HC Deb 24 January 1994 vol 236 cc4-5
3. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport which English regions he expects to benefit most from rail traffic carried by the channel tunnel.

Mr. Freeman

Services through the channel tunnel should provide social and commercial opportunities for all parts of Great Britain when they are fully operational.

Mr. Bayley

Freight services are due to begin running through the channel tunnel in about six weeks' time. Why is it that seven years after the channel tunnel project was announced, when the French Government have managed to build a fast rail link from Paris to the channel tunnel, the British Government are only today publishing tentative proposals for the route, let alone introducing an Act of Parliament for that purpose? It will take until the end of the century to provide direct links from the channel tunnel to serve the north of the country. Why are the Government spending billions on car routes in and around London and not a brass farthing on train routes around London to enable those trains to run direct to the north from the tunnel?

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman does his constituency and his party a disservice by seeking to run down the substantial preparations for business and passenger services, once the channel tunnel is open. Freight will start to run through it on 14 March and passenger services will commence from Waterloo international station, which cost £200 million to build, as soon as the tunnel is officially opened. The country will then enjoy good travel connections, because it will then take three hours to travel by train from London to Paris. The construction of the channel tunnel rail link will be the subject of a statement that my right hon. Friend hopes to make shortly.

Mrs. Lait

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the tourism industry of the south-east will benefit greatly from traffic from the channel tunnel? Does he accept, however, that the weak link in the south coast railway is the Hastings to Ashford line? What progress has been made towards its electrification?

Mr. Freeman

The electrification of that particular line will be studied by Railtrack and we will ask it to produce a 10-year investment plan. Doubtless, it will reflect on the priority of electrification. I am glad that the local authorities have shown an interest in contributing to its cost.

A new international station will be built at Ashford and I hope that it will be open by the end of next year.