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Transport Network (Cold Weather)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

12. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s response to the effects of recent cold weather conditions on the transport network. (313722)

The country recently experienced the most prolonged severe winter conditions for nearly 30 years. The Government’s actions, working with local government and others, stabilised and minimised the disruption to transport systems. We are continuing the work to ensure that those systems are able to respond to further challenges.

I am grateful to the Minister for that somewhat brief reply. Is he aware, as another junior Transport Minister clearly is, that some 17,000 trains were suspended in England and Wales during the snowy weather up to 9 January? Why were 17,000 trains suspended in that period? What are the Government and Network Rail doing to reduce that number for future occasions of inclement weather?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will tell me that when he was in the House 30 years ago, the trains all ran on time and snow did not cause delay or cancellation—when they were nationalised. North Europe, America, Canada and other parts of the world experienced severe weather, and they also had problems with their transport systems. All major road networks were open in this country and I think that we did pretty well. We showed a generosity of spirit and a get-up-and-go attitude, which led to most of the country coping pretty well.

Southeastern Trains stopped running trains in the cold spell at 9 o’clock in the evening, yet the docklands light railway and London Underground continued their services throughout the day, almost without disruption. Why did Southeastern Trains stop running trains? If my right hon. Friend does not know, will he haul the company in and get it to explain why it completely disrupted the service?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We did haul in Southeastern Trains, and we told the company that what happened was unacceptable. That demonstrates that we are a Department that believes in engaging with the private sector, not allowing it to get away with anything it wants to do. Southeastern Trains has learned the lessons and will ensure in future that the service is better. We know from last year that further bad weather is possible in February. We will see whether the lessons have been learned from our hauling in.