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British Rail Investment

Volume 475: debated on Monday 2 June 1986

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what have been the quantifiable results of investment in British Rail, with particular regard to the opening of new railway stations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, much of British Rail's investment is for the renewal of facilities, but improvements are included wherever there is a sound case for them. Recent improvements include the opening of a total of nine new railway stations since the beginning of the year.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has the Minister information as to the possibility of developments in the North-East of England and the likelihood of electric trains taking over from out-of-date diesels?

My Lords, the biggest example of investment in the North-East is the electrification of the east coast, London to Edinburgh main line at a total cost of about £306 million. It is the biggest single investment of British Rail for 25 years.

My Lords, with regard to the statement about the opening of nine new railway stations, may I ask the Minister how many of these have been paid for by British money and how many by European money?

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the figures available to answer the noble Lord at this stage.

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister agree that more important than new stations is the point that trains should run between certain existing stations—for instance, between Brighton and Oxford—as they used to run?

My Lords, I agree that it would be helpful to have trains running between certain existing stations as well as new stations, and this is exactly the policy that British Rail are pursuing.

My Lord, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that three stations have been opened on the Western Region, and that they are very much appreciated, with plenty of passengers taking trains rather than going by car?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. I am aware of the significant improvements; they underline that this Government have approved 98 per cent. by value of investments submitted by British Rail since taking office in 1979.

My Lords, we are all very pleased to see new stations opened—and many have been opened with the co-operation and finance of local authorities. However, is the Minister aware that if the service is unreliable (and we are finding that even with Inter-City lack of punctuality as well as breakdowns are becoming more and more frequent) the stations will hardly be able to cope and people will not use them?

On the question of investment, will the Minister not agree that while it is true that a high proportion of what was asked for by the Railways Board has been provided, first, it is all borrowed money—it is merely power to borrow money—but, more importantly, it is about a third of what the previous chairman said was necessary for the railways? The present chairman decided to ask for what he thought he could get rather than what the railways need.

My Lords, if the present chairman has put in figures for what he thought he could get, he has been satisfied.

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Government have frequently acknowledged the desirability of getting more traffic off the roads, can the noble Earl say whether they are considering the reopening of some of those branch lines which have been closed?

My Lords, that is a decision for British Rail themselves rather than the Government. However, if British Rail come to the Government and justify it on economic grounds, I am sure that they will be given a receptive reply.