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New Trains (Investment)

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about new investment for our railways. The House will understand that, because of the significant and sensitive commercial nature of this announcement, it was necessary to make the information available to the markets in advance of informing the House.

Britain’s rail network has been a remarkable success story over the past 10 years. There are more passengers using our trains than at any time since the second world war—more than 1 billion last year. We have taken decisive action to remedy the failings of privatisation and put in place a stable structure for the long term. We have delivered, on time and to budget, the United Kingdom’s first high-speed railway line. As I announced to the House last month, we have set up a new company, High Speed 2, which has already started work on planning the new high-speed rail services to the west midlands, the north of England and Scotland.

To ensure that our railways remain resilient during the economic downturn and are well placed to support future economic growth, I am determined that we take the necessary steps now to invest in that critical part of Britain’s infrastructure. Our priority is to deal with overcrowding and increase capacity to meet future demand. That is why we are investing more than £20 billion in enhanced rail capacity and in new and improved trains to accommodate the record passenger numbers.

Britain’s £5.8 billion first high-speed line is now open, and from December this year commuters will be able to use high-speed rail services between London and Kent. Work has already started on the £16 billion Crossrail project, which will link the Docklands, the City, the west end and Heathrow. We are upgrading the Thameslink service, bringing more frequent and longer trains to commuters on that critical route, and passengers on the west coast main line are now starting to see the benefits of an £8.8 billion upgrade that has reduced journey times and delivered more frequent services.

I would like to inform the House today of what we are doing to invest in the next generation of long-distance trains, to make the UK a centre of excellence for European rail manufacturing. This morning, I announced to the stock exchange that a British-led consortium of John Laing, Hitachi and Barclays had been chosen as the preferred bidder for the contract to re-equip the east coast and Great Western main lines with new express trains. The high-speed trains that operate on those routes are up to 30 years old and although they have served passengers well, they now need to be replaced with more reliable, more efficient and greener trains that can carry more passengers.

I hope that the House will allow me to make a personal observation. My father, who worked on the railways all his life, was involved in the testing of the 125 high-speed trains as they were brought into service. I am delighted to have the opportunity to announce their successors today. They will have longer coaches, allowing up to 20 per cent. more seats on each train. Faster acceleration will allow journey times between London and major centres to be cut significantly, so a train leaving London will arrive in Leeds or Bristol 10 minutes sooner, Edinburgh 12 minutes sooner and Cardiff 15 minutes sooner. Faster journey times will mean that more frequent trains can be fitted on to the network, and improved reliability will mean that passengers face less disruption to their journeys. Moreover, the new trains will be up to 17 per cent. lighter than their existing counterparts, increasing fuel efficiency. Modern braking systems will further drive down energy consumption.

The contract, worth some £7.5 billion, is the biggest single investment in inter-city trains in a generation. It involves the construction and maintenance of up to 1,400 new vehicles. The first of those trains will enter service in 2013, and over the following years they will provide high-quality journeys to passengers between London and destinations across the UK, including Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, the Thames valley and south Wales. They will also be able to run on both electrified and non-electrified lines, which means that through trains will be able to run from the electrified to the non-electrified parts of the network. That is why I have announced, in parallel to the introduction of those trains, that we are developing plans for the electrification of the Great Western and midland main lines. That will allow us to deliver the widest possible range of high-quality services for passengers.

The announcement is good news for United Kingdom jobs, as well as rail passengers. As part of the contract, the winning consortium has agreed to make significant inward investment in the UK to construct a new state-of-the-art train assembly and manufacturing facility. I expect that nearly three quarters of the value of the order will be spent in the UK, benefiting the UK economy and providing UK jobs. The exact location of the new factory remains subject to further negotiation, but the company has confirmed to me that it will be in the east midlands, Yorkshire or the north-east.

In addition, new maintenance depots will be built in Bristol, Reading, Doncaster, Leeds and west London, with upgrades to existing depots throughout Great Britain. That means that new manufacturing jobs will be created and maintained in those regions, and that many more jobs will be safeguarded across the country in the supply chain. In all, I estimate that some 12,500 long-term jobs will be created or safeguarded as a result of today’s announcement.

As hon. Members know, Japan is one of the most advanced nations in the world in high-speed rail and new rail technology. Japanese trains have extraordinarily high levels of reliability and speed. Meanwhile, the rail industry is expanding across Europe—with countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy investing in high-speed rail and new train fleets, and significant new opportunities in the countries of central and eastern Europe.

By bringing together UK and Japanese technology, design and manufacturing capability, we will give the UK an even stronger bridgehead into the fast-developing European and international rail markets—just as the entrance of Toyota, Honda and Nissan into the UK did with the automotive industry. That means that the UK will continue to develop as a centre of excellence in train manufacturing, enabling the country to become a key player, as what was once a domestic rail industry becomes increasingly international.

The Government’s investment in the UK rail industry means that, in addition to the announcement, orders for a further 2,200 train carriages worth more than £2.5 billion are already confirmed or in the pipeline. Today, I can also confirm that the Department is in advanced discussions with National Express East Anglia to provide 120 new carriages to renew and expand the train fleet operating on the West Anglia route between Liverpool Street and Stansted airport. The preferred bidder for those trains is Bombardier Transportation Ltd, which plans to assemble the new carriages in Derby, safeguarding jobs there.

A further order worth £400 million—as part of the fiscal stimulus package announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—will be awarded shortly. Again, Bombardier is well placed to win that. There is another £2 billion order for 1,200 carriages for Thameslink, for which a preferred bidder will be announced later in the year.

The orders demonstrate that the Government are prepared to invest, even in difficult economic times, in improving our national infrastructure. The announcement is genuine good news—for workers that up to 12,500 jobs will be created and safeguarded; for the economy that we are putting the UK back at the forefront of international manufacturing industry; for the regions that the Government are supporting significant inward investment, and for passengers that we are taking the steps necessary to improve their rail journeys.

I commend the statement to the House.

We welcome the prospect of new trains for the UK’s chronically overcrowded railways, but the Secretary of State needs to answer several important questions about his statement. However, first, I thank him for advance sight of it.

On the phasing of the project, how many trains will be delivered? On what dates and to which parts of the network will they be provided? When will the full roll-out of the inter-city express programme be completed?

The Government have been working on the project since 2004; why is it taking so long to deliver? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the 2013 phase will be testing only, so that there will be almost no benefits to the travelling public before 2015?

How much in total has been spent on consultants during the procurement process since the end of 2007, when the total was already a startling £6.7 million? How much would have been saved if the Government had opted for a more standardised, off-the-shelf train rather than setting down the very detailed and complex specification that they chose?

How much has been added to the cost of the programme because a decision has yet to be made on whether to electrify the Great Western line? Is the Secretary of State promising the delivery of the new trains on the Great Western line by 2015, even though the final outcome on electrification may not be determined by then? To what extent will costs consequently be driven up?

The specification in the contract for the bids was for trains that weighed 362 tonnes, yet the Hitachi bid, which has been accepted, is for 411 tonnes. The Secretary of State claims that that is substantially compliant, but was Bombardier disadvantaged by sticking more rigorously than Hitachi to the weight specification?

The Secretary of State says that 12,500 jobs will be created or safeguarded. Will he admit that the assembly plant to which he referred will assemble items manufactured overseas rather than being what is normally understood to be a manufacturing plant? Will he place in the Library a copy of the research that he has undertaken to substantiate his claim about 12,500 jobs? What is the split between the jobs that will be created and those that he believes will be safeguarded? Will he comment on Hitachi’s press statement today, which says that the new factory will initially employ only 200 staff, with the potential to employ only 500 staff in future?

Is the Secretary of State claiming that today’s announcement will safeguard jobs at the Bombardier factory in his Derby constituency? If so, how can the news that Hitachi, not Bombardier, has won the inter-city express programme contract possibly give that guarantee? How can the announcement that Bombardier might—I emphasise “might”—get the contract for extra carriages, reannounced yet again today, for Stansted Express give that guarantee of safeguarding jobs in Derby? Is not the announcement on Stansted Express and Bombardier simply a cynical attempt to hide the bad news for the train factory in his constituency?

The Government’s excessive micro-management of our railways is now holding up the process of delivering the extra rolling stock that passengers desperately want. We could have had extra Pendolinos on the west coast main line months ago, but Department for Transport dithering has held them up. The inaptly named Thameslink 2000 is now running around 15 years later than planned. Not one, not two, but three Secretaries of State for Transport have promised us 1,300 extra carriages, some of which were reannounced today, yet only four have been delivered. The Government’s complacency is unacceptable and today’s announcement will do little to reassure commuters who suffer daily from today’s desperately overcrowded railways.

I was grateful for what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) described as her support for the decision, but she spoiled the effect by her subsequent observations. I have read carefully the Conservative party’s proposals for the future of the rail industry. Nowhere does that interesting document refer to something that I thought the hon. Lady might mention today—Conservative party proposals to cut our transport budget by some £840 million. It might help us all to understand those proposals if the hon. Lady stated whether she intended to cut Crossrail or bus subsidies, or whether she would withdraw the concessionary fares scheme for the elderly and the disabled. An understanding of what the Conservatives intended to cut would put her proposals for railway transport into better context. The title of the Conservative document should have been “Mind the Gap”—the gap between Conservative theory and practice.

Order. May I say to the Secretary of State that that was a somewhat irrelevant preface? I want concise answers, as far as possible, and, of course, brief questions.

Clearly, my preparations for answering the hon. Lady’s questions were longer than they should have been.

I emphasise that the jobs are real jobs in the UK. I was interested in the hon. Lady’s failure to mention a word that I thought would feature in any spokesperson’s observations about a major commercial decision—“competition”. Nowhere did she mention the fact that such important commercial decisions are subject to competition, or that that is exactly how the issue was resolved. Bombardier is a great train maker. It has an order book of some 2,000 carriages, which, as I have indicated, will be added to by the announcement that I have just made, and it is bidding—with some prospects of success, I anticipate—for further orders in due course. That is important to the United Kingdom’s economy, as is the decision that I have announced today.

We anticipate that something in the order of 2,500 new jobs will be created, and that would have been the case whichever consortium had been successful. The contract is for both the construction and the maintenance of carriages. That means that a significant number of jobs will be created in the maintenance sector across the United Kingdom. It also means that jobs in the supply chain—the estimate is up to 10,000 jobs—will be protected and safeguarded, as they support the manufacture. Three quarters of the value of the contract will be spent in the United Kingdom. That figure means that the great majority of the benefit will be provided for United Kingdom jobs and the United Kingdom economy.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement and the investment that goes with it. May I suggest to him, as he knows the midland main line very well, that the welcome announcement about the completion of its electrification be accompanied by an announcement on the relevant rolling stock that he has announced for the east coast and Great Western main lines? The Meridian trains that are now being inflicted on passengers on long-haul journeys to Sheffield are appropriate for short-term sprints, but they are noisy, they vibrate, passengers cannot use mobile phones appropriately on them and they are not suitable for long-haul inter-city work. Given that, perhaps he could encourage the possibility of expanding manufacturing, so that we get not only a high-speed rail line but the high-quality rolling stock that we deserve.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s observations. I am sure that others will have heard his words and will take appropriate note. For the reasons that he mentioned, I am particularly keen to see the electrification of both the Great Western main line and the midland main line, which is something that I announced to the House quite recently. The trains that are being procured as a result of the announcement that I have just made will have advanced technology, allowing them to operate on both the electrified and the non-electrified parts of the network. That means that they will be very flexible and will be capable of operating across our network. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, from time to time train sets are moved from one line to another.

The £840 million cut is one bit of transport policy not copied from the Lib Dems.

Let me express my disappointment that the statement was announced to the markets first. If the markets had to be told separately, they could have been told simultaneously. I resent the fact that, yet again, this House has learnt about such matters after the general public. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome any new investment in railways, particularly in rolling stock and jobs. However, the Secretary of State will understand that there is some scepticism about his announcement, given the fact that of the 1,300 new vehicles announced in July 2007, and reannounced at regular intervals since, only 423 have so far been ordered, according to a parliamentary answer that I received only this week.

Will he also accept that the fact that we have such a desperate shortage of rolling stock—there is none spare anywhere in the country—is not a good reflection on 12 years of this Government? Is that dramatic shortage not a consequence of the Treasury-driven franchise arrangements, which until recently encouraged train operating companies to reduce the number of their carriages? In effect, what we have heard today is a U-turn.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the industry is dubious about the bi-modal train—jointly a diesel and electric train—that he appears to have settled on? The industry believes that it will push up costs and add weight unnecessarily to the vehicle, and that more flexibility would be provided if a locomotive were simply added at the point in the network where the electricity supply runs out and diesel traction is required. Is it not the case that, as a consequence, the vehicle that the Secretary of State is ordering is much more expensive than need be?

When will we have longer platforms in place to accommodate the new rolling stock that the Secretary of State has announced today? Can he also give details of the timings for the electrification of the midland main line and the Great Western railway? Lastly, to repeat the question that was asked but not answered a moment ago, when will all 1,400 trains—or, as the statement says rather carefully, “up to 1,400” new carriages—be in service?

Normally, the hon. Gentleman urges, encourages and exhorts me to spend more on railways, but I come to the House today with a £7.5 billion announcement on railways and I fail to detect a welcome from him or any sign that he thinks that this is a good thing. However, in the light of his previous observations, I will take it as read that he does think it a good thing. Today’s announcement is important for the rail network, for passengers and for the rail industry in the United Kingdom.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman made the observation about not informing the House. I followed a well established practice in the House of ensuring that sensitive decisions were communicated to the markets at their opening this morning. That is not an unusual practice when commercially sensitive issues are decided on. It is right that we should not affect the markets by, for example, coming to the House in the middle of the day when the stock market has been open for many hours. I know that the Liberal Democrats do not worry unduly about matters such as the commercial implications of these decisions. Nevertheless, they are matters to which responsible Governments have to have some regard.

I am not going to get into a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the advantages of bi-modal vehicles, although I could. One of the clear benefits is that, in order to operate electrically powered trains, not every part of the network—that includes, for example, maintenance depots—has to be electrically powered. His suggestion of fitting a diesel engine to the front has been done in the past. However, it slows things down and is rather wasteful—I would have thought that he would be concerned about the impact that such decisions have on the environment—and does not serve the purpose of a modern, 21st-century rail network.

I ask my right hon. Friend to ignore the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers)l; I would remind him that the Tories cancelled the high-speed train for the west coast main line. I am pleased that John Laing, which started as a small building company in my constituency, is playing a major part in the project. However, the reality is that we get new trains from various suppliers, yet in this country we still do not have an adequate test track. If we are not careful and if we do not get that test track, we will build the trains but send them to Germany to be tested. Will my right hon. Friend look at that?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about testing. Providing space on the network for the kind of high-speed running that is required to test new vehicles is an issue when our existing network is so busy, so I will certainly look at his suggestion.

In agreeing with what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said about the Meridian trains on the east midlands line, when does the Secretary of State anticipate that the new trains will be available for that line, or is it a line that he just wishes to ignore?

As someone who travels up and down that line very regularly—even more often than the right hon. Gentleman, I expect—I do not think that anyone could accuse me of ignoring it. Although I have promised the House that I will always mention electrification of the great western line before the midland main line, I am nevertheless committed to the electrification of both. Therefore, I think that we will see significant changes on the midland main line in years to come.

Further to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made, the Secretary of State’s father probably tested the 125s on the test track in north Leicestershire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the east midlands location referred to in the statement is even more specific, in that it would be in North-West Leicestershire, close to the town of Ashby de la Zouch, where there is a well developed supply chain and a long tradition of high engineering skills, which spin off into Toyota, Rolls Royce, Bombardier, Brush in Loughborough and elsewhere? What influence will the Government have on the eventual decision and is it a commercial one only? Finally, will my right hon. Friend see me about the planning implications of the location of any manufacturing plant in or near Ashby, which, as things stand, is currently crowded in by all sorts of planning pressures?

I well understand why my hon. Friend would want to speak up on behalf of the benefits of such a major investment going to his constituency, and I would certainly be willing to meet him to discuss the proposals, although not to discuss any specific planning matters that are not part of my responsibility. I assure him that this will be a commercial negotiation conducted by the company. No doubt he will want to make representations to the relevant local authorities and, indeed, to the company itself.

The Minister will be aware from recent discussions that we have had, and from his recent visit to Crewe, that Bombardier is one of the largest employers in Crewe and that it continues to overhaul trains in this very difficult climate. Today’s announcement will be a huge disappointment to many of the workers at Bombardier, who, as recently as November last year, saw 45 of their fellow workers being laid off. In relation to the 120 trains, for which Bombardier is the preferred bidder, is it correct that up to 70 of them might be built in Japan? The Secretary of State said that another contract, for which Bombardier is tendering, will be announced shortly. When will that announcement be made? The biggest problem for Bombardier is the peaks and troughs between contracts, which mean that it cannot sustain a high-level, long-term, experienced work force at a time when those people so desperately need the work.

The hon. Gentleman is right to speak up for the interests of his constituents. As the child of a railway family, I probably spent more time than I care to remember sitting on Crewe station. Anyone who has travelled regularly on our railways will appreciate the splendours of that particular place. It is vital that we recognise that the announcement that I have made today will protect and safeguard jobs in the railway industry right across the United Kingdom, including, I believe, at Bombardier. Necessarily, a great railway company such as Bombardier will have wanted to win this particular contract. There has been a detailed, thorough and competitive commercial contest to determine how the orders should be set out.

Incidentally, I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about the prospect of some 70 trains being built in Japan, but I will certainly look at that. I do not see why Bombardier would provide that order to Japan. It is important to recognise that there is now a significant programme of orders in railways stretching forward, and that Bombardier is very well placed to win some of those orders.

This is a very welcome piece of news, and I am very appreciative. I know that all those who have access to the Great Western line stations will be very pleased indeed. They will not care who heard what when; they will just be pleased to hear this news. The improvements in reliability will be important to those who regularly use the railways in my region, as will the reductions in the duration of their journeys. May I, speaking as a geek—a railway person who, rather like my right hon. Friend, sat on railway stations as a schoolboy, in places such as Keynsham and Bristol Temple Meads—ask him whether the top speed on the Great Western network will be increased above the 125 mph limit that it has had for a long time?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. These are exciting times for the Great Western line and, indeed, for passengers all down the line. We have announced a programme for electrification, and today’s announcement will provide for higher speed trains perhaps even going beyond the extent of electrification. The bi-modal nature of the trains—if I may out-geek my hon. Friend for a second—means that they will be able to go beyond the electrified part of the line and therefore provide excellent services well beyond the limits of electrification. I do not anticipate the maximum speed needing to be exceeded at present. As a result of the new trains’ lightness of construction, they will accelerate more quickly, which will reduce the time intervals between station stops. That will result in a significant improvement for passengers.

Having campaigned for them, I welcome the confirmation of the 120 new carriages on the West Anglia route. May I press the Secretary of State on two important delivery details? First, on rolling stock, when will the new carriages enter service? Secondly, a year ago—or possibly more—we were promised longer platforms and more track on that vital route. There have been a lot of delays and uncertainties about that. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government still hold that commitment, and tell us when the work will begin on the track?

I have made it quite clear that capacity constraint is an important part of the work that we need to do to improve our rail network, and there are some significant steps that can be taken. Today’s announcement on inter-city trains, which will have greater carriage capacity, will be part of that, as will the continuing work to lengthen platforms. The negotiations between the manufacturer and Anglia will proceed in relation to Stansted, and I anticipate that the carriages will be in service by 2011-12.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which is very welcome. May I just check that a single train travelling from, say, London King’s Cross to, say, Skipton will be able to change from electric to diesel power in that one journey? The reason why I ask is that the part of the Airedale line that runs from the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) through Keighley and up to Skipton was electrified under the previous Conservative Government but, unfortunately, the cabling is such that if a 225—an electrified high-speed train—goes on to it, it drains the power from the whole line so that nothing else can use it. Up to now, therefore, trains going from King’s Cross to Skipton have to be diesel-powered 125s. A lot of my constituents will be pleased to hear that the one train that travels each way between Keighley and King’s Cross can be a fully modernised train that is much more comfortable than the 125s that we are using at the moment.

My hon. Friend is probably beginning to exhaust the limits of my technical competence in the details of electrification. I know that there are various kinds of electrification, but as I do not know the arrangements in and around her constituency, I will not tempt fate by either agreeing or disagreeing with her. I will, however, ensure that she is written to and that an explanation is provided.

Platform 20 at Waterloo is now available for domestic services, but I understand that the trains needed to run those services have not yet been ordered, even though the need for them was recognised two years ago. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the production lines for the class 450 Desiros have now, sadly, been closed, and that new orders cannot be delivered before 2011? Will he also confirm that the cost of those trains will now be 30 per cent. higher because of the collapse of the pound against the euro? And will he tell us whether we are going to get those trains at all?

I have consistently made it clear since getting this job that relieving congestion and improving capacity on our network is of paramount importance. Bringing into service the platform at Waterloo is part of that process, and the investment that I announced today is part of a much wider £20 billion investment in new rail capacity.

I welcome this news, which stands in stark contrast to the do nothing attitude of the Conservative party. May I point out to the Secretary of State, however, that high speed does not necessarily mean high quality? In the past year or two, the east coast line has seen job cuts resulting in reduced services for the people on board, so can we please be clear that, while high speed is good, other things also need to be put in place? Will he also have a word with National Express, which needs to get its act together?

Certainly, my emphasis has not been on speed itself, as I made clear in response to an earlier question. This is not simply about increasing the maximum speed; it is about improving reliability and efficiency and, crucially, about improving the experience of passengers in higher-quality vehicles. I therefore agree with, and welcome, my hon. Friend’s observation.

In his statement, the Secretary of State said that from December this year, commuters will be able to use high-speed rail services between London and Kent. That, of course, is literally correct, but high-speed locomotives are of little value if their progress is impeded by poor track, out-of-date signalling, bad bridges and level crossings. When may we expect that the line between Canterbury and Manston airport will be upgraded in every respect, so that we can take advantage of the possibilities for Manston to play its part in aviation in the south-east and so that commuters from east Kent can travel to London at something like the speed at which they used to be able to travel in 1927?

Well, I cannot remember what it was like in 1927, but I can remember what it was like under the previous Conservative Government. As someone who has always been a strong and consistent supporter of investment in the railways—I am delighted that I have the opportunity today not only to talk about it, but to provide it—I am determined to ensure that we improve the quality of our railways right across the country, including in Kent. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House rather longer than I have; I only hope that I can find an example of his referring to the appalling way in which railways were treated by the past Conservative Government.

My right hon. Friend will know that the city of Sheffield has a long history of manufacturing and that many of its people have skills in engineering. I understand that he cannot say anything more about the location of the manufacturing and assembly plant, but Sheffield would indeed be an excellent area in which to place it. Is he able to say a little more about the types of job that will be available and particularly whether there will be opportunities for younger people to get training, as in these difficult economic times opportunities for apprentices and others to come into industry are enormously important?

Knowing the excellence of manufacturing experience in the city of Sheffield, I made it clear that it is one of the places being looked at very closely by the consortium for the location of a manufacturing plant. It will be keen to take advantage of the significant skills available in the Sheffield area, not least because the plant will be designed to bring advanced railway technology into the United Kingdom, just as, as I mentioned in my statement, Japanese car companies brought advanced manufacturing production techniques for the automotive industry into the UK. That is very much the model that we want to see for our railways.

May I help the Secretary of State for Transport? On Radio 4’s “Today” programme, it was announced that hybrid trains—diesel and electric—will be operated, so will he confirm that they will be available on the east coast route? How many will there be in proportion to pure electric and diesel trains? Will he respond to another of my concerns? I understand that Pendolino trains are the safest in existence because the carriages are so heavy; they withstood the rail disaster on the west coast route. The trains that he has announced today are to be 17 per cent. lighter. Will he reassure the travelling public that they will meet the highest safety criteria? Will he pledge to remove the bottleneck north of Newcastle so that even more freight and passenger trains can travel on the east coast main line route?

I am always grateful for help from the hon. Lady, who has always been an enthusiastic supporter of the European Union and has argued that case from her days as a Member of the European Parliament. She seems to have been rather quieter on the subject of Europe in recent times—[Interruption.] The relevance of Europe comes from the importance of having rail manufacturing facilities in the UK that can successfully compete right across the European Union—a policy that might be in jeopardy if her party’s policy on the European Union were ever to prevail.

What is important to safety, without getting into too much technical detail, is not so much the weight of the train but its construction. The hon. Lady is right that the way Pendolino trains are constructed means that passengers enjoy much greater protection, as we have seen in one or two recent incidents. In the Grayrigg accident, for example, the construction of the Pendolino train almost certainly provided protection to passengers. We want that same level of safety and security available to all passengers on all our trains.

Many of my constituents who, like myself, are regular users of the east coast main line will warmly welcome today’s announcement. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that those responsible for setting the timetables of the new services take full advantage of the opportunity for faster journey times? He will know that trains from Edinburgh to London are capable of journeys much quicker than they are timetabled for. The new trains provide an opportunity, perhaps with minor track improvements, to reduce journey times to under three and three quarter hours. I am sure that the same is true elsewhere. Therefore, it would be a tragedy if we did not make full use of the faster trains to provide shorter journey times. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that that is done by the operators when the new trains come into operation?

I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s observations. Clearly, the train operating companies, which are ultimately responsible for paying for the trains, will want to use them to the maximum advantage. That will not only mean shorter journey times, but should allow more frequent services to destinations such as Edinburgh and others along that route.

For those of us who are daily commuters by train, any announcement of new investment in the railways is very welcome. However, the lack of capacity in the British train manufacturing industry and the lack of rolling stock are problems right now. Will what the Secretary of State has announced bring to an end the constant delays in securing new rolling stock, which have prevented important improvements in services throughout the whole country, and especially on the absurdly overcrowded trains that I use every day between Cambridge and King’s Cross?

That was the whole point of the announcement, which provides not only more rolling stock on the network but the means of constructing it, by providing for the United Kingdom extra train-making capability.

I welcome the general thrust of the Secretary of State’s statement and take the opportunity to thank him for meeting the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and myself to discuss these matters two weeks ago. He was very kind and helpful. May I ask how this statement might impact on the services provided for long-suffering commuters from Northampton? Will he give us some specific help in that respect, because I know that my constituents would welcome a light at the end of the railway tunnel?

I return the compliment. I found the conversation about services to Northampton very interesting and I rather think that I gave a promise to visit and see the services there. Investing, not in the particular Northampton line, but in other lines across the country, will clearly have knock-on effects for capacity in the UK. We need more investment in railways; I accept the observations that have been made. That is why the Government are committed to spending £20 billion to improve capacity, which will benefit people in Northampton as it will those in other parts of the country.

I share a line with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), and in the morning it is hell in Broxbourne, beyond hell in Cheshunt and simply miserable for commuters from Edmonton and Enfield into London. I am delighted that there is to be new rolling stock. May I ask the Secretary of State whether I could meet his officials or one of his junior Ministers for a gentle discussion about timings?

I regard it as the responsibility of any Minister to meet right hon. and hon. Members to discuss their issues of concern. I do not recall ever having turned down a meeting, and I will ensure that one is arranged for the hon. Gentleman.

The Transport Committee strategy report states:

“We note how little new rolling stock is going to be available to areas outside London and the south-east”.

What is being done about the old, unsafe 142s that shunt between Southport and Manchester on the Northern rail franchise, which are acknowledged to be the very oldest on the entire network?

There is a constant programme of upgrading our rolling stock. I would not accept for a moment, however, that any of that rolling stock is unsafe.

Faster trains between London and Leeds are clearly welcome, but the biggest problem experienced by my constituents is getting to and from Leeds on horribly overcrowded trains on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. Can the Secretary of State tell me when extra carriages will be available on those two lines in particular, and also, crucially, how much money will be allocated to providing the longer platforms that will be required to take them?

I note that making an announcement about capacity on a particular line has laid me open to a general discussion abut capacity on all our lines. I repeat that I recognise that there are capacity issues to be addressed. We have a very significant programme of investment in capacity, along with a programme to establish where new lines will be required to relieve those capacity problems. That is something to which the Government are committed. I have to say that those on the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench are not committed to spending the same amount on transport infrastructure as we are spending.

Will the Secretary of State ask his officials to look again at the delays in reaching a decision on new train services for platform 20 at Waterloo? As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), the platform is ready for domestic commuter trains, but there could be a delay of over a year before it is actually used.

Will the Secretary of State also write to me and let me know whether his Department has finally confirmed with South West Trains and Network Rail the investment for the new 10-car commuter trains, including investment in all the related platform-lengthening and infrastructure works that are essential to reducing the chronic overcrowding that is being suffered every day by commuters to Waterloo?

I should be delighted to send the hon. Gentleman a letter about that. I shall also send a copy to his hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer).