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Midland Main Line

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 19 April 2012

6. What progress she has made on the electrification of the midland main line; and if she will make a statement. (103769)

The Government are reviewing the business case for electrification of the midland main line, and we will consider this very carefully when we make our decisions in the summer on rail investments in the next rail control period from 2014 to 2019.

I thank the Minister for her answer and for her response to Monday’s Adjournment debate, which again showed the wide support among hon. Members on both sides of the House for improvements to the midland main line. She knows that electrification alone will not deliver the improved journey times, and that the £150 million needed for the further track improvements, particularly at Market Harborough, Leicester and Derby, will make the difference, for a relatively modest investment. Does she therefore agree that we need to cut corners on the track and to do so on the budget would be a false economy?

I very much agree that Monday’s debate was excellent. Although the hour was late, the attendance was strong, with a huge number of hon. Members demonstrating their support for a project that does have a good business case; electrification will be expected to pay for itself over the appraisal period. We will consider the other upgrades that the hon. Gentleman would like to happen. We do not think that their business case is likely to be as strong, but those projects will be examined carefully, too, alongside all the other competing priorities, including projects such as the northern hub.

16. I thank the Minister for her constructive comments and response to the Adjournment debate that I led on Monday evening. Given the remarks she made just now, she is obviously aware of the cross-party support in the House for the upgrade and electrification works. I hope that she is also aware of the support outside, including from all the local enterprise partnerships and councils affected. Is there any further information that any of us campaigning for the electrification and upgrade of the midland main line could provide to her or her office before her decision is made? (103779)

My hon. Friend has been running a great campaign on this issue, alongside many other honourable colleagues. As she says, support has been demonstrated by a lot of the other stakeholders and, of course, by the Derby Telegraph, fine institution that it is. We are confident that we have the information we need, working with Network Rail, and we will be looking further at that in the run-up to these decisions. Of course we take this issue very seriously, because we are committed to electrification of the rail network; we are committed to about 800 miles of it, with about 130 miles of it on stream with TransPennine electrification, whereas the Labour Government only managed less than 10 miles of it.

May I tell the Minister that this project also has huge support from the fine institution that is the Leicester Mercury? She has referred to the strength of feeling expressed in Monday evening’s debate. This project has huge cross-party support and support in the business community, although there is concern in some quarters that, because of HS2, we will not get the money for it. Given that the population and the conurbations that this line serves are likely to expand greatly over the next few years, the sooner she can give us a firm commitment on this, the better.

I am delighted that the Leicester Mercury is also on side, too. As the Secretary of State has made clear, we believe that it is important to invest in and upgrade our current rail network, as well as prepare for the challenges of the future with HS2. But it is only because this Government have made a decision to prioritise investment in transport, despite the deficit that we inherited from our predecessors, that we are having this conversation at all and it is the only reason that electrification of the midland main line is a real possibility.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the project is tremendous value for money, because it will take pressure off the east and west coast main lines? With the prospect of a 60-minute journey from Leicester to London, there will be more demand on the line, so the cross-party support is genuine.

I agree that electrification has general benefits, many of which would materialise if electrification on the midland main line were to go ahead. It will depend on whether it is affordable and on the assessment of competing priorities, which are also supported by communities in other parts of the country. We will take all economic issues and environmental benefits into account.