HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc915-6
8. Mr. Rooker

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the timetable for upgrading of track and signals on the west coast main line. [650]

Mr. Watts

The tendering process for the new signalling system is well under way. Tenders have been received and Railtrack is aiming to let the contract early next year. Railtrack expects to let the main contract for upgrading the west coast main line during 1996. The whole modernisation programme is expected to take around eight years to complete.

Mr. Rooker

I thank the Minister for that answer. May we have a commitment, in so far as it is possible to give one, that the priority in upgrading the west coast main line will be the stretch between London and Birmingham? The Birmingham loop is a disaster and it tends to be neglected when the west coast main line is discussed. Given that in that city we have the national indoor arena, the national exhibition centre and the international convention centre, which were all put there without central Government funds, whereas other parts of the country, especially the north-west, have had some financial featherbedding, the Government must give a commitment that the priority will be the Birmingham-London stretch of the west coast main line.

Mr. Watts

I do not wish to add to any inter-regional strife between Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman is right: the southern stretch of the west coast main line was modernised furthest back in history and is, therefore, a priority. Services to Birmingham will be a priority within the overall project.

Mr. Brandreth

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, over the past five years, there has been £6 billion of investment in our railways? Does he agree that the west coast main line is a priority overall, including the stretch to Crewe and off to Chester? We need investment from Government, from the European Union and especially from the private sector to ensure that we have a superb main line railway service from the south up to and into the heart of the north-west.

Mr. Watts

My hon. Friend is right to say that the west coast main line modernisation is the biggest and most important project in the domestic railways.