§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I expect the railway works for the Ashford international passenger station to commence in October. The time scale for construction of the station buildings is a matter for the private sector promoter. I hope that work will begin in the first half of next year and that the new station will open by October 1995.
§ Mrs. Lait
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information, since the opening of the Ashford international station will benefit my constituents in Hastings and Rye. Does he know that there are rumours that the Hastings-Ashford line may be closed? Will he scotch that rumour once and for all and confirm that the electrification of that line will go ahead?
§ Mr. Freeman
I can assure my hon. Friend that no Minister has received any indication that the line is likely to close. Therefore, I can confirm that, as far as we are concerned, the line will remain open. It is an important and valuable line.
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that British Rail and the Department of Transport are in discussion with the private sector about its participation in electrification—not only of that line, but of the west coast main line—that will mean that we can accomplish those important infrastructure works faster than would otherwise be possible.
§ Dr. Howells
Will the Minister realise that there is a problem not only in constructing the Ashford international railway station, but in getting there if one travels from any of the regions? Many passengers in Wales, for example, would like to travel to Paris and Brussels via the international link, but can travel direct only if they leave at 2 o'clock in the morning. What will the Minister do to spare us the delights of having to travel round the Circle line in London?
§ Mr. Freeman
As the hon. Gentleman will know, some of the trains on the Great Western railway route will travel directly to Waterloo international station. If he has not seen the impressive new station, I strongly recommend that he does so and that he commends its use to his constituents.
§ Mr. Rowe
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was a meeting last week at which the future of the railway lines through Ashford was discussed and that Union Rail failed to provide the necessary information for the basis of that meeting until 24 hours before?
Union Rail has a similar meeting in my constituency on Wednesday and has so far failed to provide any of the information required. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if there are to be meetings with the public to try to explain the positions of the Government and Union Rail, the necessary material on which to base judgments must be made available beforehand?
§ Mr. Freeman
I can assure my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends who have an involvement with the route plan for the channel tunnel rail link that we want Union Rail to conduct a proper consultation. At Maidstone last week, I undertook to write to all the local authorities and my hon. Friends by the end of the week, re-emphasising the rules of procedure under which Union Rail will be consulting, not only at Boxley and Ashford, but at other locations along the route.