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Airedale and Wharfedale Lines

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

Earlier this year, the Department supported capacity improvements which have maintained longer trains on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. In addition, the rail White Paper published in July set out the Government’s intention of buying a capacity increase of 53 per cent. for peak hour commuter trains serving Leeds between now and 2014.

Although I welcome the extra carriages promised by the Minister, lines are overcrowded now. Providing carriages many years in the future is not good enough; we need them now. Will he tell me how many of those extra carriages will be on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines, and what work will be done to ensure that infrastructure is in place to cope with extra carriages, such as longer platforms?

The hon. Gentleman should be careful when listening to the propaganda put out by his Front Benchers. The spending commitments in the White Paper that was published in July included a commitment to 1,300 new carriages. Those carriages will be rolled out throughout the network from next year, not 2014 as suggested by his Front-Bench spokesmen. Network Rail’s strategic business plan, due at the end of October, will tell us where capacity will best be provided, and a final decision on the allocation of all the carriages will be made at the beginning of the new year.

Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that the Airedale and Wharfedale lines are victims of their own success? We have refurbished stations such as that at Guiseley, new rolling stock that replaces 40-year-old, slam-door cast-offs inherited from the last Government, and ever increasing numbers of passengers. Does he recognise that in order to overcome major problems with overcrowding we desperately need extra capacity, and extra car parking provision at stations such as Guiseley to reduce the pressure on surrounding neighbourhoods?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Being a Minister with responsibility for rail at this point in the history of railway services is a privilege because the problem that I have to deal with is one of inexorably rising rail patronage. Under the last Conservative Government, however, particularly in 1982, a record low number of passengers were using the network. In the past 10 years there has been a 45 per cent. increase in patronage, which is in no small part down to the role the Government have played in investing in the rail industry, and in ensuring that our economy encourages record numbers of passengers to use the rail industry to get to jobs that did not exist under the Tories.

As the Minister will know, the Airedale and Wharfedale lines, and the other local Leeds lines, need something like 100 additional carriages, and that need is evident throughout the country. Would he please clarify where the 1,300 promised carriages will go? If they are to be delivered early next year, have they already been ordered? What impact will there be on disputes over the future of rolling stock leasing companies? What will the timing be, and when will local lines know about it, so that they are in a position to plan? When can passengers look forward to having a small chance of finding a seat?

If I have inadvertently misled the hon. Lady about the delivery time scale for the 1,300 new carriages, I apologise. I said that a rolling stock plan would be finalised early in the new year. The 1,300 new carriages will be delivered between next year and 2014. She will be disappointed if she expects major changes to the structure of the industry as far as the rolling stock companies are concerned. I believe that the current structure of the industry is fit for purpose and that the rolling stock companies are doing what they intended to do, so I do not envisage any change to that structure. Through the current industry structure, we can guarantee those 1,300 carriages—an increase of more than 10 per cent. on the current level of rolling stock on the railways. That is the biggest single step change increase in capacity for the rail industry since the end of the second world war.