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Railways (Electrification)

Volume 959: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy on railway electrification.

As my right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on 24th May, we are conducting a joint study, with the British Railways Board, of the case for a programme of main line electrification. In the meantime, we are ready to consider any specific British Rail schemes put to us in the normal way.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a splendid electrified line between Sheffield and Manchester which goes under the Pennines and through a great civil engineering project, the Wood-head tunnel, and that the only prospect for this in the eyes of British Rail is to scrap it? Will he impress upon the chairman of British Rail that this is an extremely shortsighted policy, especially since everywhere else in the country electrification is proceeding?

My hon. Friend has made a fair comment about the Woodhead tunnel and the electrified line which runs through it. The future of the line is being discussed by the Board and by the unions, and I am informed that no decisions have been taken yet.

Does the Minister recall that the Leitch committee asked for a uniformed method of appraisal of major transport projects? In those circumstances, is there not a clear need for all British Rail electrification proposals to be measured against proposals for new road building so that they can be compared on a more equitable basis?

The hon. Gentleman has slightly misquoted the report of the Leitch committee. It said that where it was practicable there should be relevant comparisons with a railway alternative. We intend to do that.

Will my hon. Friend accept that there is strong feeling in Sheffield and, we have reason to believe, in Manchester about the possible scrapping of the Woodhead line? Does he know, for instance, that the line runs through the great Woodhead tunnel, which was probably the first great railway tunnel in the world, and that we want to know whether he will consult both Sheffield and Manchester before any major decision is taken about that line?

In the first instance, as I have said, this is a matter for the study at present being undertaken by the British Railways Board and in its talks with the unions. It is right that the Board should make its initial views known before we go any further.