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Railway Companies

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2007

3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the performance of railway companies in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (114702)

My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including the performance of railway companies.

As a south Wales MP, I receive many complaints from constituents about Arriva trains, objecting to long delays, cancellations, services that skip stations when they are running late, and overcrowded trains. Given that Arriva ticket prices have increased by 5.5 per cent. this year—well above the national average for a service that is well below average—what action has the Minister taken, and what does he plan to do, to improve that service?

The hon. Lady criticises Arriva trains, and in the past her comments would have been fair. However, improvements have been made to the Welsh services awarded to Arriva under the franchise. There has been a welcome improvement in the punctuality of Arriva trains, which rose by 6 per cent from the second quarter in 2005-06 to 85.6 per cent. in the second quarter of 2006-07. There is still a long way to go, but substantial investment has been made in the Arriva franchise by the Welsh Assembly Government, including the provision of longer trains and investment in stations so that they can be served by such trains. We will keep a close eye on Arriva’s performance, as we will with First Great Western.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has read reports in The Western Mail about an impending price war between two train companies, which could lead to people with a valid ticket being left on the station, unable to board a particular train. What talks has he had with his colleagues in the Department for Transport to put pressure on those companies to avert such a price war, which would affect people in Llanelli and west Wales, who regularly have to use both companies, as only one of them serves areas west of Swansea?

I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), to discuss those issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) makes an important point, particularly about the position of Arriva customers who travel beyond Swansea and want to connect to a First Great Western service. We must ensure that we provide joined-up rail services, and further discussions need to take place between Arriva and First Great Western. I will urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to address the problem and encourage the companies to work together more constructively.

I recently made a journey from Swansea to Bangor that took just over 10 hours on Arriva trains that were uniformly dirty and covered in graffiti—an improvement, according to the Under-Secretary. That service receives a public subsidy from the Welsh Assembly Government, but those conditions demonstrate contempt for the paying public. Is he confident that his colleagues in Cardiff understand the meaning of value for money, given the subsidy that they provide?

I am glad that he is not doing so, because it would result in a reduction in the services provided under the franchise. Because of the previous Government’s failure to make any significant investment in our railway infrastructure it will take a long time to achieve the quality of service that passengers expect and deserve. Improvements, however, are on the way. The Government are investing £110 million a week in the rail infrastructure, which will lead to significant benefits in performance. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that those investments have been made in Wales only because the UK Government are prepared to invest in infrastructure throughout the United Kingdom. His policies would cause the break-up of the United Kingdom and end that investment.

Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning the decision made by First Great Western to cancel the important 17.18 peak time service between Cardiff and Swansea? Unlike its fellow Welsh operators, Arriva and Virgin Cross Country, which are among the best performers in the country, First Great Western is among the poorest.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless campaign to try and retain the 3.15 service from Paddington through to Swansea. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had a number of discussions with Andrew Davies, the Minister in the Assembly, and I have had a meeting about the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris). We will continue to press First Great Western for a review of its decision and for a significant improvement in its overall performance. Customers of First Great Western are not getting the service that they deserve and expect. On Sunday I had a four and a half hour journey on First Great Western with no catering available at all. That is unfair not just on me, but on all the other passengers. First Great Western needs to work with the Department for Transport to improve its performance.