HL Deb 16 March 1965 vol 264 cc279-81

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their attention has been drawn to the increasing frequency of diesel engine failures on British Railways; whether they are aware of the resulting inconvenience caused to travellers, and whether they will ensure that there is a sufficient steam reserve standing by at strategic points to engage in rescue operations.]


My Lords, the Question refers to matters which are entirely the responsibility of the British Railways Board.


My Lords, I can hardly thank the noble Lord for that short Answer. Is he aware that during the Christmas period there were 32 diesel engine failures on the Eastern Region main line? Diesel engine failures must affect following traffic. Will the noble Lord bring this to the notice of the British Railways Board? Further, I should like him to bring this to their notice: if we are not going to have all lines electrified in the future, would it not be wise to have fresh research into the oil firing of steam engines—in other words, to have modern steam traction?


My Lords, the Government, the public, and of course the British Railways Board are fully aware of the failure in operation of many and varied types of diesel engines. But I can only repeat that the types of locomotive to be purchased and their operation are entirely matters for the Board themselves. Reference has been made to the Eastern Region. These engines were bought from private enterprise. When they came into operation it was found that there were boiler failures, sometimes to the extent of 50 per cent., and therefore modifications of the engines, the bogies and axles have been required; in some engines as many as 300 modifications have had to take place. These modifications are being made by the manufacturers and the Railways Board in consultation one with the other. Implementation of the latter part of the noble Lord's Question, in which he suggests standby steam engines, would entail shed staff and the availability of coal and water, and the cost of the standby insurance would not be justified.


My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister could confirm my impression that although certainly there have been a number of failures among some of these diesel locomotives, yet the incidence of failure among steam locomotives is nearly double that among diesel locomotives. Secondly, would he agree that, as we are selling quite a number of these locomotives as exports, it is important not to exaggerate the incidence of failure there has been among some of them?


My Lords, of course, there were failures with steam engines. But, as the noble Lord knows, and as the House will appreciate, when a diesel fails it stops; when a steam engine fails, with an expert driver it can generally glide on to the nearest station and is not isolated in the middle of the countryside. I am certain that co-operation between the Railways Board and the manufacturers will produce a locomotive which will be a valuable export commodity.