The Secretary of State for the Department for Transport Geoff Hoon has agreed to meet with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith to discuss changes to local train times which could see commuters forced back onto Lancaster's already congested network.
The Lancaster Guardian reported last week on commuter concerns that plans to change the times of early morning trains between Morecambe and Lancaster -- the result of changes to West Coast mainline services to allow more long-distance services -- will force more workers onto the roads.
From 14 December, the already busy existing Monday to Friday two-carriage services from Morecambe to Lancaster at 8.05am and 8.33am are being replaced by trains at 8.11am and 8.51am. This means people starting work at 9.00am will have no choice but to get the earlier train if they want to get to work on time.
In a House of Commons debate on Tuesday, Geraldine Smith challeneged Hoon on the issue, asking if he was aware that one of the trains on the morning peak-time Morecambe to Lancaster commuter service had been taken off because of capacity problems with the west coast main line.
"We welcome the improvements that the Government have made to the line, which have made a difference, but there are still capacity issues for smaller lines crossing the main line," she pointed out.
Responding, Hoon said he was not aware of that consequence of improving capacity on the west coast main line. "I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the issues affecting her constituents."
In the same debate, Hoon set out current Government plans for improving the network and claimed Labour's policies on the rail network had been instrumental in its renewed popularity and increased usage. "The White Paper on rail set out the Government's commitment to increasing rail capacity by 2014, backed by investment of some £10 billion," he said. "This includes the procurement of an additional 1,300 carriages for operation right across the network; 423 vehicles have already been ordered; and yesterday, we announced proposals to procure a further 200, which will benefit passengers in the Thames valley, around Bristol and on longer distance regional services in central northern England."
Responding questions on fare rises, he refused to accept claims that following last week's unregulated fare increases of up to 11 per cent, many people using the railways believe that the Government's only strategy for dealing with capacity is to price them off them.
Earlier this month, Hoon prpvoked fury among rail users nationwide after claiming overcrowded trains on the West Coast Mainline are a "good thing" because it proves passengers can afford to travel by train. The Lancashire Evening Post reported that he had said packed carriages can be viewed as a sign of success and described Britain's rail network as the "envy" of the world.
Northern Rail says more than half of its 2,500 services have been affected by changes to the West Coast Main Line to allow more long-distance services. Lancaster and Morecambe Rail Users Group is campaigning against the timetable changes and hopes they will be changed in May when the summer timetable is introduced.