HL Deb 12 May 1986 vol 474 cc957-8

2.43 p.m.

Lord Gainford

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what level of subsidy is currently provided for British Rail's provincial route network, and what proportion of this subsidy is intended to support the super sprinter train on this network.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government do not pay grant to the British Railways Board in respect of particular services or particular types of investment. We pay subsidy towards the cost of the whole of the grant-aided railway, including its investment needs, which the board allocates between the passenger sectors. For 1985–86 the board estimated that £437 million was required for provincial services. We have approved investment of £151 million in sprinter vehicles of all types.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has he any information on what are the trains that are known as super sprinter types and on what line they are likely to run?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the vehicles which are dubbed by some people as super sprinters are not in existence at the moment. It is the sprinters that are sprinting! They are at a very early stage of development and in fact British Rail are looking at the possibility of developing a more advanced type of sprinter train with higher maximum speeds, lower weight, greater fuel efficiency and further reductions in maintenance costs, coupled with higher standards of passenger comfort and amenities.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is the noble Viscount at the same time going to look at the track? Personally, I find the sprinting on some of our tracks at present quite frightening enough without having any faster trains on them. Ought they not to get the track right?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not had the same experience as the noble Baroness, but I shall certainly look at the track if she wishes me to do so.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, as the sprinter services are intended to replace units which are now between 25 and 35 years old and which must be replaced, can the noble Viscount indicate how many of the new sprinter units have been constructed and when the programme will finish? Also, can he say whether the curtailment of the expenditure limit will either restrict the sprinter services coming into operation or cut down other essential features of British Rail's investment programme?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, British Rail have on order 170 20-metre sprinters and 298 23-metre sprinters; whether or not one type goes further than the other I do not know. Further to the 120 sprinters now in service the allocation to particular routes is a matter for British Rail. The Government stand ready to approve any worthwhile investment with a sound prospect of improving the railways' finances. It is for the board to bring forward investment proposals and to allocate rolling stock within the passenger network. So far the Government have approved all proposals for new rolling stock put to them by British Rail.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, will the noble Viscount perhaps advise the railways board that giving a train a name like super sprinter is somewhat tempting fate?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am not sure who devised the name sprinter; I believe that in fact it was done by a journal, not by British Rail.