HL Deb 09 February 1978 vol 388 cc1166-8

3.8 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many breakdowns there have been on the railway between London and Inverness, with particular reference to breakdowns between Perth and Inverness, during October, November and December last year; and what plans are being put into operation to give a better service.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I regret that this information is not immediately available, but I do know that the time-keeping generally of trains on the Perth-Inverness section of the route has suffered owing to engineering works on the line and, more recently, from exceptionally severe weather conditions. British Rail expect punctuality to improve when the dualling of the track between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie is completed.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for her reply, perhaps I may ask one supplementary question. In the Highland region British Rail are spending millions of pounds upon introducing a very sophisticated signalling system which, when operative, will throw a number of excellent personnel out of work in an area which has an unemployment problem. Would it not be more appropriate to delay this new system and spend the money on new rolling stock, which is the problem, rather than the Answer that the noble Baroness gave?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the way in which the British Railways Board spend their money, and decide their priorities, is a matter for the Board and for their commercial judgment. They are carrying out engineering works in order to introduce track dualling which ought to improve the speed and punctuality of trains. So far as the signalling system is concerned, I regret that that is another question which I cannot answer today.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the dualling which is now taking place is restoring a second track which was taken up between 1966 and 1969 as a result of a very unwise decision, and that it is this single track which causes delays to other trains when there is a breakdown? Is the noble Baroness further aware that the work which was carried out between 1966 and 1969 was contrary to the Beeching Report, since this is not a branch line, and that considerable expenditure is now unnecessarily being incurred upon restoring it?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the works that are being done at the moment are necessary for safety reasons. It is expected that the dualling of the track will be completed by April of this year, when we hope that there will be a considerable improvement in the services.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government would get British Rail to call providing a double track "doubling" rather than "dualling", which sounds a little dangerous?


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that before Christ- mas I had the misfortune to be travelling in a train just North of Perth which broke down and the breakdown was said to be due to failure of the engine? Is the noble Baroness satisfied that the engines in use in that area are in sufficiently good condition?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, British Rail assure me that the service which they provide on the line referred to by the noble Lord opposite is no worse than that anywhere else. On the line which I use frequently there seems to be a fairly regular announcement that British Rail apologise for breakdown of services because of engine failure. Occasionally I am asked to stand at this Box and say why the stock excuse is shortage of staff. The reason varies from place to place. Engines break down all over the country, not only in Scotland.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, according to information which I received by telephone from Scotland a few days ago, delays on the Perth to Inverness line are so long and so frequent that a delay of two hours is considered to be mild?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I was not aware of that. If the noble Lord will let me have the details I shall look into it.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this morning my train was 10 minutes early?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount would like me to pass his compliments to British Rail.