HL Deb 10 November 1997 vol 583 cc8-10

3.11 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the likely opening date of the Jubilee Line extension to Greenwich and Stratford.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, I understand that London Transport is planning to open the Jubilee Line extension at the end of September 1998.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I tabled the Question because last week I read in the Evening Standard that there was a chance that the Jubilee Line extension would not open until after the millennium—in 2001—because of signalling problems. We all know what such problems can cause to railways. Does the Minister have a contingency plan in case the Jubilee Line is not open? Will everyone go to the exhibition by bus or car? If people cannot reach that destination, will not the viability of the dome be adversely affected?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we have investigated the reports to which my noble friend refers. I understand that the New Millennium Experience company received assurances from London Underground that the extended Jubilee Line will cope adequately with the forecast number of visitors arriving at North Greenwich Station to visit the Millennium Experience.

My noble friend and other Members of the House may be reassured to know that the Jubilee Line extension is being built with the traditional system of fixed block signalling, which will operate as a fallback, as well as the advanced signalling which will normally be in operation. Therefore, it should be possible to open in 1998 even if there are difficulties with the signalling.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, my question does not arise directly out of the Question on the Order Paper. Does the Minister's Answer mean that the part of the line between Waterloo and Westminster, which could be useful to some of us, must wait until the whole project is completed?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, London Transport is planning to open the line in September 1998, but it must have in mind a number of contingency plans aimed at achieving that under various circumstances. There have been difficulties around Westminster Station, which is extremely deep and constricted in construction terms. Therefore, there is a possibility that the Jubilee Line extension may open initially without the sections at Westminster Station.

Lord Luke

My Lords, delighted though one is to hear that the Jubilee Line extension will be ready for the millennium, the problem with regard to other access has not been answered. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked what contingency plans there might be. With 12 million visitors expected, would it not be better to accelerate plans for car parks in Barking and Thamesmead so that the river can be used to ferry people to the site

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, there will be an excellent public transport network including, but not exclusively, the Jubilee Line extension, offering a variety of ways to travel to the millennium exhibition. In addition to the JLE, there will be new river boat services, new riverside walking and cycling facilities, a new transit link to the north Kent rail line, secure cycle and motorcycle facilities, a purpose-built coach park and, possibly, a cable car across the Thames.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, allowing for what the Minister has described, does she agree that all parts of all Underground networks break down from time to time? The Millennium Dome is virtually dependent on the link for the bulk of its support. What contingency plans are in place should there be an Underground breakdown, to which we in central London are perfectly accustomed?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I repeat that London Transport has been made aware of the importance of the Jubilee Line functioning. It is due to open at the end of September 1998, which is in plenty of time for the millennium exhibition. Although the noble Lord said that the majority of people are expected to travel there on the Jubilee Line, I understand that approximately half of all the visitors in 2000 are expected to travel on the line. As I said previously, the fixed block signalling is being installed as a contingency measure because the moving signalling can cause problems.

Baroness David

My Lords, must we wait until the end of 1998 for the final version of Westminster Station?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am afraid that the import of my earlier answer is that it might be beyond the end of 1998 before we see the final version of Westminster Station. It is a complex construction adjacent to the Palace of Westminster. The JLE sections are being constructed around the working District and Circle Lines. Difficulties in relation to that have resulted in delays in completing the station.

Lord Hayhoe

My Lords, in view of the comments about Westminster Station, will the Minister acknowledge the remarkable civil engineering work which is being undertaken there? It is managing to keep the District and Circle Lines working while major activities are taking place in creating a new station. It is a remarkable achievement, and, while it is disappointing that the opening may be delayed, that is not surprising in view of the complexity of the project.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hayhoe, for his helpful comments. It is true that the whole project has been undertaken with the District and Circle Lines in operation. That is a challenging engineering task.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for answering so many positive questions and I feel comforted by her answers. Does she agree that Members of this House and another place having to walk to Waterloo in order to travel to the millennium exhibition is a small price to pay for having a wonderful station at Westminster which will be open in a year or two?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, it is a small price and probably one that is beneficial in terms of cardiovascular systems.

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