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Passenger Focus Report

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

6. If he will make a statement on the recent report by Passenger Focus on levels of rail passenger satisfaction. (143385)

The spring 2007 results from the national passenger survey show that there has been a small but disappointing decline of between 1 and 2 per cent. in rail passenger satisfaction in the last year. That needs to be viewed in the context of the steady improvement in rail passenger satisfaction experienced over recent years.

I think that the Minister is being somewhat selective in looking at the Passenger Focus survey. What area of dissatisfaction is he most concerned about—dissatisfaction with delays, dissatisfaction with value for money or dissatisfaction with reliability?

The passenger survey was undertaken in the context of steadily improving performance on the rail network. The industry is committed to achieving 89.4 per cent. reliability by the end of March next year and 90 per cent. the year after. In that context, with record amounts of public money being invested in the railways, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that investment and not tax cuts should be the priority for the travelling public.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Midland Mainline on its high-quality service and on the very high levels of customer satisfaction that are recorded in the survey? Will he reassure me and others in the east midlands and south Yorkshire area who rely on Midland Mainline services that they will not be unduly disrupted and that the quality of service will not be lost as a result of the new East Midlands rail franchise?

It is, of course, the Department’s aim to ensure that when any new franchise is introduced, passenger services continue as smoothly as possible. Inevitably, there will be timetable changes every December for every franchise. The new East Midlands franchise will be in place this summer and the new timetable for the new franchise will be introduced in December 2008. I expect service levels to be an improvement on what passengers currently receive.

The Minister knows that rail passenger satisfaction has improved greatly on the C2C Fenchurch Street service over recent years, but it could be improved even more if uncertainty about the franchise renewal were removed, so that the line could get on with making more investment in rolling stock to tackle problems such as overcrowding. What is the Minister going to do to remove the uncertainty about the franchise?

There is an ongoing debate in the industry about the length of franchises; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point that out. However, there is no consensus on how long a franchise should last. I am of the view that the present length of between seven and 10 years is appropriate, and that it does not serve as a disincentive to train operating companies in making the necessary investment. The idea of a 20-year franchise has been mooted, but that would not provide an incentive to improve performance, for example.

Does my hon. Friend agree that modern well-equipped railway stations contribute to improving levels of rail passenger satisfaction? Perhaps he thought that he could get through an entire Question Time without anyone mentioning New Street station, but I must ask him when he thinks we in the west midlands might get some good news on this project, which is vital for the entire region?

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the travelling experience is greatly coloured by whether the facilities at a train station are good or bad. As far as Birmingham New Street is concerned, I would love to be able to give him some cheer, but I shall have to ask him to await the announcement on possible funding for the redevelopment of the station that will be made in due course.

Did the Minister detect any customer satisfaction whatever on the state of the so-called Stansted Express? Seeing the state of our railways must be the most appalling introduction for foreigners coming to Britain. What are we going to do about that smelly, slow and unacceptable route?

The right hon. Gentleman understandably takes a close interest in these matters. His indignation would sound better, however, if he had not been complicit in the botched privatisation of the railways in 1993. The fact is that performance on our railways has gone up by 10 per cent. in the past five years, largely because of record investment by the Government in the railway network.