HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc173-4
12. Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

If he will outline the structure of the company replacing Railtrack; and what has been the cost to date of the administrators. [13563]

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)

It will be for the administrator to bring forward a transfer proposal. Proposals will be put before the administrator for a company limited by guarantee. The Government welcome the interest shown by third parties in taking over the railway network to date, and have recently published guidelines to assist the formulation of such proposals. The cost of the administrators to 2 November 2001 was just under £2 million.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The Secretary of State knows that unless the new Railtrack is more engineering based than its predecessor, all the problems of incompetent management could arise again. Will he give us an undertaking today that the new Railtrack will genuinely tackle problems such as maintenance, modernisation and development and put responsibility to the passenger at the top of its agenda?

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which she chairs, was unanimous about the litany of failure that constituted Railtrack's stewardship of the railway network. It recommended the use of engineering skills to the full if we are to get the network into a suitable condition.

That is one reason for the Government's belief that any successor to Railtrack should focus on operations, renewals and maintenance—the day-to-day job of running an effective railway network We want to do that, and the administrator is aware of the guidelines that I have set out and that we published in the House three weeks ago.

I am confident that we have an opportunity to recast the railway network out of what happened to Railtrack and its insolvency. Some major decisions remain to be made. They will be taken in the next few weeks to ensure that we can provide the structure that will enable this country to have the railway network it deserves.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Will the new company be obliged to take on Railtrack's capital programme? In Somerset, we shall believe that we live in the world's fourth largest economy when trains occasionally stop in my constituency. We had persuaded Railtrack to do a feasibility study on reopening stations on the main line. Does that commitment have any substance? Does the capital programme continue to exist?

Mr. Byers

Yes. I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that the capital programme remains; it has not gone with Railtrack. Improvements are needed, but I believe that decisions are being made more quickly because of the current position. We need to ensure that major decisions, such as those that affect the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the west coast main line, are not delayed because of administration but concluded. We can thus look to a positive future for the railway network when we move out of administration.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the structure of the company that replaces Railtrack is important to my constituency? That is true not only because of the importance of the continued investment in the west coast main line that he mentioned, but because Railtrack, Virgin and Macclesfield borough council had agreed a partnership scheme to upgrade the station. Macclesfield is a major profit centre for Virgin Trains. If we are to use rail to its maximum extent, which the Secretary of State requires, the improvements must go ahead urgently under the new company.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I know through the questions that he has asked in the House that he is dissatisfied on behalf of his constituents with the quality of the railway service that they experience in Macclesfield. I believe that the changes will mean genuine improvements.

On the specific point about Macclesfield station, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will investigate exactly where it is—[interruption.] I know that it is in Macclesfield and, indeed, in Cheshire. However, I shall investigate where it is in the planning process, and write to the hon. Gentleman.