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West Coast Main Line

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what further progress has been made on the west coast main line reinvestment project; and if he will make a statement. [36466]

The west coast main line modernisation programme is moving firmly forward. Tenders for the development of a new signalling system for the line have just been received by Railtrack. Railtrack expects to let a contract for the main modernisation works next year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate him and his colleagues at the Department on the work that they are doing in that regard. It is important that the work goes ahead as soon as possible. This is an important route that serves many communities and is so important to the business sector the length and breadth of the country, from Scotland to south England. Will he take this opportunity of telling the House how successful he has been in obtaining European moneys to add to the private finance initiative, and give me an assurance that he and his colleagues will deal with the present Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in the same way that they dealt with the last lot?

On the latter point, we will do our best.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced during the monumental debate last Wednesday, the west coast main line upgrade project is one of the top priority projects in the trans-European network programme, being one of the Christopherson group, and we have secured a first-year allocation of £7 million from the TENs budget towards the—

Seven million pounds is not to be sneered at. If the hon. Gentleman considers the total amount of money to be allocated to all the projects across the Union, he will find that the allocation for the west cost main line, plus the allocation for the channel tunnel rail link, are a fair share of resources for this country, as compared with other member states.

Would the Minister like to tell us simply how much has been spent—wasted—on privatisation up to this point?

Does my hon. Friend agree that his announcement today about the signalling contracts and the full contract for the west coast main line upgrade will be welcome not only to my constituents but to constituents living up and down the route? Does he further agree that the successful completion of the project will once again demonstrate that the Government's policy of bringing in private sector finance to help upgrade the railways is vastly more successful than the policy that the Labour party would put in place, which would waste taxpayers' money?

My hon. Friend is right. The signalling competition is being developed under the private finance initiative. In addition, the modernisation programme will bring major improvements in safety and reliability, the right quality and the capacity for more trains. The new state-of-the-art signalling system will create potential for reductions in journey times and will, of course, provide automatic train protection.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that services on the west coast main line depend on the reliability of the rolling stock. Will he confirm that the turnover last year of the three rolling stock companies was £800 million, with a profit of £450 million? Will not those companies have a guaranteed income stream for the next eight years? In those circumstances, does he recognise that it would be a monstrous fraud on the taxpayer if the rolling stock companies were sold for £1.5 billion, which is about half their true value? Does he accept my assurance that, under Labour, the rolling stock companies will be brought under the control of the regulator to prevent them from holding the rest of the industry to ransom?

I am confident that once the line has been upgraded there will be both operators wishing to operate the services on the line and rolling stock providers prepared to provide the necessary rolling stock.