MICHAEL FABRICANT QUESTIONS JOHN PRESCOTT ON ROAD SAFETY AS MORE RAIL USERS TAKE TO THE ROADS IN DESPERATION
Michael Fabricant is concerned that as more and more rail passengers take to the roads, road traffic accidents and fatalities may far exceed any that might arise on trains. According to the DETR, you are 12 times more likely to die in a road traffic accident than on the trains for every mile travelled. Mr Fabricant wonders whether Railtrack have over-reacted to the Hatfield derailment.
There now follows the exchange on the floor of the House of Commons between Michael Fabricant and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott yesterday.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will make a statement on recent disruption to rail services.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): Following meetings with the Strategic Rail Authority, myself and the Prime Minister, the industry promised a steady improvement in rail services as part of the national track recovery plan. At the most recent meeting, yesterday afternoon, Railtrack told us that it had checked two thirds of the entire track length–about 14,000 miles–including all known sites suffering from gauge corner cracking.
Railtrack has rerailed more than a third of the track identified for rerailing–that is about 110 miles. It has managed to remove 260 speed restrictions and raised the speed limit from 20 mph to 40 mph on another 139 miles. My right hon. Friend and I restated the need to return the network to normal as soon as possible, get a robust Christmas timetable in place, improve information to passengers and provide greater clarity on compensation for daily and weekly passengers. I am sure that the House will agree that all those safety matters must be carried out to the proper level of safety.
Mr. Fabricant: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that helpful and full answer. He will no doubt have heard of the incident last night in which a journey from London to Nottingham, which should have taken two hours, took nine. A trainload of passengers stayed in the train overnight, in darkness and without any heating. That event, of course, is not unique. Has he made any calculations about the number of people who previously travelled by rail, but who now travel by road? Does he agree with his Department’s own statistics, which show that the number of fatalities on the roads are 12 times as high as the number on the railways? What is his assessment of the number of additional fatalities on the roads that will result from the disruption?
Mr. Prescott: The whole House is concerned about the time that journeys can take, including the incident that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The House wants the railways to return to normal operations on safe railway lines. Hon. Members will be aware from our statements that it is necessary properly to check faults on our railway system. We are doing that as fast as we can, and we are talking to the industry about whether it can be done any faster while maintaining a safe and proper operation.
Clearly, a lot more people are travelling by car, and congestion will obviously increase–we can already see that happening. I have made no estimate of the increase in death rates, but I shall examine our figures and send an estimate to the hon. Gentleman. In terms of casualties and deaths, we know that railways are safer than roads, but we must keep our eye on the ball and try to improve the railway system.