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Swindon to Kemble Railway Line

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

1. What recent assessment he has made of progress on his Department’s feasibility study into the doubling of the Swindon to Kemble railway line; and if he will make a statement. (313710)

Officials at the Department for Transport are currently in detailed discussions with Network Rail to determine an acceptable price for this work along with time scales for construction. We hope to be in a position to give further information on the matter in the near future.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Do I take it that there will be a decision to go ahead with the redoubling of the line, which is important to people who live in Cheltenham and Gloucester—a major town and an historic major city? The rail link between those places and London is unacceptably slow, unreliable and expensive, and people in the area, including many of my constituents, need to see an improvement. Will the Minister give us an assurance that we will move in the right direction on this one?

The Secretary of State and the Minister for the South West strongly support the scheme, which opens up the possibility for increases in service frequency to Gloucester and beyond, as well as providing an improved diversionary route to and from south Wales. Departmental officials, as I have said, are working closely with Network Rail to ensure that it can introduce a scheme that is affordable within the resources available to the region.

I hear what my hon. Friend has said, but if Network Rail has come up with a figure of £65 million, rather than £45 million, which is what we thought that it would be, can we have an urgent meeting with him and Network Rail to look at how we can make the scheme affordable, because as my neighbour, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), has said, it is vital that that programmed work is undertaken?

I am always happy to discuss with local Members progress on schemes in their areas. If Network Rail comes up with one figure or another, we will continue to discuss it.

I, too, broadly welcome the redoubling of the line, largely through my constituency, on behalf of my constituents who commute from Kemble. None the less, in proposing these plans, will the Minister bear in mind the interests of the people who live alongside the line, particularly in the village of Minety, who are concerned that there will be too much extra traffic on the line, and who seek local improvements if the redoubling goes ahead?

We always expect the concerns of local constituents to be taken into account, but the objective of the improvements is to enable additional trains to run and to provide the option of a diversionary route for south Wales.

The Swindon to Kemble stretch of line is of major strategic significance, and it is a public policy failure that we have not been able to redouble it so far. Given the expected increase in passenger traffic over the next 10 or 20 years, will we have a policy of reopening lines and stations that should not have been closed in the first place, and of redoubling lines that should not have been singled? If the Scots and the Welsh can successfully reopen railway lines, why can we not do so in England?

Of course, we can and do, but it is a question of the affordability of any scheme that is introduced at any particular time. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that his party would make additional resources available for capital investment in the railways, it is something to which we would be sympathetic.