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Great Western Main Line

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

In the latest operating period to 3 January, the First Great Western public performance measure was 82.5%. The average for the previous year was 87.7%. Both measures are below the target of 90.3% set by the Office of Rail Regulation for this franchise. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman has heard Network Rail, the regulator and many MPs saying that this is not good enough.

Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by the RMT, TSSA and other organisations and passenger groups about the future provision of buffet cars and guards on First Great Western services? Was she aware of those concerns before the Department awarded a direct award franchise to an extension to the First Great Western franchise?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman, like me, is delighted that this line is receiving so much investment, in the form of billions of pounds for electrification and the new intercity express programme rolling stock to which he alludes, which will transform the passenger experience. I gently encourage him not to read the scaremongering press releases put out by the RMT. I have visited the IEP mock-ups. I have discussed in great detail what the franchising and catering capabilities will be. It is up to the operators to specify, and I am sure he will have seen the East Coast statements that it intends to offer an enhanced catering service on those trains when they are running. I am happy to discuss this further with the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest he looks at the facts, not the scaremongering.

I am pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that the present service on the First Great Western line is not good enough. As she will know as a south-west MP, one of the biggest issues is capacity. I know that new rolling stock is to be introduced, but will that be enough to address the terrible overcrowding issues, which I am sure her constituents have raised with her, as mine have with me?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that there is crowding. There was a great lack of investment in the line under the Government whom she supported. In addition to the IEPs, one and a half first class carriages are being declassified and standard class seating is being put in. It is happening now—I have sat in the 2,000th seat to be declassified. Although that is not the whole solution, I think we will see reduced overcrowding, particularly when passengers come in from Reading to Paddington, which is where trains can get extremely crowded.