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Rail Capacity

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2007

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Department is already taking steps to increase the capacity of the railways through the franchising process, the high level output specification and the longer-term strategy framework for the network to be published in the summer.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the latest national passenger survey, which shows that nearly 40 per cent.—6 per cent. more than previously—of travellers on First Great Western are dissatisfied with the amount of room available for passengers to sit or stand. Does not that make the case for increasing capacity on the railway rather than having expensive new refits of first class compartments?

I fully accept that the performance of First Great Western in the past few weeks has unfortunately overshadowed the good news in the rest of the rail network, especially in the light of the passenger survey to which my hon. Friend referred. It showed that customer satisfaction is 81 per cent. nationally. I expect First Great Western to meet its franchise commitments and provide a significantly improved service to passengers in the next few weeks.

The removal of First Great Western’s 5.18 service to Swansea has had a knock-on effect on other commuter services in south Wales. Recently, 340 people in Cardiff boarded a Cardiff to Swansea train which had only 186 seats. Since the last time the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) asked the same question, things have got worse. When will they get better?

The removal of the 17.18 service from Cardiff to Swansea was a commercial decision that First Great Western took and the Department has no authority to reverse it. Of course, we will keep the position under review with Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western.

I congratulate the Government on the improvements on the west coast main line between Lancaster and London. They have made journeys much better. We must now consider capacity, especially, in my area, on trains between Lancaster and Morecambe, and improve the frequency of the trains by improving the track. What funding is available for such improvements?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Let me repeat that the high level output specification, which the Government will publish in the summer, will specify the capacity that we wish to buy from the rail industry in 2009 to 2014. We will also state the funds available for that.