HC Deb 22 April 1991 vol 189 cc753-4
1. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on progress in improving rail services to the north-west.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

British Rail is planning to upgrade Intercity west coast main line services, involving investment of some £750 million in new rolling stock, signalling and track improvements. British Rail recently invited tenders for the new trains.

Regional railways' north transpennine express services from Newcastle to Liverpool have already benefited from the introduction of the latest class 158 diesel units. They were brought into the service in January this year.

Mr. Butler

What provisions will be made for direct passenger services between the north-west and the channel, given that the regional sets that British Rail was meant to produce will not be ready on time? Is there any news about the location of the freight terminals in the north-west, a decision that has been long awaited?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend will know that there are design problems with the trains for daytime through services. It is not a resource constraint on the Government but a problem with the manufacturers designing trains that will be able to run on the lines north of London where there is overhead electricity and a need to split the longer TGV trains witch will serve the capitals. I very much hope that those services will be in place as soon as possible. In the interim between the opening of the tunnel and those trains running, we expect that British Rail will run services into Waterloo from the north-west so that passengers can interconnect quickly. As for night services, there is no reason to believe that they will be delayed on the west coast main line.

For freight services, British Rail intends to operate two terminals, one in Liverpool and one in Manchester. I hope that before too long British Rail will have made the final decisions about the precise locations.

Mr. Fearn

Does the Minister agree that an overnight sleeper service is desirable from the channel tunnel to the north-west if for no other reason than that the tourism industry in the north-west and in Scotland requires such a service?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important. If he has not seen the designs of British Rail and of some of the potential suppliers of those services, perhaps he might avail himself of an opportunity to do so and comment on the quality of service that will be available on sleepers and on overnight services from Paris and Brussels, which will run non-stop through London and up the west coast main line.

Mr. Sumberg

Will those improvements in the rail service to the north-west, which I welcome, lead to an abandonment by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) of the proposed Greater Manchester northern and western relief road? Will the Minister have a word with him to tell him that the rail service is improving and that therefore he need not proceed with the plan, which is much resented and disapproved of by my constituents?

Mr. Freeman

I shall certainly convey my hon. Friend's sentiments to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, but I am bound to say that road investment in the north-west—especially in the Greater Manchester conurbation—has been significant in recent years, although there is a great deal further to go. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will deal with the specific point that my hon. Friend has made.

Mr. Snape

May I return the Minister to the question of rail services and especially to rail safety in the north-west? Is he aware that three of the most senior operating managers on the London Midland region have been removed from their jobs at a moment's notice because they were courageous enough to speak out about the impact on safety of present financial policies? Does he accept that in the event of a serious accident on British Rail arising from those policies, we shall hold the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers responsible?

Mr. Freeman

Safety is the pre-eminent concern of not only British Rail, but the Department of Transport. I am aware of the specifics of the case of the three individuals who have been named. They are not the only guardians of the quality of safety on British Rail. Responsibility rests primarily with the chairman and with the board of British Rail. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of rail safety not only in terms of resource expenditure, but in ensuring that standards on existing equipment are maintained.

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