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Railway Safety

Volume 468: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2007

6. What assessment her Department has made of the impact on railway safety of deforestation on chalk railway cuttings. (170389)

As my hon. Friend knows, this is a matter for Network Rail, which tells me that the company’s practice is to clear trees where they might endanger or delay trains.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the work of Professor Rory Mortimore of the university of Brighton, an international expert on geotechnical matters? In his report relating to my constituency he claims, with a lot of evidence, that because of the limestone structure of the cuttings, this could lead to dangerous slippages. Is the safety of passengers not a matter for my hon. Friend’s concern?

I am aware of the professor’s report; my hon. Friend supplied a copy of it to me during a meeting with her and her constituents, who have expressed concern about this issue. She should be aware—Network Rail has informed me about this—that the part of the cutting in question has been without vegetation for long periods in the past without the consequent slippages that she fears. However, although it is ultimately up to Network Rail, as a private company, to decide how to deal with this matter, I understand that it will have a meeting with her and her constituents later today to try to come to agreement on a way forward. It is incumbent on Network Rail to consult local residents where there is concern about such procedures. However, it is also incumbent on Network Rail to make sure that the railway is safeguarded and is free from the risk of such slippages. I would trust Network Rail to use its own scientific advice to come to the appropriate conclusions.