various parts must be linked by good public transport. If London Transport have a monopoly, they have also a duty to see that the community have the services they deserve.

At present we lack a north—south link between Harold Wood and Hornchurch station. For years London Transport have been unwilling to provide this service and yet when a private operator offered to provide it they announced that they would oppose his being given a licence before the Transport Commission.

This service has at last been promised for this winter, but it is essential that it should be provided. At present, to travel from Harold Wood to Cranham, a distance of three miles south, the quickest and most effective method is to take a train journey of three miles west to Rom-ford, in order to catch a bus going three miles east to Upminster, changing there on to another bus for Cranham.

Because London Transport feel it would not pay they have declined to run a bus service between Upminster and Brentwood. Yet apart from cost, there is every reason in the public interest why such a service should be run. Lastly, there is a great need for energetic planning of services to the large estates built since the war by the council. Two examples are Hacton Farm and the Dover Farm Estates.

One final word. The Hornchurch Urban District Council, in accordance with usual Tory policy, have refused to do anything to celebrate the Festival of Britain. I ask my right hon. Friend to repair this omission. Let him give Horn-church a permanent memorial of the Festival year, a model transport scheme worthy of the constituency.

3.38 p.m.

If I intervene at this stage it is not that I wish to deprive anyone of the opportunity of making any further additions to the statement to which I have listened, but I recognise that there is another subject coming on in which I think many hon. Members are interested and I should not like to encroach on that time.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has overwhelmed me with a list of transport disabilities from which his constituents are suffering, but unlike the previous subject that we were discussing I happen to be familiar with the district concerned though it is impossible for me to deal with all the points in detail except to give my hon. Friend an assurance that, generally speaking, I know of these difficulties and that substantial steps have already been taken, as he has admitted. I have every desire to facilitate the authorities to meet the major part of his problems.

This presents a suitable occasion to indicate how eventually transport shoulders the responsibility for defects in many other activities of a community. Between the wars, from 1918 to 1939, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, there was a very substantial movement of industry into this area, and there was an enormous development of the housing estates until within a few years what was a large agricultural, marketing area became a thickly-populated district. That development took place without any regard for the transport facilities existing, which, both road and rail, had been provided for a population very much smaller. When those enormous developments took place, the transport facilities were unable to meet them. Then came the war, and transport was not able to develop at all during the war period.

Areas of this description have suffered from lack of transport facilities. My hon. and learned Friend gladly acknowledged, and tempered his criticism and appeals with generous references to them from time to time, the valuable services which the electrification of the Liverpool-street—Shenfield line has brought about in the area. I want to take the opportunity of emphasising the lesson that it conveys.

The main roads that come from the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend are very heavily trafficked and it is desirable that as far as possible the traffic should be taken off the roads and on to the railways. In another direction a great deal of criticism has been levelled against the London Charges Scheme. One of the purposes of the previous London Charges Scheme was to consider the very question mentioned, that differential rates within a given urban area lead to an artificial distribution of traffic. The figures show that there has been a 70 per cent. increase in receipts on that line and a 85 per cent. increase in passenger journeys, a most desirable economic process in the relative fields of rail and road transport. That was only possible because that London Charges Scheme aimed to bring about more or less the same standard rate for travel on all forms of London transport, including the main and suburban lines in London.

The next point I want to emphasise is that, despite all the capital restriction on railway development, the Commission have been proceeding with the preparatory work in connection with the electrification of the Fenchurch-street—Southend line.

I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear that the demand for the electrification of that line has been supported by all parties and is not a political issue. The work was put in progress even before the hon. and learned Member raised this matter.

Everybody quite apart from his politics wants reasonable transport facilities. The preparatory work is going ahead. Of course, it is a very major operation to electrify a line like that. The marshalling yards at Ripple-lane, the improved lay-out and the signalling arrangements, are all part of that work. Whether it will eventually be completed I cannot say. I sincerely hope it will. What happens is that when the railway administration visualise a complete change-over, it means not only a change-over in motive power but electric coaches and electric locomotives. In those circumstances it is not wise to spend money on modernising the steam system if we are to change over to the electric system, and there is a steady deterioration of stock. The standards on this line today are nothing like they used to be a few years ago. I join with my hon. Friends in the hope that eventually this will be completed, and I am sure it will have the same desirable results as the Shenfield—Liverpoolstreet electrification.