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Channel Tunnel

Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss improving the rail links between the channel tunnel and north-west England.

British Rail plans to run channel tunnel freight services from terminals at Trafford Park, Manchester and Seaforth, Merseyside. British Rail has ordered channel tunnel day-and-night trains which will run on the west coast main line.

Is the Minsiter aware that most people in north-west England, including the Railway Industry Association, believe that it is economic madness to open the channel tunnel without first providing a proper linkage between the north-west and the channel tunnel? What response does the Minister have to the association's recent criticism that neither the Government nor British Rail has a strategy against which manufacturing industry can plan its future?

As regards long-term plans by British Rail for expanding services and re-equipping certain lines, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir Bob Reid, the chairman, published a document in the middle of last year which looked forward 10 years to railway investment. That level of investment, currently running at £1 billion a year, will be sustained by the Government over the public expenditure planning period which runs for the next three years and, I am quite confident, will run over the next 10 years.

Is my hon. Friend aware that people up in the north-west welcome the prospect of the channel tunnel being opened? Will he ensure that sufficient facilities are made available north of Manchester and Liverpool to allow people and freight to be carried on the trains? Does he agree that it ill behoves the Labour party to comment on that because Labour was against the channel tunnel at its inception?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Freight services will run through the channel tunnel from its opening. The locomotives and wagons are ordered. As for passenger services, the new Waterloo terminal is substantially complete. It will be open by summer next year. Passengers on trains running from the north-west into Euston will be able to cross London and catch a train at Waterloo and, in addition, some of the trains will run directly to Waterloo.

Does the Minister support British Rail's policy of siting freight depots only where it can find developers to put money into facilities around the depot? Does he think that that is the way that one should plan the freight movement from the north-west through the channel tunnel?

The hon. Lady is misinformed. Of the nine terminals that will be opened by the summer of next year, the majority are already owned by British Rail and will be developed for channel tunnel freight services. Some of them will be developed further with the use of private sector capital—particularly Port Wakefield if, as a result of the public inquiry to be held this month, a decision to go ahead is given. The majority of the terminals are British Rail terminals.

Given that 46 per cent. of British Rail's freight business originates in the north-west, is not it strange that British Rail has not talked to the majority of its users already about times and tariffs for the channel tunnel?

I am certain that British Rail will shortly publish its scheduled freight services from the nine terminals. It has already published a preliminary timetable and, as I understand it, preliminary tariffs. My hon. Friend will know that the Government have proposed a major new initiative in rail freight by encouraging the private sector to run additional services on British Rail track.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government were heavily involved in negotiations with British Rail to produce the passengers charter, which was condemned universally last week? During the negotiations, was the Minister a party to setting the target of acceptability for the west coast main line at 90 per cent? He will know that only 85 per cent. has been achieved and that the 15 per cent. shortfall is due to track failure and old rolling stock. Would it be better to confirm the order for the west coast main line instead of negotiating a bonus for the chairman that is worth £53,000?

I would advise the hon. Gentleman not to believe what he reads in the newspapers about the bonus for British Rail's chairman. There is no truth in those articles.

British Rail has not yet put an investment proposition to the Department for the west coast main line. It will be for expenditure in the mid-1990s. It is an extremely important investment project.

The passengers charter has been warmly welcomed by many of my Back-Bench colleagues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—many of whom are sitting behind me. The Government had the initiative to work with British Rail to introduce it. The hon. Gentleman has no proposals whatsoever.

During the discussions that will range from the channel tunnel to the north-west of England, will my hon. Friend remember that he will have to cross north-west Kent? Will he take note of the campaign to sink the link, as the channel tunnel rail link passes Gravesend and Northfleet? We do not see why we should pay the environmental price for manifest improvements for the people of north-west England.

My hon. Friend refers to the proposals for a new high-speed rail link from Folkestone to King's Cross. I can give him the assurance that both he and the local authority in his constituency will have ample opportunity to express their views on how best to design the line to reduce the environmental impact.