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Rail Carriages

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 3 December 2009

1. How many of the 1,300 rail carriages referred to in the rolling stock plan in January 2008 have been delivered. (303664)

2. How many of the 1,300 rail carriages referred to in the rail White Paper in July 2007 have yet to be delivered. (303665)

7. What progress has been made on the delivery of new railway carriages; and if he will make a statement. (303670)

We remain committed to delivering 1,300 additional carriages by March 2014. Some 543 new carriages have been ordered, either for direct deployment or to release existing vehicles to expand capacity in line with the rail White Paper. Around 232 of those are already in service. We are currently in negotiations for a number of other procurements. As a result of our decisions to electrify railway lines, rolling stock requirements have changed. We will set out our revised strategy shortly.

I thank the Minister for that response. As part of those 1,300 carriages, the Government promised Southeastern an extra 110, which obviously affects constituents in my part of south-east London. It was rather a disappointment that those extra carriages have been shelved in the short term. My constituents are therefore still waiting for that desperately needed new capacity to relieve the overcrowding. Can the Minister not speed up the process?

I echo the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made about his constituents’ concerns about the overcrowded trains. I can only say what I have already said, which is that we will come back shortly with a revised rolling stock plan. He will be aware of the fantastic announcement made by the Secretary of State in July about electrifying the Great Western line and the line between Liverpool and Manchester. That has a knock-on effect on the numbers of diesel trains and EMU—electric multiple unit—trains that are needed. I hope to come back in due course with an announcement that will, I hope, alleviate some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

By the end of 2016, when the current South West Trains franchise expires, the rolling stock on the Isle of Wight will be almost 80 years old. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that new rolling stock will be provided in the new franchise agreement?

It is important that we consult the hon. Gentleman and his constituents about what the needs and demands are locally. One of the benefits of committing ourselves to £15 billion of investment in our railways over the next five years is that there is a possibility of his residents getting new rolling stock. If we followed the suggestions of others—that we should cut the amount that we invest in our railways this year, and then cut it in crude terms over the next five years—there would be no chance at all of his constituents getting new rolling stock.

During this fast of Advent, it behoves us all to show some humility. Were the Transport Select Committee not right when they said in 2008 that the Government do not have

“adequate and appropriate expertise to handle such vital strategic decisions in-house, and to do so efficiently”?

Go on—they were right, were they not?

I always enjoy interventions by the hon. Gentleman. I will answer his question in the spirit in which it was asked. Phase 1 of this Government’s job was to repair and make up for the chronic under-investment of the previous couple of decades—a consequence of what his Government had done. He will also have seen us make up for the botched privatisation that his Government were in charge of, which some might call fixing the roof while it was leaking. Phase 2 of this Government’s reformation will lead to growth and increased capacity. I am sure he will join me in welcoming that approach, rather than the savage cuts that his leader wants to make.

I welcome the Minister’s renewed commitment to the 1,300 carriages. Can I take it from his answer that the Northern Rail franchise will get the 186 carriages that it was promised some time ago?

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole), has already met Greater Manchester integrated transport authority, and we are working with Northern Rail and the passenger transport executives to see what their demands are. We are also looking at the appraisals model to ensure that we get phases 1 and 2 sorted out, so that my hon. Friend’s constituents can get the investment that other parts of the country have received.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that 23 Electrostar trains have been introduced since the start of this year on the First Capital Connect Thameslink service. However, those trains are of limited utility if there are not enough drivers to drive them because of the current industrial action. Will he give us an update on what is being done to sort out the dispute between FCC and ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, and on what he is doing to try to ameliorate the situation?

My hon. Friend will be aware, not just from his previous life but from his current life as a Member of Parliament, that negotiations are taking place between the train operating company First Capital Connect and the trade union ASLEF. I am pleased to tell him that my understanding is that the two sides met this week. I am an optimist by nature, so I am hoping that those negotiations and discussions will lead to a fruitful resolution of the drivers’ action. As my hon. Friend knows from his own constituency interest, the impact on passengers is huge. At a time when we are investing in our railways and in new rolling stock, it is clearly perverse if the actions of individuals can deter people from using the trains.

Some time ago, our right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), who was one of the last commoners to be Secretary of State for Transport, announced a substantial order for high-speed rolling stock, which was associated with the Hitachi consortium. Will my hon. Friend tell us the current position on this particular project as two of the potential sites for assembly are in North-West Leicestershire, and this would have a very significant social, environmental and economic effect on my constituents?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of this Government’s record of investing in infrastructure and new rolling stock. He will have seen the fruits of High Speed 1, which has benefited transport in the southern part of the country. He will also have seen—and, I hope, ridden on—the Javelin train. As far as Hitachi is concerned, he will be pleased to know that I hope to come back in due course to provide an update on our rolling stock. The announcement to electrify the Great Western line and the Liverpool to Manchester line has had an impact on our inquiries. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased with the news when I return for the update shortly.

With passenger numbers at record levels and growing further, and overcrowding a problem throughout the network—not least during the evening peak to Lewes—it is disappointing that only 543 carriages have so far been ordered. Will the Minister confirm that the rolling stock plan he has talked about will include a commitment to order the rest of the 1,300 carriages before the election—just in case there is going to be a Conservative Government committed to 10 per cent. cuts?

I have a revelation to make, Mr. Speaker. If you were to draw a line graph from 2007, when there was zero rolling stock, to the middle point up to 2014, when we expect a rolling stock of 1,300, you will find that we are not on schedule but ahead of schedule, with more rolling stock being ordered. I am confident that with a combination of a cascaded rolling stock and the new stock, the hon. Gentleman will see his wishes delivered. He is right to point out that if we followed the advice of some, there would have been massive cuts this year and savage cuts in the next few years.

Was the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) wrong when he promised that the 1,300 carriages would be in addition to Thameslink, or was the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), wrong when he made it plain that the total number of carriages to be ordered was far fewer than 1,300 unless one includes in it the Thameslink programme?

I told myself that I was going to be charming and nice at the Dispatch Box. All I can say to the hon. Lady is that she should read the White Paper of July 2007; she should read the update produced in January 2008; she should then read the update we produced in July 2008—and if she is still not clear, she can write to me so that I can write back to provide the clarity she needs.

Why can the Minister not admit that the Government got their numbers wrong and that incompetence and excessive micro-management is holding up the carriages that four successive Secretaries of State have now promised? Will he admit that millions have been spent on diesel carriages and rolling stock, which the Government then decided they did not want; and will he admit that the new Thameslink carriages are now running around a decade late, which is why it is not surprising that they no longer call it Thameslink 2000?

I am happy to talk about numbers. In 2009-10, we secured from our Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review an increase of 2.25 per cent. expenditure on transport. Had we taken the advice of others, including the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition, the increase would have been just 1 per cent.—effectively a cut in 2009-10 of £840 million. That would have meant no chance of new rolling stock, no chance of investment in Crossrail and no chance of any announcements on electrification. Over the next period, we have a choice. We have a choice to invest in High Speed 2 and we have a choice to continue to invest in the electrification of the Great Western line and the Liverpool to Manchester line, which will have knock-on effects on rolling stock. On the other hand, we have a choice to listen to the advice of some who want to cut savagely from the amount we invest in transport, which will mean more overcrowding, less investment and—