Skip to main content

Inter-city Express Programme

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2008

6. Whether the next generation of inter-city express rolling stock will be available for services on the midland main line from St. Pancras to Nottingham; and if she will make a statement. (180540)

Trains for the new inter-city express programme have been developed to be capable of operating on all of the UK’s main inter-city routes, including, potentially, the midland main line.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. There is concern in my constituency that the midland main line area was excluded in the tender for applications for the current tranche of inter-city rolling stock. While I appreciate the need to look for a sensible business case in every tender, it is important that we also have a fair and equitable distribution across the regions. In the same way as we find ourselves at the back of the queue for electrification, we are concerned that we will find ourselves at the back of the queue for rolling stock for the inter-city express programme.

The Department is leading the programme to specify and procure the next generation of inter-city trains, providing greater capacity, performance, flexibility, environmental credentials, passenger facilities and value for money. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Department has been working on a business case for the use of the new trains on the midland main line. That could not happen during their first phase of deployment owing to the infrastructure changes that would be necessary, and it would be subject to securing best value for the taxpayer. I can reassure him, however, that his case will be treated with absolute fairness.

Does the Minister accept that, given the rise in energy prices, it makes sense to consider ensuring that the midland main line, along with other lines, is electrified? The cost of the capital investment will be more than recouped by the savings in energy costs.

The prospect of further electrification has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. It is naive to assume that electrification of the whole network is a good thing, while not to electrify it is a bad thing. In our statement of July last year, we made it clear we had decided that our priority would be to increase capacity. In the next control period, between 2009 and 2014, £10 billion will be spent on increasing capacity. I understand and accept that there will occasionally be strong cases for the electrification of certain lines and of certain segments of lines. However, to claim that money should be diverted from the creation of capacity to electrification would be a mistake.

May I put the question slightly differently? My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of Network Rail’s view that £80 million needs to be spent on the midland main line to try to bring about some time savings in the future. In the longer term, Network Rail says that the only way to improve the service, because of the complications posed by the track, is to bring in the new generation of light-weight electrified trains. Obviously, that is a longer-term decision, but will my hon. Friend keep open the possibility that his officials will sit down with Network Rail and consider the potential for electrification to try to bring about the long-term significant improvements that the line needs?

My hon. Friend makes some valid points, but I remind him that the inter-city express programme will result in trains that are run by electric energy or by diesel. They will be flexible enough to run throughout the rail network, whether it is electrified or not. The use of the new IEP trains will not depend on whether a line has been electrified.

We have heard a little about green credentials this afternoon. Of course, we know that the Department for Transport’s main green initiative is recycling announcements.

When the Government announced the provision of 1,300 new carriages in July, most commentators assumed that they were part of the IEP. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister confirm whether they were delivered? When and where will we see the IEP finally introduced?

I know that the announcement about those 1,300 carriages led to quite a lot of confusion on the Conservative Front Bench, but there is no confusion on this side of the House that those 1,300 carriages represented a commitment and that they will be delivered to the rail network during the next control period. As for the allocation of the IEP, those trains will be employed, as a priority, on the great western and the east coast main lines.

The allocation of rolling stock is very important. The expansion and the move forward into a new era is to be welcomed, but the distribution of carriages in some parts of the rail system needs to be looked at. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that the congested areas in the south are not the only ones that need more carriages.

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. It is for the industry, and not the Department, to identify the areas where the new carriages will be best used. I know she accepts that 70 per cent. of all train journeys begin and end in London and the south-east, but she is right to say that a significant number of the carriages will go to routes and companies operating outside the capital.