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Train Overcrowding

Volume 519: debated on Thursday 2 December 2010

An additional 650 carriages will be delivered to the rail network between 6 May 2010 and March 2014. In addition, about 600 new carriages for the Crossrail project and up to 1,200 new carriages for the Thameslink programme will be delivered between 2015 and 2019, releasing large amounts of rolling stock for redeployment on other lines to increase capacity.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The growth in the northern economy over the past 10 to 15 years has heralded a significant rise in rail travel. Passenger growth in my region is set to rise further still, and that is particularly the case in constituencies such as mine that lie on or near the edge of major conurbations. In light of that, and following on from his response to the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), what assessment has he made of the benefits that the northern hub could bring to the northern economy by relieving overcrowding and putting in place faster and more frequent trains?

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), the northern hub is an interesting and potentially valuable project. Network Rail is evaluating the project, but until we have a proper engineering scheme with a cost attached, it is clearly impossible to carry out a robust cost-benefit analysis. Once we are in a position to produce that, we will be able to examine the scheme properly for prioritisation in the control period 5 investment programme.

Is the Secretary of State aware that—with the possible exception of today—trains from Brighton to Victoria are often very overcrowded?

Yes, of course I am. The Thameslink project will deliver relief on lines across London from north to south and to Brighton, and will hopefully relieve part of the problem on the Brighton-Victoria line to which my hon. Friend refers.

Does the Secretary of State agree that electrifying the Great Western main line would be one way of increasing capacity, especially in south Wales?

I do not believe that electrification will deliver increased capacity; there is capacity on the main line now. I told the House last week that we will work with the Welsh Assembly Government to build and validate the business case for electrification of the Great Western main line into south Wales. I spoke to the Deputy First Minister late last week, and such work between officials in the two Governments is now ongoing.

Will the Minister undertake a review of overcrowding and value for money in general on commuter trains run by Southeastern to Orpington, which, uniquely in the country, has been saddled with a retail prices index regime of RPI plus 3 over recent years?

The faster rate of fare increases on Southeastern is, as my hon. Friend knows, related to the introduction of the high-speed Javelin trains, which have managed to continue running very effectively during the current period of weather disruption. We are reviewing value for money on the rail network as a whole. Sir Roy McNulty is conducting that review, and I will publish his interim findings shortly, and a final report in April next year.