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Passenger Railway Network

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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17.

asked the Minister of Transport if it is his intention to maintain all the existing railway lines and services in Scotland.

I have already made clear in a letter to the chairman of the British Railways Board that it is my firm policy that there should be no substantial cuts in the passenger railway network. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library of the House of Commons.

I am sure that the people of Scotland will be interested in the characteristically evasive answer of the Minister in using the term "substantial". Will he take this opportunity to give a clear assurance to the people of East Lothian that the North Berwick branch line will not be closed while he is Minister?

Certainly. There is no proposal on that line before me at the moment. I can only repeat what I have repeated at Transport Question Time over the past few weeks, which is that I am totally opposed to any substantial cuts in the network. That is the same policy as was pursued by the previous Government.

Instead of repeating that old litany, will the right hon. Gentleman look seriously at not just passenger routes but also freight routes, especially in the North of Scotland. The roads there are particularly bad and are heavily congested with oil traffic. Will he remind me of the current position on the Buchan freight line?

I shall examine the issue of freight services. I remind the House that, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, the list of lines that were to be closed, as alleged in The Guardian of 7 November, has been revealed to be a list estimated by the Ramblers Association and not by the Government. I do not believe that even the hon. Gentleman would reckon that the Government are committed by the Ramblers Association to a course of action.

19.

asked the Minister of Transport if his policy of greater investment in the rail system includes the reopening of stations and routes previously closed, and a guarantee of no closure of existing lines.

It is for the British Railways Board and local authorities to consider whether particular services or stations should be reopened. I pay tribute to the efforts of voluntary preservation societies in this regard.

Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that he will not approve any proposal to close the Ayr to Stranraer line? Will he also comment on British Rail's proposals to reduce the frequency of services on that line from January? We suspect that British Rail can close a line by reducing services as effectively as by doing it at a stroke.

I shall look into that individual line. As I have said, apart from two proposals about which I gave an answer on 7 November, there are no proposals before me concerning the closing of lines. In the event of an objection, my permission is needed to close a line and I have made my general policy clear on the matter.

Will the Minister confirm that if British Rail approaches him about greater investment in existing routes and the reopening of stations to improve those routes—for example, the routes radiating from Leeds and along the Aire valley through Keighley, where a number of small stations could usefully be reopened—he will consider that approach? Does he accept that in an international fuel crisis we should make the maximum possible use of our railways and improve their usage?

Here again, I shall examine any proposals that British Rail puts forward. However, at the moment, no proposals of that kind have been put to me.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his opening comments will be welcome indeed to the railway preservation movement in general? Will he agree to meet representatives of the Association of Railway Preservation Societies so that they may have a chance to put to him some of the difficulties that they still encounter from British Rail and his Department with regard to some of the schemes that could be extended were it not for some of those difficulties?

I have already paid a visit to one of those societies—the Severn Valley Line—and I shall be delighted to meet any other group that my hon. Friend would like to bring to me.

Is the right hon. Gentleman informing the House that he believes, as he said in answer to the previous question, that the proposal for the closure of 40 lines was provided by the Ramblers Association? I have in my hand a copy of the report prepared by British Rail, which clearly states what the 40 lines are.

Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. I challenge him to find the list of services referred to in The Guardian in the report that he is holding. As he will know if he reads that report, there is no such list of services, and I stand by what I have said.