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Railways (Vandalism)

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

The primary responsibility for combating vandalism on the national rail network lies with Network Rail, which works closely with the British Transport police, train operators, local authorities and, of course, the wider community. The cross-industry national route crime group steers the industry’s efforts to reduce the risks posed by trespass and vandalism.

The Government’s 10-year transport plan promised that people would be able to travel safely and feel secure, yet only about a third of stations have CCTV. The Minister may think that I am a big toughie, but I have to tell him that even I do not feel at ease at Congleton station on a cold winter’s night with the wind whistling down a poorly lit platform, with nowhere to shelter because of vandalism, no CCTV and no information to reassure one that the train that is already late is actually coming. Will he knock together the heads of the train operating companies and Network Rail and ensure that passengers indeed feel secure, especially when they are waiting for that train?

I of course accept that vandalism and trespass are serious problems on the railways and we need to deal with them in the best way possible. That includes making sure that we have a good partnership approach to finding solutions to deal with those problems. It is also important to deal with the wider community. The British Transport police are also involved and we have seen a significant increase in their number, as well as a significant increase in the number of CCTV cameras on stations. In respect of the south-west franchise, we are looking to improve the accredited secure station status in terms of 80 per cent. of the footfall. There are therefore a number of areas that we can seek to improve. The industry needs to take that forward and address those problems.

The Minister knows that I am not even a little toughie. I hope that he will agree that the British Transport police in the north-west have not only followed the programme that he mentioned, but put forward imaginative schemes to involve children and schoolchildren in protecting non-manned stations. Will he pay tribute to that work and ensure that the specialised knowledge of the British Transport police is not in any way dissipated in the future?

I will not comment on her toughness, but my hon. Friend always makes a very important point. She is absolutely right that one of the approaches of Network Rail and others is to work with schools and young people at a variety of community events or to provide information through websites. It is important to get home to young people the dangers of trespass and vandalism on the railways—dangers not only to themselves, but to those who work on the railways and those who use them. It is important for the industry to take that sort of community work forward. It is right to work with schools and young people to reduce the amount of trespass and vandalism on the railways.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that combating vandalism on railways and at railway stations is a problem not only in England and Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom. May I therefore encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, to ensure that the problem is dealt with in Northern Ireland as well, because there is no other forum by which we can deal with the situation and ensure that our passengers feel safe at railway stations?

I am happy, of course, to bring the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.