Reopened Railways

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30 pm, 28th June 2005

How many miles of closed railway in England have been reopened since 1 May 1997.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Since 1997, 12 miles of railway line have been reopened and some 36 miles have been redoubled. Also, some 27 miles of former railway alignment are now being used by light rail. In addition, stage 1 of the channel tunnel rail link includes 46 miles of new railway line and stage 2, when it opens in 2007, will form an additional 24 miles.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Twelve miles is pathetic, given the renaissance of rail that Labour promised when it came to power some eight years ago. Many former railway lines are crying out to be reopened, not least the Lewes-Uckfield line in my constituency. The social, environmental and economic case for that is beyond question. The reopening is supported by all three parties, it would close a small gap in the network and provide an alternative to the Brighton main line. If we cannot reopen that line, when will any line reopen under Labour?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that there is any likelihood of that line reopening in the near future. I mentioned the new railway lines and those that are being used for light rail, but for the sake of completeness, it is fair also to include the nearly £8 billion that we spent upgrading the west coast main line; the improvements that are being made to the east coast main line; the £1 billion we spent on replacing the Southern power supply, which affects trains to the hon. Gentleman's constituency; and the fact that 40 per cent. of all rolling stock has been replaced in the past five years. It simply is not true to say that money has not been spent on the railways: £87 million of public money, which is also bringing in money from the private sector, is being spent on the railways. The hon. Gentleman has conveniently forgotten that that is an awful lot more than the Liberal Democrats ever promised.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we await a date for the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill, which will open up opportunities for cross-London transport that are currently closed for rail purposes. Can my right hon. Friend give us a date for Second Reading and will he also look again at the case for a station at Woolwich, without which a six-mile section of that network will be closed to passengers from south-east London?

M

Funny that Crossrail claim that the benefits of a station at Woolwich will not offset the costs, yet also say they haven't separately worked out the costs and benefits of Whitechapel Station. Seems they are very selective about what they bother to analyse.

Submitted by Michael Schabas

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I know of my right hon. Friend's interest in the Crossrail project. The timetable is a matter for the business managers and I cannot make any announcement to the House on that today. The Bill has had its First Reading and, if it gets a Second Reading, it will go into Committee, and that is the opportunity for my right hon. Friend to make representations. Substantial representations have already been made in respect of Crossrail. People want major changes and minor changes, but I hope that the process can be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to two matters. In relation to London's transport needs, we are making the investment for the future. I remind the House that after years when the railways were starved of investment, when the Conservatives saw no long-term future for the railways, we now have a substantial increase in investment and more and more people are using them.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Is the Secretary of State aware that calls for the reopening of the Kettering to Corby railway line to regular passenger traffic enjoy popular support in north Northamptonshire? However, in the Government's Milton Keynes and south midlands sub-regional spatial strategy, published in March, plans for the reopening of that line were described as

"a possible future priority, but not a current priority."

Given that Corby is the largest town in western Europe without access to a regular rail passenger service, can the Secretary of State advise the House when plans for the reopening of Corby station will be announced?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am aware of the calls to open that particular railway line and many others, but I remind the hon. Gentleman, in the nicest possible way as he is new to the House, that just a few weeks ago he stood on a platform for cutting public expenditure, including substantial cuts in transport, which would have made it impossible to open that line, or indeed any other.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester

The Cotswold line running west from Oxford to Worcester is hampered by elements of single tracking along its route—the other half of the track has been closed down. Will my right hon. Friend undertake a review of the impact of that on the efficiency and capacity of services along that important route?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

As I said in my original reply, double tracking has been restored on a number of lengths of track where that is justified by the passenger traffic. I can make no specific promises about that particular stretch of track, but I would say more generally that although I understand the many arguments for reopening railways, we are spending a very large amount indeed on them and it will not be possible to meet everyone's representations or demands. At least, my hon. Friend stood on a platform at the last election for increasing public expenditure.