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Barking/Gospel Oak Line (Electrification)

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

We are committed to further electrification of the railways. However, electrifying Gospel Oak to Barking is not currently a strategic priority as a number of other schemes have stronger and more developed business cases.

May I persuade the Minister that it is a priority and that the matter is of national as well as London importance? The Barking to Gospel Oak line is the only part of the London overground network that is not electrified, therefore running trains on it with diesel power is more expensive. Secondly, because the line is on a major freight route from the east coast, there has to be a change from electrified haulage to locomotive trains on that section. It would be of great benefit, both nationally and in London, if the line were electrified. Will the Minister look at it again and will she meet the secret group of Barking to Gospel Oak line MPs who would, I am sure, support the points I am making?

I am happy to meet the group, as the hon. Gentleman asks. The problem is that electrification would be expensive, because tunnels, bridges and viaducts are close to habitation, and the passenger benefits would be quite limited because the route is already running brand-new diesel trains. The performance benefits—journey-time improvements—delivered by electrification would be limited. The combination of high cost and limited passenger benefits means that the scheme is well behind others, such as the midland main line, the Great Western line and the Wales valley lines in terms of best value for taxpayers’ money.

May I unveil myself as a member of the secret group of North London line supporters? I look forward to the Minister meeting us. I hope she will meet us on the line itself, so that she can experience some of the problems that my constituents face—we promise not to make her wear an invisibility cloak—and so that she can understand some of the challenges we face in London because the line is not electrified. Problems with the freight line affect homes in Waltham Forest and other parts of north-east London, so I hope she will accept our invitation. We look forward to showing her our patch of north-east London.

Meeting on the line itself might be a little difficult.

On the freight points, the problem is that freight trains use many parts of the network that are not electrified, which is why the majority of freight trains are diesel. There is a real possibility that even if the line were electrified, the freight trains running over it would still mainly be diesel. I am afraid that the freight issues do not address the business case problems. We have limited funds; unfortunately, we have to make difficult decisions on priorities and although I am happy to listen to representations from the group, for the moment I continue to believe that other schemes have priority because they have a better business case.