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Railways: North-west

Volume 721: debated on Monday 18 October 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to invest in rail services in the north-west.

My Lords, the Government’s priority is deficit reduction. However, current proposals include route electrification between Blackpool North, Manchester, Liverpool and Wigan. We also plan to lengthen trains and platforms where necessary to accommodate patronage growth. North-west stations have been highlighted for improvement through the National Stations Improvement and Access for All programmes. In Manchester, the priority is to extend Metrolink. In addition to work under way, a further £170 million extension plan was announced in July.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. At present, the best rail service between London and Manchester is two hours and seven minutes. By 2014, the journey from London to Paris will be under two hours. It is a longer journey, but it will be very much faster than the service to Manchester. There is a big chain between these two. Although there will eventually be a faster journey between London and Manchester, when will that be? How long do we have to wait for that?

My Lords, the coalition Government are committed to high-speed rail. We hope to have parliamentary approval for the hybrid Bill in 2015 and work will start shortly thereafter.

I am sure the Minister will be aware that Network Rail published its northern route utilisation strategy on 8 October, which contains some very encouraging figures for passenger growth in the north of England. For example, as regards Liverpool and Manchester, it estimates that by 2019 growth will exceed 30 per cent and may rise as high as 45 per cent. Will he give an absolute assurance that the Government will honour the comment that he made about electrification despite the horrors that may be in the Chancellor’s statement this week?

My Lords, we welcome the work carried out by Network Rail in compiling its route utilisation strategy. It provides a valuable input into the work to be undertaken by the Department for Transport to determine the outputs the railway needs to deliver during 2014-19 and beyond. My comments about electrification remain.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is disgraceful that, after 13 years of Labour rule, 10 transferred coaches have been sent to the northern franchise, 182 were promised in the rolling stock plan and, that under a Labour Government, an order for 200 multiple unit trains was cancelled? Can he please press on his right honourable friend the Secretary of State the need to pay attention to the great northern cities of this country and actually do something for them?

The noble Lord makes important points. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, talked about increased passenger demand in the north-west, and Manchester in particular has some serious problems. However, capacity is constrained by the infrastructure—we need to do something about the northern hub—as well as by the rolling stock.

My Lords, given the areas of multiple deprivation in east Lancashire and the current emphasis on localism, will the Minister consider giving his strong support for plans to re-establish the link between Colne in east Lancashire and Skipton? Will he also consider opening the Todmorden curve to passenger traffic, thus making it possible to improve the links between Burnley and Manchester?

My Lords, the Government support proposals for the Todmorden curve and are providing help and advice to local authorities working with Network Rail and the train operator to develop a proposal that has a business case and can be funded through local and regional sources. On the general point about reopening lines, we would be happy to work with a local authority promoter which sought to establish whether reopening a line was the best way to meet local transport needs. However, I emphasise the need for a good business case.

My Lords, did the Minister notice that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, as a loyal supporter of the coalition, failed to mention the very great investment indeed made by the last Labour Government in the west coast main line, which has raised the performance of the train service to the level it has reached today? Does he also accept that while we welcome his statement today about electrification in the north-west, he knows that the shortage of rolling stock is an acute issue, and that this relates to investment decisions on Thameslink in southern England? The two are related because of surplus rail stock that is destined to go to the north-west. Will he confirm that he will take that on board, because there is not much point in producing an infrastructure if you do not have the rolling stock to roll on it?

The noble Lord made several points, many of which were correct. I want to make it quite clear where we are on electrification. In 2009, it was announced that the following lines in the north-west would be electrified: Manchester to Liverpool via Chat Moss, which we plan to complete by 2013; Liverpool to Wigan North Western by 2014; Manchester to Bolton and Preston by 2016; and Preston to Blackpool North by 2015. That is what we are planning to do.

Apart from the rise in the use of trains, which is welcome, is it at all possible that we might actually have some trains running at the weekend? Most people visiting this country are under the impression that we have become a totally third-world nation at the weekend. By the time we get to the Olympics, I think that people would like some trains in order to get to the stadiums.

My Lords, one of the issues that many of us who are interested in rail transport are particularly concerned about is the business of possessions for weekend engineering works and their overrunning. We pay a lot of attention to this and we look forward to Sir Roy McNulty’s report on value for money and efficiencies in the rail industry, which the Secretary of State is due to receive early next year.