HC Deb 03 November 1989 vol 159 cc344-5W
Mr. Aitken

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been reported to him in the provision of rail services between the Channel tunnel and London; and whether it remains the Government's policy not to subsidise this project.

Mr. Parkinson

British Rail is planning to spend over £1 billion on upgrading the rail network in Kent and London, on developing Waterloo station and on rolling stock, so that a full international passenger and freight service can commence on the day that the Channel tunnel opens.

In July of last year British Rail began consultations on the proposal to build a new line which would be needed by the end of the century. On the basis of consultation on four route options, British Rail narrowed the choice to a preferred route in March of this year. British Rail also isued an invitation to the private sector to participate in a joint venture. Five positive responses to this invitation were received, and BR subsequently shortlisted two consortia.

Today British Rail has announced that it has selected its preferred partner in a joint venture for Channel tunnel rail services, and that is Eurorail, comprising Trafalgar House and BICC. I very much welcome this announcement.

The broad scope of the joint venture has been settled. It includes the operation of international rail services, not just the construction of the link. The details are still to be negotiated and my approval to the final agreement will be necessary. At this stage, however, I am greatly encouraged by the clear indications that I have had from the private sector that Channel tunnel rail services, including a new Channel tunnel rail link, can be financed commercially and that the new link can still be brought into operation in 1998.

I have been greatly impressed by the confidence, expertise and commitment shown by both the shortlisted consortia, Eurorail and the Acer Group. Eurorail is satisfied that detailed work carried out on the route through Kent confirms that the route proposed by BR is the best solution. It is confident that an acceptable way can be found of continuing the route from the outskirts of London to Waterloo and to a second terminal at Kings Cross with its excellent connections to the north.

This confirmation of the route through Kent, on which so much work has already been done to minimise the environmental consequences, will help to end uncertainty in the county. I welcome that as I welcome the decision to bring forward immediately legislative proposals to allow Ashford international passenger station to be relocated so as to open in 1993, but to fit in with the new line. It is for British Rail and its partner to determine the best route and terminals to be included in a parliamentary Bill, and I accept that now that BR and Eurorail have reached agreement it will not be practicable or sensible for them to examine other possible alternative proposals and projects. It will be for Parliament to decide whether the route can be accepted.

I think that it must be primarily for BR and Eurorail to judge how and when to seek the necessary legislative approval for their proposals. I accept BR's judgment that it is wiser to wait until all the details of the route through London have been finalised before introducing a Private Bill and that will also give the opportunity for further refinement of the detailed measures proposed for Kent. I welcome their stated intention to introduce a Bill in 1990.

The provision of the Channel tunnel link is now the responsibility of BR and its chosen partner, Eurorail. I confirm that it remains the policy of the Government that no subsidy will be given to Channel tunnel rail services.

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