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Gatwick Trains: Intercom

Volume 416: debated on Monday 19 January 1981

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why there is no system of intercom on trains to and from Gatwick Airport.

My Lords, this is a matter for the Railways Board. I understand that the board expect to submit soon to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport a proposed scheme for improving the rail services to the airport which would include the provision of trains equipped with a public address system.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for that reply, may I ask whether he realises that the time envisaged is three to four years for new trains; and would he not agree that, if British Rail are putting intercommunication into other trains, it is a priority to have them on the line to Gatwick so that the ever-growing number of airline passengers and those meeting them may learn, not only at Victoria Station but in the train itself, of delays to aeroplanes?

My Lords, I understand that the modified rolling stock used on the Gatwick Airport service has now more luggage capacity than normal. However, because of the make-up of the trains—that is, the airport stock is attached to and detached from through trains at Gatwick Station—I understand from the board that there will be operational difficulties in providing a public address system on only the airport portion. There is insufficient justification for the expenditure now needed to equip those trains with a public address system. May I assure the noble Baroness that the new scheme put forward seems to produce a satisfactory answer.

My Lords, will the noble Earl ensure that these two points are included in the report or request being made to British Rail? Is he aware that when I arrived at Gatwick at around 4.30 p.m. on a recent Thursday I found that that part of the train detached and remaining in the station was under no roof and passengers were entirely exposed to the elements, and not a single porter was available? Is he further aware that when I returned from Gatwick to Victoria at about 6.30 p.m. on a Friday there was not one porter and not one trolley on the platform? This is disastrous for tourists, apart from the poor regulars.

My Lords, I was not aware of those points. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing them to my attention. So far as Gatwick Airport is concerned, the station is under rehabilitation at this moment. The lifts should be in by the spring and the station, undergoing a £6 million refit, should be ready by 1982. I am sure that that will be something that we can be proud of at Gatwick. So far as this end at Victoria Station is concerned, the scheme which is under consideration at the moment has considerable improvements for Victoria as well.

My Lords, can the noble Earl explain why it is that Questions can be put about Victoria Station, and about trains proceeding from Victoria Station which are equipped with first-class compartments, when I have not been allowed in eight years to put something like 200 separate Questions that I wished to ask about the service being provided and contemplated in the immediate future relating to practically all the productive workers in London, and, as far as I am concerned, particularly about the Orpington line?

My Lords, on any Question where the Railways Board is concerned, I have to reply that it is a matter for the Railways Board. The point the noble Lord now raises is outside my purview.

My Lords, the Question was about intercommunication on trains. I should like to ask questions about the absence of lavatories on trains. This is a terrible grievance for older people who are travelling backwards and forwards.

My Lords, if I may answer the noble Lord, there are well accepted practices with regard to Questions that are asked and answered on the nationalised industries. In the end, it has always been thought right that it is up to any noble Lord or any Member of another place to decide whether a Question is proper for him to ask, whereas it is up to the individual Minister to decide whether it is a proper Question for him to answer.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether when this new communications system is installed he will ensure that announcements are made in more than one language? Many people travelling on the trains do not understand English.

My Lords, I understand that British Rail are proposing to use multi-lingual tapes.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he will have to have a Tower of Babel at Gatwick judging by the passengers I see every day I come up to London?

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, so far as I know, there is generally no means of intercommunication between the guard and the driver on any of the older trains, although there may be on the more modern high-speed trains? Would he not agree that safety would be enhanced by so equipping trains? Can he say whether British Rail have any plans so to equip their older rolling stock, which we understand will be in service for some years to come?

My Lords, I think that that question is a slight digression from the original Question, but I am sure that British Rail will bear in mind what the noble Lord has said.