HC Deb 07 November 1979 vol 973 cc384-6
6. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Transport what proposals have been put to him for major capital investment in the railway line from Sheffield to Manchester via Woodhead.

27. Mr. Flannery

asked the Minister of Transport if he has been notified by the Railways Board of any decision regarding the future of the Sheffield-Woodhead-Manchester railway line.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have received no investment proposals in respect of this line, nor have I been notified of any decision regarding its future.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Minister aware that this is the most modern of the four trans-Pennine tunnels? It is the only one that is capable of taking modern container traffic, and its electric cable could be renewed for £3 million over a period of five years. In those circumstances, would it not be mad to contemplate closing the line?

Mr. Clarke

Those are operating considerations which British Rail judges, in deciding how best to deal with trans-Pennine freight traffic. The line is electrified, but not to the same system as the remainder of the network. In terms of the investment that may be required to modernise it, the hon. Gentleman should remember that British Rail has to decide on its priorities. Those may not always be freight lines that are duplicated by other routes.

Mr. Flannery

Will the Minster accept that editorials in the local press in Sheffield and in other cities have complained that the decision has been taken to close one of the first electrified lines and the first great railway tunnel in the world? Will he also accept that, to the people of the great conurbation of South Yorkshire, that seems to demonstrate a lack of faith in the people in the area—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] I am asking a question. Will the Minister accept from me that people believe that, because of the wretched disgrace of the line from London to Sheffield through Nottingham and Derby, they are being badly treated?

Mr. Clarke

The press reports on the decision probably emanated from The Guardian, which announced that the decision was taken a fortnight ago. The Board assures me that it is embarking upon a wider process of consultation and that no decision has been reached. I am aware of the discontent that is felt in Sheffield about rail services generally, and I have been in correspondence with hon. Members representing Sheffield constituencies about the Board's proposals for bringing high-speed trains and other improvements to the area.

Mr. Adley

I understand the emotional attachment that might be felt to the Woodhead tunnel, but is not it strange to hear from Opposition Members, who profess to believe in integrated transport, that they are upset about a decision which is an attempt to integrate the various transport systems between the two cities?

Mr. Clarke

I hope that we all agree that a decision has to be taken by the Railways Board, whose members are the experts on management problems. It must decide how to provide the best and most economic freight service for the development of the freight railway business as a whole.

Mr. Marks

When the Minister talked about opposing line closures, was he including the Woodhead line from Manchester to Sheffield?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend confirmed that we had received no proposals for closure of passenger services. We are in no discussions with the Board about such closures. The future of freight-only lines is a matter for the Board alone. Ministers play no part in it, and we would not normally be notified of such decisions.