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Rail Services (London/South Wales)

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

We are taking a number of steps. From 2016, passengers will benefit from new super-express trains, which will reduce typical journey times and add more seats between London and south Wales. In addition, we are considering the case for electrifying the busiest parts of the Great Western main line, which appears promising. Meanwhile, the performance of existing train services between London and south Wales has improved since we issued a remedial plan notice to First Great Western last year.

May I take this opportunity to welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to the Chair, and the Minister to his new responsibilities?

When we travel by train to areas north of London, those of us who have constituencies in south Wales are quite jealous when we see the improvements that have been made on many services over the past 10 years. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to accelerate immediate improvements in the services to Cardiff and Swansea, as well as considering electrification of the line in the longer term, and perhaps a late-night service that would allow his constituents to enjoy the benefits of Cardiff’s night-time culture?

I am not sure whether that is an invitation for a date. I accept that the train service between London and south Wales has for a long time suffered poorer performance than other First Great Western routes. I also accept my right hon. Friend’s point about the experience of those who live north of London. Our analysis is assessing a range of electrification scenarios, including taking the wires to Bristol and as far as Swansea, which I know will please him.

May I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and also support the points made by my friend from the Welsh Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael)? Cardiff is one of the busiest hubs in the entire system, yet the Wales rail group has been told that approach speeds are 15 mph, which is what they have been for many decades. When the line is improved, will the Minister ensure that the signalling system into Cardiff is also improved so that speeds can increase?

That is an important point. Not only do we need to ensure that there is a new generation of super-express trains, we need to ensure that signalling improves as well. One of the things that I hope the hon. Gentleman will see over the next period is, with continued investment, an improvement in the quality of services that he and his constituents receive.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and the Minister to his new post? As chairman of the all-party group on rail in Wales, I am concerned about the number of services to south Wales and Wales in general. Our particular current concerns are about preserving rail services at ports and docks in constituencies such as mine, Swansea, East. Will the Minister meet the group to discuss those matters?

The short answer is yes. It is important that colleagues continue to raise the concerns that those of us who do not travel to certain parts of the kingdom do not get to see. It is important that we meet people such as my hon. Friend to listen to their concerns and to ensure that the franchises address those issues.

May I congratulate you on your election, Mr. Speaker, and welcome the new ministerial team?

The Minister will be aware that the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), told the House repeatedly that electrification to south-west and south Wales was a priority for the Government and that they would improve services. As the Prime Minister was shown yesterday, the Government are planning to cut capital expenditure after 2010. How can electrification to improve services remain a priority for the Government in the face of those capital expenditure cuts after 2010?

May I thoroughly disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who is a friend and a neighbouring MP? We are examining in detail the case for electrifying the diesel-operated inter-city lines—the Great Western main line, which I mentioned, and also the midland main line. We will make an announcement in the coming months that will demonstrate that in challenging and tough times we are willing to invest rather than make cuts.

May I welcome you to your new role, Mr. Speaker, and congratulate the Minister on his new post? The Stroud valley line is the reserve line from south Wales, from the Severn tunnel. There is no better way to improve those services than to redouble the line between Swindon and Kemble. Will the Minister ensure that that happens as a matter of extreme urgency?

There is some good news on the redoubling of the line. My hon. Friend will be as aware as I am of the challenges in that area and will know that in these difficult times we have committed to investment rather than cuts, which have been recommended by some people.