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Rural Railways

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 24 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy on rural railways.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy on rural railways.

The policy on rural railways remains as stated in the transport policy White Paper.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that discussions between the National Bus Company and the British Railways Board about the replacement of rural rail lines by buses—lines that could include the central Wales line, the Cardiff-Crewe line and many other commuter services into Cardiff and Edinburgh—have broken down? Will the Government confirm that that policy option is now dead?

I cannot confirm that the discussions have broken down. I have no information on that. I know that British Rail management has been discussing with the NBC some of the practical problems of closing lines and putting on buses as a substitute. There is no list of lines. That was a mistaken impression given in some of the press reports. If British Rail wished to go ahead on that basis, it would require legislation, and if British Rail wished to close the railway lines, it would require the consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the policy of replacing trains by buses in rural areas is unacceptable to the vast number of people living in those areas? Does he agree also that the Beeching cuts under a Conservative Government some time ago led to a savage reduction in the number of lines operating in this country, with no apparent financial benefit to British Rail? Does he further agree that the closing of such lines has an indirect effect on the financing of the main tines?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. He knows our position. While the Secretary of State and I are in charge of railway policy there will be no major programme of cuts.

May we take it that the mind is not closed to reopening some lines, and in any consideration of reopening will the Minister call the attention of British Rail to the Blackburn-Clitheroe line, which is much missed?

Certainly, and I imagine that there will be a few other candidates up and down the country.

Is the Minister aware—and I am sure he will agree—that too many railway lines were closed in Wales 10 or 20 years ago? Have the Government any plans to reopen some of those lines that should never have been closed?

Has my hon. Friend, in regard to rural railways, any plans to provide further investment to utilise the lines that are in use and providing a valuable service so that we may make greater use of existing, fairly expensive fixed equipment? The provision of park-and-ride stations, for instance, would be a valuable addition for many commuters, particularly on a line such as that which runs from Keighley to Skipton. Obviously, there may be other similar examples throughout the country.

I am not sure whether that is a service in which my hon. Friend has a shareholding.

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. He will be aware that there have been various moves to increase the use of particular lines. In some cases they have been Inter-City lines. One example is the opening of the Parkway station on the line between Bristol and London, though I imagine that my hon. Friend has more remote lines in mind.

What is the Minister's policy about replacing the ancient, dusty and patched passenger carriages on rural services, such as that between Carlisle and Stranraer?

That is a small consequence of the large issues that we have been discusing during this Question Time. The overall level of investment will depend on what the Government can make available and what the business can make available from its profits. There is no guarantee, in present circumstances, that we can improve the conditions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.