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Waterloo International

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

3. What progress has been made on the conversion of Waterloo International for the use of London suburban rail services. (228327)

Works to convert one platform of Waterloo International for domestic use will be completed by December 2008. The Department continues to work with South West Trains with a view to some existing services operating into and out of platform 20 from next year.

I thank the Minister and his predecessor for their support for this project, but the rail operators are saying that they cannot improve services unless they have more rolling stock. Will the Government give priority to that additional investment, under their accelerated programme for railway investment?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are, in a sense, two stages—a short-term and a medium-term solution—in relation to, in this instance, Waterloo station. In the short term, we need to establish a service by next year through South West Trains. The longer-term solution will involve HLOS—the high-level output specification—and the reconfiguration of all routes into Waterloo, with longer trains to meet capacity requirements. That is part of the £10 billion package in which the Government are investing until 2014.

The Minister may be aware that Waterloo International, designed by that great British architect Nick Grimshaw, is one of the finest steel and glass constructions—if not the world’s best—since the Crystal Palace was built for the great exhibition in 1851. Alas, at present we can only see it from the top of the London Eye. As the Minister contemplates what will happen to Waterloo International, will he arrange for one or two buildings around it to be demolished, so that we can actually see one of the finest bits of glass and steel architecture built in recent years?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I am currently dealing with issues related to transport, but he is right to point out that redeveloping and proceeding with plans in an optimal way invariably involves many other players. We will certainly take his comments on board, and I am sure that the relevant authorities will imagine seeing Waterloo in the same splendid way as we now see the Barlow shed at St Pancras.

As well as finding out whether Waterloo International might be used for London suburban rail services, will the Minister find out whether it might be used for services from further afield—from Hampshire and the south-west, where there is enormous pressure on the train service?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a wider issue, relating to capacity and ways of making the best possible use of our existing facilities and infrastructure. The current HLOS plan is to build on capacity and the available options through that £10 billion package. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) has asked Network Rail formally to consider a number of options for the period beyond 2014, and we await further work which will undoubtedly start to feed ideas into the work stream in 2009.

I welcome the Minister to his new role, and hope that he is as successful in it as his predecessor.

Every morning commuters from all over south-west London, and indeed from further afield, are reminded that they travel on one of the most overcrowded parts of our railway network, yet they continue to see four platforms not being used. The Government knew in 2004 that Eurostar services would go to St Pancras, yet only one platform will be in operation before 2014, as the Minister has just confirmed. According to estimates provided by industry, it would cost only £10 million to bring the other four platforms into use, and it is costing half a million pounds to mothball them. Is this any way to treat commuters?

One thing of which I am certain is that we must invest constructively in infrastructure fit for the 21st century. I am well aware of the vast increase in passenger journeys over the last ten years, causing substantial demand on our safe, secure and relatively efficient network. That is important. Reliability has improved tremendously and South West Trains’ latest figures show that its reliability is up to 92.5 per cent from August to September. That is what people want: reliable services at a reasonable cost.

On investing, there will be many demands on the £10 billion to which I have referred to increase capacity. I am sure that other hon. Members from all regions have demands in their neck of the woods. We are dealing with the short-term requirements to 2009; the longer term will involve changing capacity at Waterloo and other stations.