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Diesel Multiple Unit Fleet

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what investment approval he has given for the replacement of the diesel multiple unit fleet of British Rail.

My right hon. Friend has approved the construction of 40 light-weight vehicles as the first stage in a major construction programme. We look forward to receiving the Railways Board's proposals for medium-weight vehicles in due course.

Is the Minister aware that, because of the Government's continued delays and refusals to pump cash into British Rail to replace the ageing diesel multiple units, staff and passengers on lines such as the north-east Lancashire and many others must endure discomfort, or even worse? When does the Minister expect the fleets to be replaced not only by the light-weight but by medium-weight units? What funds will the Government allocate to the project?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his allegations about Government contributions. British Rail's investment ceiling has been maintained in real terms, and public support is at a record level. The hon. Gentleman should understand that everyone wishes the ageing fleet of diesel multiple units to be replaced. British Rail has brought forward plans for light-weight vehicles, and will produce plans for medium-weight vehicles. Decisions on placing further orders will rest with the Railways Board, subject to any investment approval that it may need from my right hon. Friend.

Why has the new investment on the St. Pancras-Bedford line not yet been utilised, even though £150 million of taxpayers' money was spent on the project a long time ago?

I very much regret that ASLEF is stopping that important investment being brought into proper use. My hon. Friend's question emphasises the tremendous importance of improved productivity to the future of the railways system.

Does the Minister agree that the investment ceiling to which he referred has become absolutely irrelevant for British Rail, and that the combined effect of the external financing limit and lack of Government investment approvals has been to reduce the real investment expenditure in every year since the Government took office?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a great deal of resources, which would have been available for investment in British Rail, have been lost because of the enormous cost of strikes—no less than £240 million last year.