HL Deb 26 March 1990 vol 517 cc636-47

7 p.m.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel coinciding with the completion of the single European market and the progressive dismantling of economic frontiers will inevitably trigger a surge in demand for travel. To meet that challenge British Rail has embarked on an investment programme of over £ 1 billion to ensure that the rail system, which is an energy efficient, economical and technically advanced transport mode, assumes a leading role in reshaping the transport scene and relieving the worsening congestion problem in air and road travel.

The Channel Tunnel Act of 1987 established Waterloo as the site of the first international rail terminal in London and in the period before the opening of the Channel Tunnel a programme of major maintenance and renewal is planned on the railway lines from the Channel Tunnel. This is intended to ensure that British Rail can carry the predicted volumes of traffic during the opening years of the operation of the tunnel without curtailing existing domestic services. That is a commitment which was given during the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill. The Bill now before your Lordships seeks to continue that work, providing for a new station at Ashford, three new freight loops, a railway chord linking lines north of London and an improvement to Bickley rail junction.

Works Nos. 1A and 1B referred to in Clause 5 of the Bill will provide railway access to a new international passenger station at Ashford for which planning permission will be sought. That station will be sited to allow trains using existing running lines to serve it even before the proposed new high speed rail link between King's Cross and the Channel Tunnel is constructed. It has also been designed with a view to being compatible with plans for that link in the future. It will provide passengers travelling to and from Kent with direct access to international services to Paris and Brussels throughout the day and possibly to destinations further afield at night, reducing journey times and unnecessary travel via London. Facilities will be provided for easy interchange between international and Network SouthEast services subject to necessary security controls.

In the future the new high speed rail link will enable Ashford to become a focus for Kent Express services— a commuter service for East Kent, with journey times reduced by almost half between London, Ashford and destinations beyond, such as Canterbury, Folkestone and Ramsgate. Ashford international station is planned to be part of a major development and, with its close proximity and easy access to mainland Europe, the station will act as a considerable magnet for major investment in one of Kent's key development areas.

Powers are also sought by this Bill for the construction of three freight loops in the county of Kent— at Headcorn, Borough Green and Otford. Other freight loops which are required have been already authorised by powers of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 and the British Railways Act 1989 or are authorised by virtue of the board's general powers under previous legislation.

Noble Lords will perhaps forgive me if I explain that a freight loop is a short line, a little under a mile in the; se cases, connected at both ends to the main running line. They are necessary to ensure that relatively slow freight trains do not delay faster Network SouthEast services and the new international passenger trains. They allow the freight train to be diverted away from the main running track to permit a faster passenger service to overtake it.

At Otford and Borough Green the freight loops are in rural areas sheltered from local housing and the loop at Headcorn will run alongside the existing station. All, however, have been strategically placed in locations where passenger and freight services might otherwise conflict.

I am aware that there is some concern over the level of environmental impact caused by increased freight services to the Channel Tunnel and I think it is appropriate at Second Reading to address some of the issues raised. With European trade growing rapidly and the impact of the 1992 single market initiative just around the corner, freight traffic through Kent and the South-East will continue to expand. Each and every year's increase in trade is equivalent to at least an additional 100,000 lorry movements on the roads, creating extra congestion and the need for more highway investment. The introduction of the Channel Tunnel rail freight services in 1993 will provide an attractive alternative to trunk road haulage, and bring reductions in congestion and the consequent environmental pollution. In the first years of operation, the rail freight services will offer the equivalent of up to 400,000 trunk lorry movements a year over the roads to Kent and the South-East.

British Rail plans to initiate Channel Tunnel services with up to 27 freight trains a day each way and then to build up the level in line with traffic growth. North of Ashford, freight will be divided equally between two routes: half via Tonbridge and Redhill and the remainder via Maidstone and Bromley. Fewer freight trains are expected to run at weekends and during peak commuting periods. In addition, the new locomotives planned for use on Channel Tunnel services will be electrically powered and therefore much quieter than the present trains which use diesel engines. These measures, together with new wagon disc brake design and £ 10 million investment in replacing existing jointed track with much smoother, longer, welded rails will make a major contribution to noise reduction for residents living alongside or near the line.

Nevertheless, there will be those who may press for compensation for residents in respect of noise arising from the increased use of existing railway lines. Current legislation makes no provision for that. I remind your Lordships that this principle was considered by the Select Committee in this House and in another place during the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill. The committees were asked by a number of petitioners to amend the Bill to require compensation for the effects of noise arising from the intensified use of existing lines, but neither committee accepted the arguments for any departure from the existing law of compensation. The imposition of expensive additional compensation responsibilities and the provision of noise mitigation measures would seriously restrict the operation of the rail freight business in a highly competitive market with road hauliers, who face no such obligations, and would undoubtedly lead to further road congestion and pollution.

Another work authorised by the Bill is for a link line known as the West Hampstead chord. The King's Cross Railways Bill, which is now before a Select Committee in another place, provides for the construction of major works at King's Cross, including a new low level station designed to serve as London's second international terminal. The link line proposed in the present Bill will provide the connection between the Midland main line and the North London line from which trains can then access the West Coast main line. Thus on completion of the new low level station, this short link, 645 metres long, will allow through services from the Continent to the West Midlands and the North West to be routed via King's Cross with its unrivalled interchange facilities.

The fourth matter to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention involves another link between existing railway lines in the London Borough of Bromley. The link provides an additional route between Petts Wood Junction and Bickley Junction, where several routes currently converge and where trains crossing the junction may delay trains on other lines. This new link will ensure that the increase in international passenger traffic following the opening of the Channel Tunnel need not adversely affect existing commuter services. It is a track alteration that is more easily revealed by diagram than explained in words. But I assure your Lordships that this link will be of great benefit to domestic and international passengers alike.

No powers for the compulsory purchase of residential properties are sought by the Bill. Most of the works take place on land already owned by British Railways Board. Nevertheless the works provided for by the Bill are important elements in the programme for improvement of rail services to which I have already referred.

Your Lordships will see that the Bill contains various measures but all have a single purpose: to maximise the benefits of the single European market and the opening of the Channel Tunnel, not only for passenger and freight travel but for both Kent and the remainder of Britain. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Marshall of Leeds.)

7.11 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I was very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds said about the railways with regard to the Channel Tunnel. However, I shall not follow that theme because I chiefly wish to speak for my friends in the county of Kent. I have a place in Kent. Many people are very worried about the noise aspect. I speak on that matter for only a short time.

The funny aspect about noise is that, although we all have ears, when we hear a noise some may like it and others will detest it. Some people may like certain pop music and others will detest it. I find it rather aggravating. As a young boy I was extremely fond of trains. I remember as a child the old Calendonia Railway in the Western Highlands. The trains had the most beautiful hooter which used to moan through the hills. It fascinated me but annoyed others. One often finds that with noise. I do not think anybody likes the noise of a pneumatic drill. That factor applies also to express trains. They make a considerable noise.

Kent County Council has calmed people's fears about noise to a great extent. It has undertaken great work to explain to people how it will demand that British Rail keeps down the noise level. It has undertaken research on the subject. At night time one does not wish to wake people. People are asleep and therefore one must try to keep the noise level down as low as possible so that it does not wake residents. The subject of noise is an extremely involved issue. I have probably spoken enough on the matter.

When the Channel Tunnel is in action— we hope that that will be in about three years' time— the lines on which the trains will travel through Kent will be so designed that noise will not cause great annoyance. It is unfair that the existing lines do not afford the protection that the new lines for the tunnel will have. That matter will have to be amended. The existing lines which will be carrying the same trains will have to afford the same protection against noise levels as will the new lines.

I am concerned that British Rail is not being very imaginative. The tunnel does not appear to be keen on attracting freight traffic. But it could be of tremendous service to traffic generally by taking many of the heavy lorries off the roads, and British Rail should do all that it can to capture that freight when the time comes. It does not seem to be doing so at the moment.

The other issue is whether the station should be at Ashford, as my noble friend mentioned, or at Swanley which is the other station that has been mentioned. I do not believe that Swanley would be as satisfactory as Ashford because it is not easily accessible from the M25 and also has other drawbacks. I have always understood that under the 1987 Act Ashford would be the main station on the route to London. I hope that that will be adhered to.

I do not wish to say any more because it has all been said by my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds. I have always been pro-tunnel, although I should have preferred a bridge. The people of Kent have been anti-tunnel, but I hope that they will soon grow out of that. I must not take up any more time because there are three more speakers. I shall just say that I hope that all goes well with the road works in Kent and the new lines.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Crook

My Lords, I must first admit to 20 years' involvement with the Channel Tunnel. For a good deal of that period I have been engaged professionally with the project and from time to time I am still involved in its construction. Therefore I welcome the Bill as a means of improving the communications between the tunnel and the rest of the United Kingdom.

We are already used to a considerable amount of international freight traffic in this country, courtesy of the ferry system. However, in future the amount of freight that we shall see in this country will be vastly in excess of anything that we have seen hitherto. Most of it will travel through Ashford, at least initially.

British Rail produced a report in December 1989 entitled International Rail Services for the United Kingdom which goes some way to outline the strategy which it proposes to follow. However, the report does not make clear one essential problem which we have in this country. That problem is that our trains can run on the Continental railways but Continental trains have fatter and higher bodies than ours and therefore cannot run on our tracks. It is for that reason that special wagons have been used hitherto in the ferry system.

The British Rail report is a little cagey as to the future. However, it comments that the cost of upgrading the railways in this country to full Continental standards would be very great. Undoubtedly it would be so. Nevertheless, I ask that henceforth any new railway works carried out on any route likely to carry Channel Tunnel traffic should be constructed to the standards of Continental electrification and not to the normal British Rail loading standards. I hope that we may have some enlightenment on that point. The Bill is totally silent on the subject.

Although for the time being we may run the special "swap" wagons to carry freight containers, ultimately Europe will get very tired of Britain needing to run special wagons on the European system in order to connect with this country. We must accept that ultimately we shall have to spend a great deal of money upgrading our railways to Continental standards. Hence I believe that new works should be built to those standards now rather than having to be thrown away in a few years time.

I have one final point, which is perhaps splitting hairs. We have been told of the new station at Ashford by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall. I have one technical quibble. The gradients shown on the plans for that part of the railway are most extraordinarly steep. I wonder whether we shall have the old British Rail problem— a little frost, a few wet leaves and, lo and behold, the locomotives lose their grip and the system stalls. Perhaps we could know whether matters could be improved to avoid such problems.

Those are small points. We in this House ought to welcome any improvement in the rail system to take the vast quantities of freight which we may expect from the Channel Tunnel.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, in common with all Back Bench speakers, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds in asking that the Bill be given a Second Reading. In doing so I declare an interest.

My noble friend argued that the Bill's importance lies in the fact that if it receives Royal Assent it authorises a number of works which are essential to British Rail's ability to exploit the Channel Tunnel, the opening of which is little more than three years away. However, I should like to suggest that apart from Works Nos. 1A and 1B— Ashford international— the works are equally important to enable British Rail to cope with increased demand for its services.

On the passenger side we can expect that commuter demand, and domestic demand in general, will continue to grow. I believe that the single European market on the one hand and the ongoing reconsideration of Section 8 on the other will contribute additional freight opportunities for British Rail.

Work No. 2— the West Hampstead chord— opens up new opportunities between South and North London by means of the Thameslink services which have already been established. It enables those services to serve Willesden, Harrow, Watford, Bletchley, Milton Keynes and points north on the West Coast main line. South of the river there are already Thameslink services to Sevenoaks, Brighton, Gatwick and at Wimbledon. Soon we shall have them at Guildford.

Given the problems that our road system faces, which have been debated on many occasions in your Lordships' House in recent memory, I believe that the proposed chord will make railway journeys across the Thames much more attractive. On the one hand there is a better service without the need to change or to use the Underground. I believe that the through service will generally be faster than the journey by road. Either way, the Network SouthEast commuter or the South-Eastern commuter will benefit. Works 3 to 5 serve to increase capacity in Kent. My noble friend explained that they were envisaged as preventing conflict between Channel Tunnel freight and domestic passenger traffic. However, again I feel that they will benefit passenger traffic regardless of Channel Tunnel traffic.

British Rail is committed to accelerating its commuter trains. I feel that there will be conflict between that and the freight traffic. Problems may develop simply because of the single European market and because of Section 8. If that conflict can be avoided, that will inevitably benefit the commuter.

Works 6 likewise is of benefit because it expands both capacity and operational flexibility, whether or not there are international trains.

All those works will be funded by British Rail from its own resources with the commuter potentially standing to benefit as much as the Channel Tunnel passenger or freight user. It is on those domestic user grounds that I urge your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, for the way in which he explained the purpose of the Bill. I say at the outset that I wish it a speedy passage through the House.

From time to time in dealing with transport questions a number of noble Lords have urged that there should be provision for infrastructure improvements to ensure that capacity is available for international freight and passenger services through the Channel Tunnel while at the same time ensuring that domestic services are not adversely affected. That is one of the purposes of the Bill.

I daresay that noble Lords have received, as I have, a communication from Kent County Council. It is to petition against aspects of the Bill but it supports the upgrading of existing lines. Frankly, it seems to be one of the most helpful petitions that I have seen for a long time. While it is petitioning against aspects of the Bill, it seems generally to support the principles. It says that it is the only way to meet the needs of 1993, bearing in mind that the fast new rail link will possibly not be with us until 1998.

What is proposed in the Bill is essential while we are awaiting the development of the fast rail link. It is necessary in the interests of freight coming from north of London and also to ease commuter traffic. It is generally agreed that more capacity is essential for freight from the regions. From the communication I gather that that is Kent County Council's objective as well as that of British Rail.

British Rail estimates that 75 per cent. of Europe-bound freight will originate beyond London.

Reference has been made to Work 2 in West Hampstead, which will provide the essential link between King's Cross, the West Midlands, the North-West and further north still. Noble Lords may recall that in the past week or so there was a Question on the Order Paper regarding electrification of the Midland main line. I then referred to the fact that the BR corporate plan provides that the East Coast main line, the West Coast main line and the Midland main line will all connect with the low level international station at King's Cross. The King's Cross Bill is now before a Select Committee in the other place and we shall await its decisions.

It is interesting to note that, although Kent County Council intends to petition against the Bill, the authority is critical of British Rail, not because of the Bill but because it is not sufficiently ambitious in its plans to divert freight traffic to rail. The county council says that it is seeking a more positive approach by British Rail and the Government to transfer passenger and freight traffic to rail.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, referred to the document published in December 1989 by British Rail on international rail services for the UK. It followed the Section 40 consultations held in the various regions. The Bill can only help the discussions which have taken place and the provisions in that plan. We on these Benches would have preferred right at the outset a public inquiry on the whole question of the Channel Tunnel, its routeing, what can be done and so on. However, it is too late to talk of that.

Reference has been made to Works 3, 4 and 5, to provide three freight routes in Kent. I confirm what has been said. I support the view that those loops are absolutely essential if there is not to be a difficulty regarding following up other trains. Also we are assured by British Rail that they will not be used for scheduled trains but will only be used where necessary because of following up trains. Therefore, the loops appear to be advantageous as regards the carriage of freight, international trains and commuters.

Reading Kent County Council's communication, it is obvious that it will support Works 1A and 1B for the construction of the new international station at Ashford. The council wants the station at Ashford which is to be served by international trains from the Channel Tunnel. It also regards it as essential for general development in the area. In fact Kent County Council has emphasised that it wants a firm commitment from British Rail that the station will be ready by June 1993. Therefore, although it is petitioning, it wants to ensure that two of the works mentioned in the Bill will be carried out and be in position when the tunnel is due to open.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, referred to noise. I can appreciate, as can other noble Lords, the concern of Kent County Council and some of its district authorities regarding the limitation of noise on the new lines and also on the upgraded existing lines which are due to carry heavier traffic for a few years. I understand that British Rail certainly has in mind lessening as far as possible the environmental impact of those works. Kent County Council claims that providing noise barriers and sound insulation to dwellings along the upgraded existing lines will cost only £ 3 million. That is a small sum compared with the total investment for the new work and the Channel Tunnel fast link. If that figure by the county council is correct, I hope that British Rail will give the required undertaking that the question of noise is to be dealt with as requested by Kent County Council.

Finally, last week we approved the Third Reading of the Heathrow Express Railway Bill. Noble Lords will recall that the Select Committee of the other place achieved agreement with the promoters, the British Aviation Authority and British Rail for changes which were regarded as necessary in the route. An alternative route was accepted by the promoters and undertakings were also given regarding environmental considerations. The Bill before us today is most useful. When it goes before the Select Committee there is no reason why it should not bear the same points in mind as the Select Committee of the other place did when it achieved success in dealing with the Heathrow Express Railway Bill. I wish the Bill every success through this House.

7.40 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, it may be helpful if I speak briefly in this debate in order to give your Lordships an indication of the Government's view on the Bill.

The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the railways board. The Department of Transport has no points outstanding on it.

The Bill represents a further stage of planning by the British Railways Board for the time— now only a few years away— when our railway system is integrated into the European network. The board's intention to grasp the commercial opportunities for rail made possible by the Channel Tunnel continues to be warmly supported by the Government.

The Channel Tunnel Act, promoted by the Government, included powers to enable British Rail to build an international passenger station at Ashford. The adjusted location for that station now proposed by the board in this Bill takes into account the possibility that there will be a new Channel Tunnel rail link through Ashford. This seems a sensible step, which has, I understand, been widely welcomed. The Government recognise the importance attached in Kent to having an international passenger station at Ashford, and welcome its inclusion in British Rail's plans. We also support the principle of the other works in the Bill which are similarly related to the provision of international passenger and freight services.

There are 17 petitions against the Bill and the petitioners will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The committee will be in a very much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved and they will have the added advantage of hearing expert evidence.

I therefore recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed to proceed in the usual way to the Select Committee for detailed consideration. I am sure that the committee will also take into account the views expressed during this debate.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, perhaps I may make one correction. I mentioned that the alterations to the Heathrow Express Railway Bill were made by the other place. In actual fact they were made by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I thought I should make that correction to be sure that the right record is made in Hansard.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate on Second Reading. One or two noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard raised the issue of noise levels. I dealt extensively with the difficulties of the noise problem when I spoke on the matter during the Second Reading debate. It will be remembered that I said in regard to noise levels that the electrically powered vehicles will be much quieter than the present trains using diesel engines; that there were some new disc brake designs and more welded rails allowing for quieter running, especially with regard to noise reduction for those living near or alongside the line.

It is also a comforting fact that in the first years of operation— and I hope the noble Viscount may take some comfort from this— the rail freight services should result in up to 400,000 fewer lorry movements on the road per year over the roads of Kent and the South East. That alone is significant mitigation on the question of noise as it relates to this project.

My noble friend also suggested that British Rail were not very enthusiastic about freight. I hope that upon consideration of any communication to him by British Rail he will have reason to think otherwise. They are enthusiastic concerning freight and will do all in their power to obtain more business. For most people it is logical that freight should be taken prima facie by rail once the Channel Tunnel is completed. There are of course other methods of handling freight— by sea, container ship and the like— but there will be a tremendous increase in business. British Rail feel that it is logical that it should fall heir to the increased freight traffic passing between this country and the Common Market countries, and vice versa. However, I welcome the remarks made by the noble Viscount.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, welcomed the Bill. I do not think I can be expected to go into the relevance of the British Rail report, which I do not have before me at the present time. However, I must address myself to the point he raised with regard to the difference in guages. It is a matter which was considered right from the start and it would be unreasonable to imagine that British Rail had not paid careful attention to the difference in rail guages. It is not novel. It was probably dealt with in the deliberations of those who were in charge of this exercise.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, also raised the question of the gradient at Ashford. I do not believe that that is something which has not occurred to the engineering section of British Rail and those in charge of building the track. Those problems will not exist when the project is completed. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Crook, agrees, I shall ask the engineering section of British Rail to contact the noble Lord and discuss these technical matters in correspondence. I hope that they will give him undertakings which he will find acceptable.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, made many serious and helpful points in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. All the matters that he raised will be given serious consideration and I hope that he will be satisfied that British Rail will deal with them. I am grateful for the way in which he addressed himself to the support of the Bill.

There is a point on which I may offer some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. If this Bill goes on to the statute book in due course, the easy interchange between international and Network SouthEast services will be a significant and compelling reason for supporting this type of Bill. A new rail link will enable Ashford to become a focus for Kent express services. A commuter service for East Kent will reduce the journey times between Ashford and London by almost one half. That must be a significant advantage to commuters on Network SouthEast and by itself is possibly a valid reason for supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also said that he doubted whether British Rail were sufficiently ambitious for their freight services. I cannot give an undertaking, but I am sure that they are. They are enthusiastic about freight. They expect to be in the freight business in no small way when the Channel Tunnel is complete. They also believe that the normal increase in trade is such that it will be equivalent to an additional 100,000 lorry movements by road in Kent, per se.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I was not saying that I was critical of British Rail. I was repeating a criticism of the Kent County Council. I believe, as does the noble Lord, that British Rail will do their utmost to develop freight.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, and I am sure that British Rail will answer that point at the Select Committee. It is a fact that the normal increase in freight traffic is expected to be so great that it will be equivalent to 100,000 lorry movements per year.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also mentioned the question of barriers. I have no means of knowing whether £ 3 million is a fair and reasonable cost for the erection of the barriers which it was suggested may be needed. However, I can say that it is a matter for consideration and to which British Rail will give close attention. Of course, at present I can make no promises and give no undertakings, but what the noble Lord said will be taken on board by the promoters and I hope they will be in touch with him in due course.

I thank my noble friend Lord Davidson for saying that the Government have no objection to the powers sought and that the Department of Transport has no comments to make. I am grateful to hear that the Government support the Bill and I thank my noble friend for his comments. In the circumstances, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may say that I unfortunately brought the wrong glasses so I could not read my notes. I thank my noble friend for his kind words.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, if my noble friend has lost his glasses and felt in any way handicapped by the loss perhaps I may say that he did very well without them. Perhaps he should lose them more often!

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committted to a Select Committee.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.52 to 8 p.m.]