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West Coast Main Line Railway:Investment

Volume 576: debated on Friday 25 October 1996

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2.57 p.m.

How much has been invested by the Department of Transport and other sources of investment in the West Coast Main Line since the beginning of 1993, and what estimates of future investment they have made.

My Lords, Railtrack is responsible for investment in the rail infrastructure. Railtrack has confirmed that investment in the West Coast Main Line for the financial year 1994-95 was £47.6 million. For the following year it was £50.9 million and for this year it will be £70.1 million. Railtrack is planning to spend a total of £1.35 billion over an eight to 10-year programme to renew the core infrastructure and is prepared to spend an additional £150 million on a passenger upgrade.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the detailed Answer that he gave and for the figures. He is talking about a 10-year programme. Passengers and freight on the West Coast Main Line are carried in much inferior conditions to those on the East Coast Main Line. Does he consider that 10 years is a long time to wait for the line to be upgraded and for people to get value for money as well as to refurbish the industrial North West?

My Lords, the refurbishment and investment programme is a very exciting programme indeed. The sum of £1.35 billion is a massive sum of money to spend on the railway infrastructure. I am pleased that the noble Lord recognises that and is pleased that the investment is being taken forward. It is a substantial programme and we believe that the timescale is appropriate.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, even though we appreciate the amount of capital that is being spent over those years, a lot of the track will not be serviceable unless something is done urgently? Every week those who travel along those lines find it more and more difficult. Trains are becoming more and more broken down and the timetable out of kilter.

My Lords, the figures that I mentioned are figures projected for the main programme. In addition, as I said, there have already been substantial sums spent. The noble Lord is concerned and rightly so about the immediacy of the problem; but, as I said, over £70 million is due to be invested this very year. This is a high priority for Railtrack. I believe that it has taken the problem extremely seriously and given major resources indeed to remedy it.

My Lords, will the line from Euston to Holyhead, which is a very important line, receive any part of the £1.3 billion?

My Lords, I would need to have the map in front of me to tell me which parts of the main line one would have to go on and what money would result from the programme I have talked about. I should be delighted to send the noble Lord a copy of that map and indeed the investment programmes for all the destinations on the way to Holyhead.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount for recognising that the line is on the map.

My Lords, can the Minister please be specific and tell us when the West Coast Main Line will be upgraded to Crewe and to Glasgow? Can he give us a date?

My Lords, I have already answered that point very fully. This is a massive investment programme. In order to upgrade the line there are clearly sections which will have priority. There is the track, the signalling and so forth. They all come together with the programme. I am sure the noble Lord will see the differences that these huge sums of money will produce in an improved service and quicker journey times.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have just travelled down on the line from Manchester and the train was 30 minutes late? That is not unusual. Indeed, it has been much later than that. Does this mean that I shall have to wait another eight years before the position improves?

My Lords, I travelled down on the line this morning and my train was early. One always tries to get factual experience before facing your Lordships with the details. It is important that trains run on time. The railway privatisation programme is achieving just that.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the economic prosperity of the North West to which he alluded earlier depends among other things on freight being able to get to and from it efficiently and inexpensively? Does he recognise that a large proportion of the freight coming into and leaving the United Kingdom now goes through the port of Felixstowe, particularly the container freight? Is he aware—I am sure he must be—that the links by rail between Felixstowe and the rest of Britain, including the North West, are so inadequate that it is only possible to get one freight train in either direction right through going west? Does he think there is any chance of persuading Railtrack to make the not very substantial but absolutely crucial investment needed to upgrade the link past Ipswich for freight trains, which would take a great number of large lorries off the A.14 on their way to the North West and indeed other parts of Britain?

My Lords, my noble friend strays some considerable distance from the detailed matter under consideration. Railtrack has given details of its substantial investment programme. It is not possible for everywhere to be a priority all at once. But it is the clear policy of this Government to put forward policies which attract more freight onto the railways. Railtrack's initiatives in terms of its investment programmes and indeed what the freight companies are doing will, we hope, do just that.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government are responsible for the highly damaging removal of through passenger services between London and Blackpool? Are the Government aware that Blackpool has more tourist visitors than any other holiday destination in Europe? The Government's policy has led to an undermining of the hard work of those who work in the tourist industry.

My Lords, I certainly do not accept that that is the result of government policy. As Members of the House who sit opposite will know and realise, the privatisation programme has been a considerable success. We are seeing massive levels of investment in the railway. We are seeing passenger franchisers who are keener than ever to attract people on to the railway and to operate more and new services in order to attract more people. That is the future for the railway. We believe that it has a good and bright future, with companies investing money and bringing in new management techniques to attract people to the railway.

My Lords, will the Minister answer the question? What is the position in relation to Blackpool?

My Lords, I do not know what more I can say about that. If the noble Lord wants to have a further discussion in order to know what services are operating to Blackpool, I am sure I can provide him with a timetable.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the line from Euston to Birmingham seems to be regarded as the poor relation of all the railway lines? Today I was more than three-quarters of an hour late. Indeed, if I add on the fact that a train was cancelled before that, I was an hour and a quarter late. There seems to be an appalling situation with regard to the passenger rolling stock. It is in a terrible state. The loos do not work. Very often there is not a smoking carriage and, as a smoker, I am interested in that. There are constant signal failures, Railtrack failures and heaven knows what on this line. Can he say what is being done to improve that part of the line, particularly as we were told 12 years ago that we would get InterCity 125s and they never materialised?

My Lords, I do not think we can take this too much further. We have been over this ground with regard to the new and exciting developments happening in the railway industry—new rolling stock being purchased and new investment and services being put on. All of that is very good news for the travelling public, especially, I would suggest, for the noble Countess.

My Lords, has the Minister had his attention drawn to a complaint that was made by some 25 freight operators, port operators and wagon manufacturers, accusing Railtrack of giving emphasis to passenger trains and little or nothing to freight traffic?

My Lords, will the Minister respond to the allegation? Does he accept it or does he not?

My Lords, that is a matter for Railtrack. The noble Lord informs me that a complaint has been made against Railtrack. I do not have the details. If the noble Lord would like to send me the paperwork, it will have been drawn to my attention.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he may not be aware of the problems of Blackpool because delegates to the Conservative Party Conference probably go by car rather than by rail? On another note, if this investment programme to upgrade the West Coast Main Line is going to be so beneficial and so successful, why has the rail regulator seen fit to suggest to franchise operators that they might operate tilting trains on the West Coast Main Line? Is he further aware that if tilting trains are used inter-city, all other rail users not using tilting trains—for example, the Eurostar running through the Channel Tunnel—will be consigned to run at slower speeds? Is the Minister happy with that situation?

My Lords, the simple fact is that noble Lords opposite cannot bear good news about the railway. We have seen it over and over again. This investment programme is simply enormous. The issue the noble Lord identifies—the possibility of tilting trains—has to be an exciting development. The option for that to occur is exciting. The noble Lord does not appear to want faster journey times; he does not appear to want more modern rolling stock; we on this side of the House do.