Orders of the Day — Rail Service (London-Cleethorpes)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:42 pm on 17th June 1992.

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Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes 11:42 pm, 17th June 1992

I am most grateful to those who determine whether we secure Adjournment debates that I should have the good fortune to be able to raise the subject of the direct rail services between London and Cleethorpes. I am delighted to see attending the debate the Minister for Public Transport, who is to reply, my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). They too have an interest in the debate following the recent proposal by British Rail to withdraw the high-speed 125 train service that operates once a day in the morning from Cleethorpes to King's Cross and calls at the stations of Cleethorpes, Barnetby, and Habrough in my constituency, and then at Great Grimsby, Market Rasen and Lincoln before joining the main line at Newark. So the train services my constituents and those of the other hon. Members whom I have listed.

I know that my remarks will be heard by British Rail because of the forceful support offered by the constituents of my hon. Friends.

This train is the premier service to London from north Lincolnshire and south Humberside. It was introduced 10 years ago in 1982. Until then, we had four direct trains in each direction with full first and second-class carriages. They were diesel-haul locos with buffet and dining car services. Those four trains were withdrawn in 1982 and BR said that they were to be replaced by a single, but premier, train which would arrive in London about 9 am, and that there would be a return train in the evening. That train has been well used and well supported for 10 years by local people in all our constituencies.

Four years ago, when BR proposed to introduce the new 225 trains—the trains with electric overhead wires —my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle and I wondered what might happen if all high-speed main line train services were only 225 trains. We recognised that there was no electrification between Newark and Cleethorpes. In 1988, we took the trouble to press BR very firmly about the future of high-speed train services between south Humberside and north Lincolnshire and London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle and I wrote to BR stating that we noted the tremendous investment that the Government were making available to BR for the 225 electrified trains. We said that it might be possible that one day the diesel electric-powered 125 trains, like those on the Cleethorpes to London service, might wear out. We wanted to know what would happen then.

We were accused of raising fears where there were none. However, we were very specific in what we said to BR. Back in 1988, I wrote asking specifically about the future of that train after 31 December 1991—just 150 days ago. I received a letter from Mr. Prideaux, who was then the managing director of InterCity. He wrote in 1988: Thank you for your letter of 21 April. I would confirm the assurances given in the letters of my InterCity marketing manager at York that we plan to continue the operation of a through service between Cleethorpes and King's Cross for the foreseeable future. We have not reached the stage of planning timetables beyond 1991, but it may help if I say that we have already decided to retain a number of refurbished high-speed train sets to operate services beyond the electrified area including that to Cleethorpes after that date.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle was taken to task by Mr. Holland, the InterCity marketing manager, when he wrote to BR in similar terms to mine. Mr. Holland assured him: May I support the assurances about the future of the train which you have already received from Chris Austin British Rail's parliamentary affairs manager. The train performs reasonably satisfactorily in the financial sense and serves an area with potential for future growth. There is no (nor has there been) any intention of withdrawing it. We cannot of course unconditionally guarantee its continued existence for ever any more than any commercial business can indefinitely underwrite any product since its survival will obviously depend on its usage and earnings remaining satisfactory. But I am puzzled as to why you should believe that this train is to be withdrawn. Can you elucidate upon the cause of your fears? My hon. Friend was taken to task in no uncertain terms by BR. Those assurances today are not worth the paper on which they are written.

I took the trouble to write to BR when the announcement was made 10 days ago, and I received responses from the parliamentary affairs manager and Mr. Brian Birdsall, the director of the east coast main line. He refuted my allegation that BR had misled my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and me. It denies that anything that it said in 1988 was at variance with the position in 1992. Never again will I treat anything that I see on paper from British Rail as anything other than worthless.