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Rail Services

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

10. What funds the Department has made available for extending the rail network over the next three years. (76583)

The then Secretary of State’s statement to the House on 10 February 2005 set out the Government’s spending plans for rail for 2004-05 to 2008-09. In that period, the Government are to spend more than £23 billion on Britain’s railways, to make up for years of underinvestment. That is an average of around £88 million a week.

The Under-Secretary will acknowledge that there are many excellent schemes that can increase rail capacity at limited cost, such as Burscough curves near my constituency and the Halton curve near his. However, he will also acknowledge that there is no formal mechanism for opening lines, although there is a clear formal mechanism for closing them. What can we do about that?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited Burscough a few months ago to open the new station there. I looked at the area and I appreciate that he has been promoting it, as has the local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). As he points out, there is a procedure, which involves going though a sponsoring body such as a local authority and a rail operator. Merseyrail has examined the matter. Lancashire county council previously considered it but decided that the business case did not stack up. It had aspirations for the Blackburn-Preston-Bolton-Manchester corridor. Merseyrail has been working on the issue, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has been liaising with it. It is a matter for Merseyrail to take forward with the relevant local authorities.