HC Deb 18 April 1988 vol 131 cc541-3
11. Mr. Madden

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss plans for further rail electrification.

Mr. David Mitchell

My right hon. Friend is always happy to discuss electrification if the chairman so wishes, but I understand that British Rail has no current plans for further major route electrification.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister arrange an early meeting with the chairman of British Rail and drop some heavy hints that if the chairman submits an application to electrify the Bradford to Leeds line the Minister will smile upon it? Does the Minister agree that failure to electrify that line would represent economic insanity? Does he understand that many people in Bradford note that insanity, especially as they were recently told that if the line was not electrified shiny new electric engines would be brought into Bradford behind diesel locos? Will the Minister tell the chairman of British Rail that the retention of the Wortley curve and electrification would give the Bradford people, at long last, the opportunity of a fast, efficient, safe and comfortable rail service from Bradford to the rest of the country?

Mr. Mitchell

I understand that British Rail has already examined the case for electrification of the line from Leeds to Bradford and concluded that the costs far outweighed potential benefits.

Mr. Adley

Is not the reason why BR has not come forward with any further major electrification proposals the fact that it cannot meet the Government's extremely tight investment criteria? Will my hon. Friend consider that point? Will he confirm that under section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 the Secretary of State has ample powers to authorise additional electrification programmes in connection with the Channel tunnel? Will my hon. Friend confirm that it remains the Government's priority to provide the distant regions in particular with the best modern rail links to that system?

Mr. Mitchell

It is pointless, if an equally good service can be provided by diesels at lower cost, to go for electrification en principe. As for section 40 and Channel tunnel expenditure, I remind my hon. Friend that the Act requires that expenditure to be wholly commercial and not subsidised.

Dr. Marek

Will the Minister admit that it is clear nonsense that the Bradford to Leeds line should not be electrified under the present scheme, and similarly that it is nonsense that services to cities such as Chester and Wrexham should be not be electrified to the west coast main line at Crewe and that the Blackpool line should not be electrified to the west coast line at Preston? Will the Minister get British Rail to consider producing a detailed analysis of the schemes in terms of investment and its estimate of the extra revenue and extra passengers so that we, the public, and the House, can judge?

Mr. Mitchell

British Rail proposes electrification when it sees it as worth while. I do not have in my head all the cases listed by the hon. Gentleman, but I recall that the Blackpool to Manchester proposal would have cost £12 million—I think that is the correct figure—and the saving would have been one minute on a journey. The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise just how efficient the modern diesels are, especially the Sprinter services which British Rail is introducing.

Mr. Sackville

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a direct and efficient rail link between the Channel tunnel and the north of England so that we get some of the benefit of that huge investment?

Mr. Mitchell

The linkage between the Channel tunnel and north of London on the east and west coast main lines has always featured as part of British Rail's proposals.

Mr. Vaz

Is the Minister aware that Leicestershire county council has commissioned a report on the electrification of the London to Leicester line? Is he further aware that Leicestershire county council, Leicester city council, Nottinghamshire county council, Derby city council and Sheffield city council all support the idea of an electrified line between London and Leicester? What advice does he propose to give to those local authorities and commuters, who wish the line to be electrified as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman should not assume that there are automatic substantial benefits from electrification. I remind him that his line, with its HST-125s, is faster than the west coast main line, which has been electrified.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister not understand that the electrification of the lines between, for example, Bradford and Leeds, and for that matter, Glasgow and Edinburgh, which is demanded by my hon. Friends and others, is being held up because the schemes fail to meet the criteria laid down by the Department? They fail to meet those criteria because all the schemes are treated in isolation instead of being treated as part of a national rail network. The hon. Gentleman made a comment about the £12 million cost of electrifying the line between Manchester and Blackpool. Can he tell the House how much the M55 motorway between the M6 and Blackpool cost, and whether it was built in isolation or as part of a national motorway network?

Mr. Mitchell

British Rail runs a national network and it is up to British Rail to decide what form of locomotion it uses to operate most effectively. I know that the hon. Gentleman would like British Rail to go out on a spending spree, like a drunken sailor, but I remind him that when his Government were in office the average annual spend in real terms was £41 million, whereas under the Conservatives it has been £72 million.

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