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FirstGroup (Great Western Main Line)

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

9. What recent discussions his Department has had with FirstGroup on service performance on the Great Western main line. (906439)

Officials hold meetings with First Great Western every four weeks to discuss franchise performance. Ministers and officials regularly meet senior figures from across the industry at a range of forums to discuss current issues, including performance. We have made it clear that we expect the industry to do its utmost to deliver the level of performance for which it is funded.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the new Great Western main line franchise takes into account the very real present overcrowding problems in south-east Wales, and ensure that the operator provides an adequate number of carriages to service demand now and on future forecasts?

One of the things that I have done with that franchise is to make arrangements and instruct the operator, as it is doing, to convert first-class carriages into standard-class carriages. That will increase capacity a little on the line. The line has been very successful overall. In 2010-11, the number of passengers using the franchise was 90.5 million; on the latest figures available, for 2013-14, the number was 99.7 million. We are seeing such a rise across the whole rail franchise sector.

The Secretary of State was kind enough to meet me and nine other MPs to discuss improvements to our part of this franchise. My last two journeys from Chippenham to London began with me seated on the floor of the carriage—on one of them, alongside a young woman and her crutches. Does he accept that it will take not only converted buffet cars but additional services to meet the demand on the line?

I agree with my hon. Friend to a degree. We are seeing that right across the whole railway sector, and I am very proud of it: such revolutionary performance has been brought about by franchising and the imagination of franchising. It is rather disappointing that a party that used franchising for 13 years now condemns it.