§ 6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
What steps he is taking to improve the level and quality of services into Waterloo station. 
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)
South West Trains has ordered 785 new vehicles and Network Rail is upgrading the power supply to allow for that. The first trains should come into service in the spring. The revised South West Trains franchise requires a robust service with fewer cancellations and with more trains arriving at their destinations on time.
§ Mr. Turner
We have heard about cutback after cutback after cutback but the Secretary of State seems to suggest that things are getting better. In Southampton, there has been a cut not of 1 per cent., which the Under-Secretary suggested, but of 25 per cent. in off-peak services. For well-connected services to my constituency, that represents a cut of 50 per cent. How will that get people off the road and on to rail?
§ Mr. Darling
As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary suggested, we have severe problems with congestion on part of the rail network. If the SRA had not taken action to remove off-peak trains, the congestion and severe problems with reliability would continue. The problem in the past, following privatisation, was that more and more trains were allowed on to a network that frankly could not take them.
The hon. Gentleman raised a point about South West Trains, and 74 out of 1,700 services a day have been withdrawn. That will allow for greater reliability and for longer trains with increased capacity at peak times. That will provide a better service. However, if the SRA had left matters as they were, the congestion and lack of reliability would continue. That cannot be in the interests of anyone using the railways.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
The Secretary of State knows that my constituents have recently suffered the body blow of the cancellation of the Bristol to Oxford line and the resulting cancellation of the Corsham station project. Will he confirm the rumours 665 that the service from Corsham through west Wiltshire and into Waterloo is also being challenged by the SRA?[Interruption.] Hon. Members are shouting, so I shall repeat my question. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the service from Corsham and west Wiltshire into Waterloo, which it is widely rumoured will be cancelled by the SRA, will not be cancelled?
§ Mr. Darling
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have got to Waterloo eventually if he had been given the time. However, I do not know whether that would help with congestion.
The SRA has an obligation to do everything that it can to make trains services reliable. It is doing no one any good at all to continue with a situation in which more and more trains that were advertised did not run on time. They were subject to delays and cancellations simply because the network could not take them. As a result of the changes that are being made—there will be further changes to the timetable from time to time—the SRA is freeing up pathways to allow trains to run particularly at peak times. It is allowing for further and increased turn-around times, so that if trains lose time they can make it up.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to listen for a moment, I shall point out to him that the situation that we inherited in which more and more trains were trying to run down track that could not take them simply resulted in there being more and more unreliability. That is totally unacceptable to the people of this country.