HC Deb 25 November 1991 vol 199 cc612-3
2. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about plans to upgrade rail links to south Wales.

Mr. Freeman

I understand that British Rail is planning to improve the signalling on the Paddington to south Wales line. That will improve journey times. In the longer term, British Rail will consider electrification when the existing rolling stock needs to be replaced.

Mr. Hain

The longer term is not good enough. The Government's abysmal failure to upgrade the links with south Wales means that that part of the country is in danger of becoming a forgotten backwater of the new Europe. Does the Minister agree that British Rail should extend the channel tunnel link via Waterloo international terminal not just to Cardiff, but to Swansea and, if necessary, to Fishguard as well?

Does the Minister further agree that sleeper services to Brussels and Paris must be extended to Swansea, and that a new freight terminal must be built at Swansea so that business and inward investment are given that vital artery to the new Europe from south Wales?

Mr. Freeman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to talk down south Wales and the tremendous improvements and achievements in the south Wales economy. As for freight services, the hon. Gentleman will know of British Rail's plan to run channel tunnel freight from Pengam. He should be encouraging industries in south Wales to use that freight terminal, as I have done. If there is justification for another terminal, for example at Swansea, I am sure that British Rail will react positively.

Mr. Adley

Is not one of the main requirements of south Wales, and indeed south-west England, direct access to the channel tunnel preferably avoiding central London? At the risk of being tedious, may I again ask my hon. Friend to ask British Rail to re-examine the option of full utilisation of the Reading-Redhill-Tonbridge line, which was built last century specifically with the channel tunnel in mind?

Mr. Freeman

Following my hon. Friend's advice I went to Redhill to determine the civil engineering works that would be required to carry freight further westwards, instead of through central London. Although the idea is interesting, it presents major planning and construction problems. However, I shall convey what my hon. Friend has said to British Rail.

Mr. Wigley

Is not the Minister aware that the quality of rolling stock on the south Wales line is already far from satisfactory? Substandard rolling stock is frequently being used and, partly as a consequence, trains are running late. British Rail needs to invest massively, not only on the line to Swansea, but on the one through to Fishguard to serve Ireland, and likewise on the Crewe to Holyhead line. Will my hon. Friend take up the issue with British Rail?

Mr. Freeman

British Rail is engaged in its largest investment programme for 30 years, led by Sir Bob Reid, in whom my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I have total confidence. This year, he and his board are leading an investment programme of £1.1 billion, and it is for them to make judgments about priorities. I recently visited Holyhead and rode on the railway line from Chester. British Rail is taking steps to improve journey times on the north Wales line.

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