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Railways: Crossrail

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2010


Asked By

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as a member of the First Great Western advisory board.

My Lords, as we made clear in the coalition agreement, the Government support Crossrail. The project will support and enable growth, now and in the future, in London and across the UK as a whole. However, we need to ensure that every pound invested in the project is well spent and that the project remains affordable. That is why Crossrail Ltd is focused on optimising value for money through effective management of risk and best-value engineering solutions.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that Answer. I was about to congratulate him unequivocally on its content until the section that began with “but”. Can he give an assurance that, in any review of Crossrail, there will be no question either of shortening the length of trains, which would lead to overcrowding almost from the day it opens, or cutting back the route from either Abbey Wood or Maidenhead?

My Lords, no decision has been made to reduce the scope of Crossrail. A key point of the Crossrail project is the length of the trains and of the platforms. To alter that would impact on the funding stream for the project.

I wonder whether the Minister will reflect a little more on the scope for reducing costs. We very much support the central area of Crossrail—and of Thameslink, which I used to call Thameslink 2000 and which the party opposite did very little to advance when they were in government. Will the Minister look very closely at the western extension to Crossrail? It does not provide an express service from Heathrow to the City, it does not do anything to ease overcrowding at Euston and it does not provide a satisfactory service to places such as Maidenhead, Reading and Oxford.

My Lords, the noble Lord has great experience in these matters and I will draw his comments to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me if I look upon the word “scope” as a somewhat weasel word in this context? If he is interpreting the position as one in which the length of trains and the length of stations are not to be changed, and the range of Crossrail—the areas which it will serve—is not to be changed, where on earth are the economies to come from?

My Lords, the economies will come from best-value engineering solutions. For instance, the noble Lord will be aware that innovative engineering solutions were used for the station box at Canary Wharf station. That is a good example of where economies can be made. In 1997, Crossrail was but a faint blip on my radar. I pay tribute to noble Lords opposite for their work on Crossrail, particularly brokering the funding package and obtaining parliamentary approval for the Crossrail Act 2008. We support the project and will run with it.

Does the Minister therefore accept that all parties have done a very good job in supporting Crossrail thus far?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. I thought that she would come in with a slightly different question which I would latch on to, but her support is much appreciated.

Can the Minister predict whether British engineering companies will be building much of Crossrail?

My Lords, the answer is here somewhere in my brief. I assure the noble Lord that British industry is heavily involved in the Crossrail project. Some firms are based outside the UK but the roles are based inside the UK.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that long-distance train services from south Wales and the south-west of England will not be disrupted during the construction of the Crossrail project?

My Lords, it will be clear that there must be some impact—I cannot say that there will be none—but the work will be carefully managed to minimise the impact on the travelling public.

The Minister spoke about cutting costs. How will he ensure that it is not a matter of cutting corners?

My Lords, it is clear that we will not cut corners. It is about finding good solutions to deliver the project to time.