HC Deb 13 May 1985 vol 79 cc5-7
4. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received recently from British Rail any plans for investment in new railway lines.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

We have received two schemes. We have already approved the proposal for the new Windsor link line in Manchester. We are still considering the Snow Hill tunnel proposal.

Mr. Lloyd

Does the Minister realise how worried people in the north-west are about British Rail's failure to propose a scheme for bringing a rail link to Manchester international airport, particulary when they contrast that failure with the alacrity with which British Rail plans to take a rail link to Stansted airport? What steps does the Minister intend to take within his Department to ensure that British Rail places the Manchester airport rail scheme high on its list of priorities? Does he agree that we are talking not only about transport needs but of economic value to the region?

Mr. Mitchell

Of course I shall consider carefully on its merits any proposal by British Rail for investment in a link line to Manchester airport.

Mr. Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to making the maximum use of resources for new railway lines it is important to maximise the use of existing lines and the provision of new station facilities? Does he look favourably on recommendations from British Rail for park-and-ride facilities on the outskirts of towns such as Swindon, where the movement of population has been from the city centre to the outskirts, thus creating the need for large movements of population into the town centre? Does he agree that British Rail could help the local bus services by providing facilities to enable people to reach the centre of town?

Mr. Mitchell

Park-way stations are a good example of British Rail's management keeping up to date with the moving and changing pattern of customer demand. I commend British Rail for what it has done. Expenditure is not such as to warrant a requirement for ministerial consent, and therefore I am not involved in such schemes.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Is the Minister aware that the anxiety in Greater Manchester is that British Rail is blocking proposals for a link to Manchester international airport because of its fear of competition between the shuttle and the inter-city service? Will he tell British Rail that it would be a great boost to the region to have the rail link and that if it is worried about competition from the shuttle it should improve its passenger services by, for example, issuing timetables when a new service comes into operation and by improving the frequency of trains from Manchester, instead of obstructing plans for the rail link to the airport?

Mr. Mitchell

Whenever British Rail has been challenged by competition it has always fought back tenaciously and pugnaciously. I am sure that that applies to Manchester services and others. British Rail has tried to give better advance warning of timetable changes, but I agree that not everything has gone as smoothly as British Rail had hoped it would.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my hon. Friend agree that what he has just announced is closely connected to the plans for the electrification of railways? Will he say a word about what has been achieved and about the plan for electrification in future?

Mr. Mitchell

Some 2,356 route miles and 6,215 track miles are now either electrified or in the process of being so this year. That includes the electrification of the line between Colchester and Ipswich, the first electric train on that service having been inaugurated today. I welcome the first stage of the London-Norwich electrification.

Mr. Flannery

While I welcome the investment in new railway lines, which is seriously needed, may I ask the Minister whether he will consider more investment in existing lines, such as the St. Pancras to Sheffield? Is he aware that there are great fears about the service, expressed at an important meeting this weekend, because of its obvious deterioration—no matter what one of the Derbyshire Members says about it?

Mr. Mitchell

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he has time after time run the hare that there is some threat to that service, and he is surprised to hear an echo from the local electorate because it is worried by the rumours that he has spread. Within the last couple of years HST services have been put on that line and substantial expenditure has been undertaken—part of the £2,000 million that has been spent by British Rail since 1979.

Mr. Adley

Is not the Government's approval of the Windsor link, the east coast line electrification and the East Anglian electrification clear and certain evidence that the Government are supporting the railways? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the investment programme is the biggest for 20 or more years, including the approvals for new stock? Will he be a little less reticent in trumpeting the Government's success?

Mr. Mitchell

I accept my hon. Friend's remarks. Last year we approved all British Rail's submissions for investment, which was probably a record £475 million. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the Windsor link, and I am amazed that not one of the Labour Manchester Members took the opportunity available to welcome the proposal.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister now compare like with like on road and rail investment? Does he agree that as long ago as 1976 the Leitch committee recommended that investment in both systems should be treated on their merits and similarly? Is it not blatantly unfair that railways have to justify financially any projects, while for road improvements we depend on that somewhat mystical and certainly mythical system of co-benefit analysis so beloved of the civil servants in the hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. Mitchell

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the amount paid in tax by road users exceeds the amount spent on roads. The operations of British Rail are divided between those that are commercially viable—where it must make commercial decisions on investment wholly on that basis—and those that are often referred to as the social railway network, where we take other considerations into account.

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