HC Deb 01 July 1981 vol 7 cc859-60
11. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made by British Railways on the introduction of the rail bus on rural branch lines; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler

I understand that the railways board will be testing prototypes of the class 140 lightweight diesel multiple unit and the rail bus in service throughout the summer.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a considerable export potential for the rail bus? Will he ensure that British Railways take every possible step to capture that lucrative market in a thoroughly commercial way?

Mr. Fowler

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. If we can develop a low-cost vehicle and build it efficiently, there is no reason why it cannot be successfully exported. There is considerable interest in it from other countries.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What work is being carried out by the Secretary of State's Department to establish the cost benefits to British Railways of the switch from diesel multiple units to the rail bus?

Mr. Fowler

During the next 12 months British Railways will try out and experiment with both of those vehicles. I hope that we shall be able to organise a demonstration project that will aim to evaluate exactly what the hon. Gentleman wants to see.

Sir Albert Costain

Is my right hon. Friend aware that certain lines in Britain, for example, from Ashford to Lydd, must be kept open for goods traffic to cart nuclear waste from power stations? Is not that a good example of where experiments could take place? Are British Railways considering that possibility, and will he encourage that?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) has a Bill before the House which may help in that area. On the general principle of my hon. Friend's question, I am sure that it is right to concentrate on seeking to reduce the operating costs of rural lines rather than for ever being concerned with cutting off the lines. We have turned our back on that policy. We are trying to achieve a cost-effective railway system and a rural railway system.