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Rail Services

Volume 401: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2003

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4.

What recent discussions he has had with National Assembly Secretaries concerning rail services in Wales. [102971]

Regular ones, to ensure improvements are made.

I welcome the £2.5 million that the Assembly has allocated to improve railway stations in Wales, but does the Secretary of State accept that if we want to improve rail services we will have to attack the Reading blockage, the signalling problems at Slough and the flooding in the Chipping Sodbury tunnel? Those factors are the cause of many of the delays. Will the Secretary of State discuss this issue with his Westminster colleagues and press for improvements? What we need is partnership, and not the drawbridge mentality of the nationalists.

I could not agree more. These issues are being addressed through the record investment that is going into improving our railways. That includes investment in the Paddington to south-west Wales line. We are doubling our investment in rail infrastructure and rail services over the coming two years. If we got a Conservative Government back, they would cut rail investment by 20 per cent.

The very active and positive Cambrian coast railway liaison conference is made up of members from all parties and from none. They have been working hard but are continually disappointed that the small amount of investment needed to improve services on the Cambrian coast is withheld. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those services will be improved, as the cross-party Cambrian line support group has requested so often?

We are certainly anxious to see further support and investment to improve rail services right across Wales, including the Cambrian service. We shall look at that. However, if nationalist policies were pursued and Wales was made independent, Wales would be bankrupt and—

The Secretary of State will be aware of the fact that Virgin Trains reneged on its proposal to run seven through trains from Holyhead to London from September of next year. Will he agree to meet a delegation of business men and stakeholders from my constituency so that we can put pressure on Virgin Trains to reconsider that decision, which will have a serious impact on tourism and the economy of my area?

I shall be happy to meet that delegation, because I know of my hon. Friend's concern to improve rail services. Indeed, the people of Holyhead and people throughout Anglesey deserve improved rail services, which is what they will get under the Labour Government. I shall be happy to take up my hon. Friend's request.

While the Minister is being generous, and given the unsatisfactory service north to south and east to west in mid-Wales, will he be willing to accept representations from rail user groups about what might be done to improve the frequency and reliability of the service? Will he also give us an assurance that the Government have no plans for a real-terms cut to the subsidy for rail services in that area?

We are increasing rail investment by record amounts. I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern about rail services in that area, and the Strategic Rail Authority is proposing additional services for the heart of Wales line, which will improve services in mid-Wales. I do not know how many other requests to meet delegations on rail services I shall get, but I shall be happy to receive the hon. Gentleman's.

Given that sometimes it is a wonder that we get to London—[Interruption.]

Sometimes it is a wonder that regular rail users get to London on a Monday or get home on a Thursday. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State call in the SRA, Railtrack and all the train operators to thrash out a strategy to get rid of all the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) referred to earlier?

As a regular user of that service, I am well aware of the difficulties and how often delays occur. However, we are dealing with record under-investment over nearly 20 years of Conservative rule, which will take time to turn around. Investment in our rail services is being doubled over the next few years. That will continue for the rest of the decade and we shall see improvements on the London to south-west Wales line that will benefit my hon. Friend and me.