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Railways (Ruislip-Northwood Services)

Volume 653: debated on Friday 9 February 1962

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

4.1 p.m.

I welcome the attendance of the Parliamentary Secretary, as, indeed, I do the presence of my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden). Both my hon. Friends' constituencies are served by the Metropolitan line, and their constituents have the same grievances and experience the same difficulties as mine do. Nobody could have been more helpful than my two hon. Friends in their assiduousness and assistance in trying somehow to get matters put right on this line.

I raised this matter nearly three years ago in this House, on 12th March, 1959. I said on that occasion that the story I had to tell the House was a sad and disgraceful one. Unfortunately, insult has been added to injury, and it is for this reason that I have sought to raise the matter once again.

Unfortunately, it being a nationalised industry, it places the Government in some difficulty, because they are not empowered to deal with details and the every-day running of the business. But on the last occasion the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was kind enough to say that the matter was relevant to Government policy because it concerned the modernisation of the railways.

Before the war this line had the reputation of being a clean, well run service with efficient and smart staff and railway stations, and with the trains running strictly to time. Since those days a marked deterioration has set in. The populace has increased out of all proportion, and today the line has the reputation of running an irregular service with dirty trains, and the old happy relationship which used to exist between the traveller and the railwaymen is no longer present.

Conditions have deteriorated so much that the people who live in the area—and they are what are normally called "daily breaders"; they leave early in the morning and return in the rush hour in the evening every day of their lives, winter and summer—are probably the most long-suffering, conscientious section of the community which one could possibly set upon.

They have literally been driven to desperation by this service. Indeed, I can put it as high as to say, gleaning remarks from letters from my constituents, that there is a rising tide of anger among local residents, and that there is no doubt that the service which London Transport proposes in the future from Northwood compares very badly with the service in the past. The proposed withdrawal of the Marylebone trains is the last straw.

I cannot recollect a time when the railways in this area have fallen so low in the eyes of the travelling public, nor when their relationship with their customers was so bad. Certain decisions have been made, and in this case they only go to make what was a bad and, indeed, disgraceful condition a great deal worse. This has further prejudiced any goodwill which may yet remain.

My concern today is with the proposed withdrawal of the Marylebone trains, which are at present serving Northwood, owing to the unwillingness of London Transport to provide platforms for these trains at Northwood. The ever-increasing population of this area is to be compelled to use a service of rolling stock which, in total capacity, is less than the present London Transport operating stock and the British Railways stock. This will, of course, result in a less comfortable journey at peak hours, to say the least.

Why is it that British Railways services cannot be integrated with London Transport services by the provision of fast road platforms at the intermediate stations of Pinner and Northwood? I understand that that was in the original pre-war programme, drawn up when the population of these districts was very much smaller than it is today. The obvious advantage of this arrangement would be the spreading of the load, making the journey for passengers from North London to Harrow more bearable, since more passengers north of North Harrow would use British Railways trains.

Then there is the question of new rolling stock. Admittedly, the old rolling stock was so old and so dirty that it had become almost unbearable to travel in it. But the new seems to carry matters even further in the wrong direction. Generally speaking, the complaints I receive are that the seats are unbearably hard, that the luggage racks are inadequate, that the height of the inside walls and windows prevent passengers from resting their arms anywhere, that the seat width has been sacrificed in favour of room for standing passengers, that the height of the back of the seats is inadequate and that the decoration is equally uninviting—I would almost say clinical. The view from the windows is obscured by sliding door recesses in most cases. The seats are too low and the bases of the windows are too high. Equally, the provision of sliding doors is most unsuitable for exposed platforms during the winter months, because every time they slide back everyone has to sit in the freezing cold.

This is not speaking of a bygone age. This is the Government's modernisation programme for railways. Fortunate indeed is the Parliamentary Secretary that, owing to the rules regarding nationalised industries, he can sit with that nice, sleepy, lethargic calm, all too common a feature of the Government Front Bench these days, and hide behind the vast bulk of Dr. Beeching. I do not suggest that, given the opportunity, he would not be only too delighted to step in and help to reorganise matters. One hopes that the remarks made this afternoon may prompt the Government into some activity in this respect.

What is to be done? There are three matters. First of all, retain the Marylebone service to Rickmansworth, Moor Park and Northwood; secondly, improve it where possible, particularly in the rush hours, and, thirdly, continue to provide first-class as opposed to second-class seating accommodation on all trains. There is a perfectly simple, straightforward three-point plan for the Government to try to persuade the Executive and Dr. Beeching to proceed with.

Equally, there is something else which could be done at the moment, and it is this. There is a body called the Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee. It is a most admirable body in every respect, except, unfortunately, that those who serve upon it have, in the main, no knowledge of the conditions with which they are dealing, for the simple reason that we are dealing with the "daily breaders" pipeline. The people with whom we are concerned leave at 7.30 in the morning and return at 7.30 or 8 at night. The people who travel up and down on this line have no time, owing to the pressures of their businesses in London, to serve on this Committee. The result is that those who do serve on it are mostly local business people, shopkeepers, residents and the like, who know nothing of these conditions and do not have to bear with them except on the odd occasion during the year.

In saying that, I think that I should say a word about the general relations between the public and London Transport. Time and again letters of protest are written; a postcard usually arrives ten days later and an answer anything up to six weeks or two months later still. The answer is usually framed and worded in such a way that it gives one the impression that, rather like the buffers at any of our railway stations, there are a number of worthy—I hope—well-paid bureaucrats sitting there merely to distribute cotton wool to the complaining public, and no more. I hope that that is not the case, but, unfortunately, that is the relationship which has been arrived at between the travelling public and those responsible for their transport.

This Committee has stated that after the completion of the four traffic tracks on this section of the railway no platforms will exist even at the Northwood Station at which it would be possible for Marylebone trains to stop. It is apparent, however, that the platforms would be usable provided that they were not walled off, which is the intention. My local urban district council considers that the platforms should not be put out of use before the new London Transport Executive service is seen to be satisfactory.

There is no reason, except one, why that should not be done, and that is that the L.T.E. knows perfectly well that these new proposals will never, in any circumstances, be seen to be satisfactory. That is quite obvious from what has been going on.

I have no doubt that what I say this afternoon inevitably will fall on deaf ears. Decisions have been made, and the only worry which confronts the L.T.E. is the provision of sufficient platitudes and "cotton wool" in order to damp down the arguments of the offended public. However, as a very last measure, there is one final alternative which I propose. Could not it be arranged that one or two of the Marylebone trains should stop at Moor Park Station, which is next door to Northwood, and where there are no complications regarding the length of the platform? If that were made possible during the morning and evening rush hours, it would go some way to meeting the demands of my constituents who live in the Northwood area. It would also help the Rickmansworth people as they would then be able to take any Metropolitan train and change into a Marylebone train at the start of their journey rather than half-way through, at Harrow. It would also be an attraction to passengers from Croxley Green and Watford who, by changing at Moor Park, would be on the same footing as the people from Rickmansworth.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to convey what I have said in the strongest terms to the Executive concerned. I am sorry that I have perhaps spoken somewhat strongly and vehemently at times. But one is here to try to bring into this House the mood and feeling of one's constituents. Let me say at once that in this matter the mood and feeling is one of a burning sense of injustice, resentment, bitterness and anger.

4.17 p.m.

To some extent there is a slight conflict of interests between my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) and myself, inasmuch as my constituents get on the Marylebone trains for Little Chalfont, and I am not sure that they would welcome additional stops by the trains in the constituency of Ruislip-Northwood. But there is at least one matter upon which I can join with my hon. Friend and that is regarding the shortcomings of the rolling-stock being used on the new electrified service.

What has happened is that people coming from stations, which are really country stations, and making a fairly long journey to London are asked to travel in what are underground coaches. They do not like this, and such coaches are not suitable for such journeys. For these passengers it certainly is a step backwards.

The London Transport Executive is not short of excuses and reasons. One of the ways in which great progress has been made since nationalisation is in the provision of excuses which are better than ever before. No doubt this is because there are highly paid people now to advise on this matter. The excuses, of course, are not of much use to anyone. One excuse is that someone or other—I think that it is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—requires that coaches or rolling stock which has to go through any of the London Underground tunnels must have emergency doors at the end of the coaches, and, therefore, there must be a central gangway in order that the emergency doors may be used.

This really is a bit of nonsense when we are dealing with a service which brings people from fairly deep in the country and simply takes them into London. Most of the passengers alight at Baker Street. A few may go one or two stations further on. But because the trains may go on to somewhere like Broad Street, or somewhere beyond Baker Street, the passengers are condemned to travel in these unsuitable coaches with doors that open at each station. Even on British Railways trains sometimes run ahead of schedule, and then they have to wait a long time at a platform until the time is adjusted. Meanwhile, the passengers get very cold.

The doors will open, there is no doubt about that, but I can assure my hon. Friend that it is an uncomfortable experience. I have had it myself in Underground trains on the above-ground portions of the railway.

The seating is uncomfortable for such journeys. People on the morning and evening runs expect to be able to read newspapers, to deal with their working papers and do a bit of work. It is not like an Underground journey. These coaches are not suitable. We know that the money has been spent on them and there is a considerable vested interest, but I suggest that my hon. Friend's Department should get down to this problem to see whether people using this line can have the sort of rolling stock which serves those using an ordinary railway journey and which they reasonably expect to have.

4.22 p.m.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has a favourite saying of Chatham, which I believe is:

"I am responsible for nothing except that which I control."
He has made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that so far as concerns shortcomings, if there are any, on the railways and the Underground in London he accepts no responsibility. He has overall responsibility for the broad control of the investment programmes of the British Transport Commission.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) have raised matters today which are clearly matters of management. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood complained of the trains on this line being dirty, running irregularly and badly. He said that the London Transport Executive did not provide platforms for these trains, that the rolling stock was unsatisfactory, that the seats were hard and badly placed, that the luggage racks were inadequate and that the state of decoration was not approved of. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South complained that the trains have central gangways, and doors at each end of the carriages. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood complained of the way in which London Transport Executive deals with complaints.

None of these matters are matters for which my right hon. Friend is prepared to accept responsibility. They are matters entirely of day-to-day administration and management for London Transport Executive and British Railways. In the circumstances, all I can do is to tell my hon. Friends that I shall see that the Chairman of the Transport Commission receives a copy of HANSARD containing a full report of what my hon. Friends have said today. Beyond that, I cannot go.

4.24 p.m.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, although I do not think that many hon. Members present are likely to refuse permission, I speak again to say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that this is not good enough.

What I am complaining about is that what is, in effect, an Underground service is being run over lines Where a proper railway service should be provided. It is no good my hon. Friend saying that his right hon. Friend is not responsible for the delineation of competence between various components of the Transport Commission and the main line railways of the London Transport Executive. He has spoken of an Underground service which is not an Underground service, as it is run above ground. It is merely playing with words to call it "underground". It is being run as an Underground service and should not be run as an Underground service.

Let this be taken away from the London Transport Executive and let there he provided a railway service which could come under the control of—Whatever they are called, the name keeps changing; I think it is not a region—British Railways. That is within the competence of the Department and I hope that my hon. Friend will give attention to it.

By leave of the House, may I say that this suggestion would require legislation. Therefore, I believe that it would be out of order to discuss it on the Adjournment.

4.26 p.m.

This is a matter which is relevant to the Government. It is no good the Minister quoting from Chatham. Admittedly, the railways are old-fashioned, but he need not go as far back as that to get out of his responsibilities.

Government policy is relevant to the modernisation of the railways for the simple reason that the Government are providing £1,500 million of the taxpayers' money, voted in this House, for the modernisation schemes. I quote from the speech of my hon. Friend's predecessor in reply to me on 13th March, 1959, when he said that
"the Government's policy is relevant in this matter because it is the modernisation of our railways. We are now three years embarked on that policy. It is a very large undertaking; we are providing £1,500 million for new capital and £400 million to finance the deficit in the meantime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March. 1959; Vol. 601, c. 1609.]
It is a matter of some surprise that my hon. Friend can come along and, quoting from Chatham, say that the Minister has no control and no responsibility.

That may have been perfectly right in the circumstances of that debate, when my hon. Friend raised somewhat different matters. Today, he has been complaining of the dirtiness of trains, the poor service, the state of decorations, and so on. Those have little relevance to the modernisation programme.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Four o'clock.