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Railways: Electrification

Volume 739: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what will be the economic and environmental benefits of the electrification of English and Welsh railways.

My Lords, electrification is expected to lead to a number of benefits, including higher acceleration and higher top speeds than diesel stock, greater capacity, and lower costs of leasing, maintenance and operation. These savings can lead to reductions in the long-term cost of the rail industry. Electric trains are more environmentally friendly than diesel trains and electrification should make rail freight more competitive with road, reducing environmental damage and congestion.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I welcome the Statement on the electrification of the east Midlands and other lines most enthusiastically along with the upgrades to mainline stations and extensions to platforms. As the Prime Minister said,

“this investment will mean faster journeys, more seats … greater … links and a truly world class rail network”.

Does my noble friend agree with me that the specification for any future project should ensure that it is for the benefit of the many and not the few?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite ingenious. I have a feeling that she really wants to talk about HS2. I absolutely agree with her that future projects should be for the benefit of the many and not the few. However, HS2 is not predicated on a very high-cost service for senior businessmen paid for by everyone—a sort of Concorde on tracks. HS2 passenger demand forecasting is based on the current fare structure. It is also essential to understand that the west coast main line will run out of capacity if we do nothing. It is only a matter of time.

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept my very great appreciation of the electrification of the line through to Swansea and the south Wales valley lines? However, will he accept, in the context of the reply that he has just given, that the line from Crewe to Chester and Holyhead also has very heavy needs, particularly the need to offload freight going through to Ireland? Can he give an assurance that the recent announcement does not preclude progress on that line also?

My Lords, the CP5 is not the end of the electrification process. We have announced what we will do in terms of electrification for CP5, but the process will go on.

The announcement this week means that more than 800 miles of electrification are now likely. That is good news for consultants, good news for planners and good news for those seeking apprenticeships. Would the Minister care to speculate on what would have been done by the party opposite?

My Lords, I would hope that the party opposite, if in power, would have carried on with the process of giving us a railway system that is fit for the people of the United Kingdom

My Lords, the “party opposite”, of course, produced the plans and had commitments for half the money which is to be expended on these proposals by this Government, expenditure which did not take place immediately after the election because the Government themselves induced the delay. Of course, we welcome the Government’s intention to make progress on electrification. Although the noble Earl referred in glowing terms to the HS2 project, we also note that there is no commitment in these proposals to the expenditure for HS2 and we wonder whether in fact the Government are running a little scared of their Back-Benchers, as they have been recently in the other House.

My Lords, I can assure noble Lords that the Government are not running scared of their Back-Benchers in respect of HS2. I would also remind the noble Lord that we are currently in CP4, which was devised by the previous Administration. The announcement is for CP5.

My Lords, in the spirit of good will just before the Recess, may I say that the Government deserve full-hearted congratulations on the decision to extend electrification to Swansea and to the valleys? Does the Minister recognise that one of the major problems in Wales is the widening gap between the relative prosperity of south-east Wales and that of west Wales and the valleys? This decision will go at least some way to contribute to a non-extension of that widening gap.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. That is exactly why we have done it. I would also like to pay tribute to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, who skilfully put pressure on the Government in respect of the Ebbw Vale electrification project.

My Lords, I commend the Government on pursuing these electrification schemes but it is quite clear that there are plenty of further candidates, whether they be Holyhead, Plymouth, Hull, or indeed the Calder Valley. Is the Minister saying that he now sees a rolling programme going forward for electrification? That is what we want to see. We have had bust, and it seems that we have got a bit of boom, but is it going to be rolling forward?

My Lords, we want to avoid feast and famine for the civil engineering industry. We are saying now what we will do for CP5. I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that we will continue the process in CP6, but of course I cannot at this point make any suggestion as to what will happen in CP6.