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Railway Stations

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2009

3. What plans he has to improve levels of safety and accessibility at railway stations; and if he will make a statement. (261706)

The Department for Transport takes safety and accessibility at stations very seriously. More than 1,100 stations have already been earmarked for access improvements through our £370 million Access for All programme. Meanwhile, crime levels continue to fall while the railways build on their already good safety record.

Swindon station’s disabled access has been improved considerably through the Access for All programme. Does my hon. Friend recognise that First Great Western, which is based in my constituency, has an excellent safety record and has been working innovatively with police community support officers and with train managers, leading to an eight out of 10 customer satisfaction rating? Will he congratulate First Great Western?

The short answer is yes. I am delighted that First Great Western has used the £20,000 from the small schemes funding to provide a safer and more secure station and I congratulate it. The latest national passenger survey indicates that personal security at First Great Western stations has increased over the past year.

But in the south of the county of Wiltshire, South West Trains has been sacking hundreds of its staff, it has closed the travel centre and, at Tisbury, it has virtually unmanned the station. What does that do for accessibility or safety? What will happen when disabled people want to use ramps on to trains and there are no staff at the station?

We have taken a number of steps in our Access for All programme at 145 stations, and the small scheme programme is helping to make 1,000-odd stations accessible and secure. There is also the assisted passengers reservation system, which is about helping people who have disabilities, and of course we work closely with the disabled persons transport advisory committee.

The Minister will be aware that the previous Mayor of London had an admirable programme for converting many stations to step-free access to improve facilities so that everyone could use the trains. Is the Minister not concerned that the current Mayor seems to be cancelling many of those programmes? At stations such as Finsbury Park that serve both Network Rail and London Underground, he has cancelled the scheme altogether, which is disastrous for those who have difficulties in accessing the station because of the lack of lifts or any other way of getting in. Will my hon. Friend please meet the Mayor of London and tell him that the people of this country want to see real accessibility to our whole transport network?

I am obviously concerned about any proposed cuts that would make accessibility for all difficult. I am delighted that in London, for example, all buses are fully accessible. With reference to London Underground, some 20 per cent. of stations have step-free access, and we are working to ensure that 25 per cent. are step-free by 2010. However, that needs commitment from all concerned—Transport for London and the Mayor of London—as well as our commitment to funding through the streams that I have outlined.

Will the Minister visit Alnmouth station in Northumberland, which has been turned down for the Department’s scheme? It has no disabled access from the northbound platform; disabled people who want to return to the station in the evening are told that they have to ask for a taxi from Newcastle, 30 miles away.

I am happy to look into the circumstances of that station. The requirement is to look at the programme that we are putting in. Many of the stations were built at times when accessibility was not a key factor, although obviously new requirements for stations and rolling stock all demand modern standards of accessibility. However, I am willing to look at the individual case. We are having to plan; in respect of the £370 million Access for All programme, we need to work on the stations used by most people, weighted by the incidence of people with disabilities using them. The small scheme programme, with its £25 million of Government money, has levered in third-party contributions, bringing in about £95 million worth of improvements. However, I will look at the individual case.

Can the Minister tell me whether Silverdale station is on his list of stations for safety and accessibility improvements? If he cannot, will he look at the issue to see what can be done? Schoolchildren use the station in the mornings, and they have to cross the track to reach the relevant platform. That is a safety issue. Furthermore, Silverdale is in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We get a lot of tourists, and it is dangerous for them to cross live rail lines.

It might surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I do not actually have at my fingertips a list with Silverdale on it. However, I am more than happy to look at the request.