HC Deb 05 March 2002 vol 381 cc135-7
2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

What recent assessment he has made of the need for new passenger rail services to relieve motorway congestion in the east midlands. [36645]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)

As my hon. Friend may be aware, we are currently conducting a programme of regional multi-modal studies, including several involving the east midlands region. The studies are assessing demand for all modes of travel to 2021, including public transport, road use and motorway congestion. Recommendations to Ministers are expected shortly.

David Taylor

I thank the Minister for that answer and for visiting north-west Leicestershire 11 days ago for a briefing on the national forest rail line project in my area and in south Derbyshire. When he receives the conclusions of the MI multi-modal study for the east midlands, will he examine carefully any reference to that project in the light of the information that he has received? Will he do his best to arm-wrestle the Chancellor for the necessary funding, which is but a small fraction of the £60 billion rail investment announced two years ago? That investment works out at £100 million for each constituency, and a small amount would do a lot of good.

Mr. Spellar

My hon. Friend makes a strong case for his constituency, just as he and representatives of his local authorities did when I visited his area. I shall bear in mind the comments that I heard then when we receive the multi-modal studies. My hon. Friend and his colleagues sought to tackle the issues in the interests of their constituents by considering new communities in the area and new modes of travel. We shall consider those issues in his and in other areas when we make our assessment of how to remedy the substantial under-investment that we inherited from the Conservative Government.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

I am sure that the Minister will have seen the letter that I received from the Secretary of State this week. I had raised with him the matter of the statement by the Strategic Rail Authority about East Midlands Parkway station. How can we take seriously anything from a Department that sends a letter to a Member of Parliament stating: I understand from the SRA that the May 2003 opening date given in the Strategic Plan was an inadvertent error"? We are fed up with errors from this Department. When will we start to get some action, some true information, and proper apologies when people give us wrong information in the Chamber?

Mr. Spellar

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was asking for that particular project. He was probably not making his presentation in such an approachable way as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). As I understand it, there was a straightforward error by the Strategic Rail Authority, for which it has apologised. In spite of the hon. Gentleman's protestations, we will certainly give the matter proper consideration, so as to extend travel opportunities, comfort and facilities for travellers right across the east midlands. I guarantee to the hon. Gentleman that I shall look into the matter for him.

Liz Blackman (Erewash)

Ilkeston is the only town of its size in the east midlands without a railway station. A project for a station there has been identified by the SRA and by a multi-modal study. The problem is the Trent junction signalling box, which needs to be upgraded before capacity can be improved. Unfortunately, that upgrading will not take place for quite some time. May I urge my hon. Friend to look at the issue, and to do all that he can to bring that project forward so that capacity in the area can be increased?

Mr. Spellar

The Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack are looking at a number of the constraints and bottlenecks in the railway system, in respect of which they could make a considerable cost-effective enhancement to facilities. That is extremely important because, previously, Railtrack seemed to be far more focused—although not particularly effectively—on the major projects, and did not look at running the system that it already had. We are already seeing a significant improvement in Railtrack's attitude and performance.

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