HL Deb 25 November 1992 vol 540 cc954-5

2.46 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that the final alignment of the route for the high speed Channel railway link will enable it to carry freight.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, Union Railways were asked to submit proposals that would enable freight to be carried, should demand warrant it.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that with proper alignment it should be possible for the high speed railway line to carry freight on the basis of two tracks and passing loops? Will the Minister undertake that when the proposals on the line of route are advanced to the Government they will be immediately published to enable public discussion to take place on these difficult issues before final decisions are taken?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, yes. The primary transport objective of the link is to provide a comfortable and fast passenger service. It will have freight capability. Passing loops could facilitate that dual capacity. The Government will make a decision as soon as possible after they have reviewed the Union Railways' report. An announcement is likely to be made in the spring of 1993.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, what does that answer mean? I had understood that Stratford was supposed to be the link for the high speed trains and that there was to be an underground tunnel from Stratford direct to King's Cross. When are we to hear an announcement from the Government that all that, including the ability to carry freight, will happen?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the announcement will be available for public consultation and will be published in the spring. It will be accompanied by a report on the main options that were considered. The Government remain committed to King's Cross as the location for the terminus.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Viscount accept that while moving passengers from England to France through the tunnel is important, in the national interest the movement of freight is almost more important? The purpose of the tunnel should be to move freight from the manufacturing industries of this country into the markets of Europe. Can that not be facilitated by an improvement in the freight line?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord regarding the importance of taking freight to and from Europe. British Rail has stated that existing lines have sufficient capacity for freight traffic well into the next century, given the upgrading works in process. The rail link will remove passenger trains from existing lines and release further capacity for freight.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, can the Minister indicate whether what he said applies equally to continental freight? Do the Government support the idea that there should be harmonisation of railway lines to enable continental freight to be taken? If so, what will be the cost? What will be the effect of privatisation in that regard? Is it not wholly undesirable that continental freight should be carried, if no change emerges, almost exclusively on roads? Would that not be an immense disadvantage for the environment?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, regarding the harmonisation of freight, it would be sensible to build to a large gauge as on the continent so as to keep all options open for the future. The Government have asked Union Railways to plan for UIC gauge B plus, which is sufficient at least to take what is called "unaccompanied piggy backs". The Government recognise the environmental advantages of carrying freight by rail wherever commercially possible.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether the Government have any plans to carry freight from the Channel Tunnel to Scotland?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we have great plans to carry freight from the Channel Tunnel on the high speed link. Freight can then be transferred to the existing routes to Scotland.