HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc909-10
2. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many passengers used the west coast main line in 1994. [644]

Mr. Watts

I understand that some 11 million passenger journeys were made on InterCity West Coast services during the financial year 1994–95.

Mr. Evans

That is an excellent figure, but does my hon. Friend agree that it would improve greatly if we invested the sums necessary to upgrade the west coast main line as quickly as possible? It is important strategically to the United Kingdom for manufacturing and tourism and for places such as Manchester which wish to attract the Commonwealth games and, one hopes, make a successful bid for the Olympic games in future. Can my hon. Friend say exactly when the west coast main line will be upgraded, as the speed with which that happens is important for those of us who live in the area?

Mr. Watts

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of that key line. The contract for the development of the new state-of-the-art signalling system is on line to be let by Railtrack early next year. Next year, Railtrack also intends to let contracts for the main infrastructure works to the track and power supplies.

Mr. Olner

Surely the Minister realises that the past two years of dithering, during which money has been promised but not spent, has meant that many of those 11 million passengers arrived late or had their services cancelled. When will he take action to get the promised money in place?

Mr. Watts

Railtrack continues to spend substantial money on the west coast main line every year. As I have just explained to the House, the key to the upgrade project is the development of the new signalling system. It has been put out to tender, there has been enormous interest from the private sector in developing a new system under the private finance initiative and the contracts will be let early next year. The contracts for the main upgrading work will also start to be let in the course of next year.

Mr. Gill

Is my hon. Friend prepared to analyse the 11 million passengers to discern how many of them join the west coast main line at Birmingham international or Wolverhampton because of the withdrawal of the inter-city line to Shrewsbury? In his future deliberations, will he consider extending electrification from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury so that my constituents in that county town can be served by an inter-city electrified service?

Mr. Watts

I do not have at my fingertips the information that my hon. Friend requires, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of Railtrack.