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BBC Track Record forum
Gwyneth Dunwoody MP is quizzed by Chris Wain
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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 17:59 GMT
Track Record forum: Gwyneth Dunwoody
Gwyneth Dunwoody stepped in to answer some of your questions

After previously agreeing to respond to BBC News Online users questions on the rail industry, Transport Minister Lord MacDonald said he was unavailable for interview on Monday.

Instead Gwyneth Dunwoody, MP for Crewe and Nantwich and chairman of the transport committee, stepped in to answer your questions. She was quizzed by the former BBC transport correspondent Chris Wain.

Chris Bradshaw, South How can the railways effectively compete with road transport (ie the car) for personal travel, when the price of most journeys is still significantly higher on the rail, and how does this fit in with attempting to reduce traffic congestion in this country overall?

Gwyneth Dunwoody There are various things that ought to be taken account of, one of course is the difference between sitting and working in a train and having the stress of driving. It's also true that in real safety terms that you're much safer on the train than you would be in a tin box. But the reality is that in order to get people out of their cars you have to offer them a viable alternative. And this is why the government is spending so much effort in trying to create a much better rail system. It's no use being sentimental about it, you've got to offer people door to door seamless service and at the moment that is simply not the case.

If congestion charging comes in that will be some attempt to remedy the fact that the railway traveller has to pay for every aspect of their travel. Whereas the road traveller quite frankly does not always pay an economic rate, even now with the enormous overheads. But the reality is, that what you want is to encourage enough people out of their cars into other forms of transport in order so hat everyone can not only be more comfortable but move around more safely and at a certain speed.

I think you will do that if you get not only developments in local authorities in terms of light rapid transit, but you also get a better bus service, and you get better and more reliable service on the railways.

David Breakwell, South Why are trains and Buses not more integrated? In Norway and Italy you buy one ticket or pass for the buses and train

Doug Lockhart, Scotland Why is there so little evidence of a public transport initiative that delivers co-located train and bus stations? This would encourage (and simplify) travel on public transport. Are there no lessons to be learnt from foreign public-transport schemes, such as those that are in everyday use in The Netherlands?

Gwyneth Dunwoody The sad thing is that we were beginning to get that with some passenger authorities actually doing precisely that. Newcastle is a very clear example of how it can be integrated in a proper and sensible way. But once you've got privatisation you move totally away from that, because with not just privatisation of railway companies but of bus stations. Indeed some areas have been totally deprived of their bus stations.

So the initiative was there, so what we're trying to do is build that back. Already there's been a tremendous amount of work in relation to rural buses. In Cheshire, for example, we have some lovely spanking white rural buses. There is, I think, at long last an acknowledgement by the companies that they've got to have this connecting point. They've got to start planning together. Certainly the deputy prime minister has worked very hard on encouraging the companies to come back to this point.

Rob Leah, South East At the moment John Prescott appears to be suffering from a serious credibility gap, since we have heard a lot of targets and good intentions from him, but this never seems to be backed up with any extra resources from the treasury. The same can be said of Railtrack's network management statement: lots of nice ideas, with no overall coherence and no commitments to actually doing anything by a specified date.

Gwyneth Dunwoody Well you've got to realise that this deputy prime minister is pushing very hard for the strategic rail authority. It will, for the first time since privatisation, be an attempt to pull together the planning of all the companies to make them work together to begin to decide how you can monitor the rates of investment.

After all, the deputy prime minister has made it very clear that he expects the companies to come up with the commitments that they've already made. And once you actually get that working I think you'll see some very very radical changes in the industry.

John Band, South East Why can the government not devise a strategy for rail fares and road pricing which gradually transfers traffic from road to rail and funds the required investment?

Gwyneth Dunwoody This is the first time we've managed to get any treasury to agree that if you take the money from something like transport, you ought to be prepared to put it back into transport.

I believe, looking at the Norwegian example where they've actually done this, people are not going to be happy about road charging or congestion charging. Although they pay for it frequently when they go on their continental holidays, they will only accept it if they can see it going back into planning not only better cities but better facilities and above all better transport.

I think it's very sensible, once you raise the money off the people using the transport system, you show them that you're putting back and they'll respond.

Clifford Smith, East Given I have done what the government asked and left my car to commute by train, what has the government done to convince me that rail passengers are not just another "throw away" statistic and that you will spend money on introducing ATP to allow safe rail travel? If not, I as a 'Middle England' voter will not vote for Labour at the next election!

Robert Blatchford, South East All has now gone quiet following Paddington. What is really being done? Do you really care about safety, or is it not more important to see a profit turned? Why do you think people are ever going to be persuaded to leave their cars when you and people like you fail to take the action that is required to improve the basics of safety and security? We need action not words!

Gwyneth Dunwoody Absolutely! That is why the deputy prime minister not only asked that the ATP system should be speeded up, but he's actually done something which I think is very sensible. He said to them, "if there's a newer system look at it at the same time, see whether we can't get that in, and see whether it isn't actually better than the new system we're talking about".

He's really pushing very hard for this. If you take it in conjunction with the two other examinations, he's got not only someone who's uniquely qualified looking at the different safety systems very urgently, but he's also saying to the companies, come on I want to know the exact timetable for the implementation. He's really working very hard on this and I think the results will be very very clear to people very quickly.

He actually feels very strongly about this matter himself. When the franchises come up as they are now day by day, one of the first things which you'll find is that the companies will be asked "What is your safety record? What are you doing? What investment are you putting into safety as opposed to all the other things? And how soon are you going to do it?"

David Abbot, MidlandsDo you think it is good value for money to install a 1bn train protection system to save a small number of lives when there are still 3500 or more road deaths per year? Is it fair to respond simply by saying the UK has the second best road safety record in Europe when in absolute terms it is still scandalous?

Gwyneth Dunwoody What is happening is that you're putting one against the other as if they're mutually exclusive. The government are agreeing road safety targets, the numbers are dropping but it's still 3000 nearly 3500 deaths, which I think is intolerable. The government is looking at the whole question of legal rights in relation to corporate manslaughter which is tremendously important and I think will have an effect. They're also doing tremendous amounts to try and do something about accidents.

But the reality is that, for me, you can't say there are only a handful of people killed in train accidents and therefore it's going to be a tremendous cost to the companies. I think what you should say is if there is a train accident, it could result in many deaths, perhaps even hundreds of deaths. Now we're no where near that, and don't ever want to get near it and what we ought to do really is just accept that human beings are actually quite important and it's best to keep them in one bit.

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