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Midland Main Line

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 2:30 pm, 27th January 2009

What date he has set for the full electrification of the midland main line.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, quieter and produce less carbon dioxide. In my statement to the House on 15 January, I announced that, commensurate with the timetable for procuring the new inter-city express fleet, I intended to make a decision on electrification of the midland main line north of Bedford later this year.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Last month there were four dewirements on the west coast main line, causing havoc to the service, so will the Government learn from previous electrifications and build a scheme that is of a high standard, and not on the cheap? Otherwise, when the wind blows in Derbyshire the trains will stop in Wellingborough.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I do not accept for a moment the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks—that somehow the improvements to the west coast main line were done on the cheap, or that the failures that occurred over the new year period were attributable to the upgrade. Indeed, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is generally a fair-minded man, will look at the evidence that demonstrates that a number of different problems arose, that they were all caused separately, and that they were not in any way related to the upgrade programme. I will certainly send him details of the investigations that resulted, but if he accepts what I have said, he will recognise that the proposals to electrify both the midland main line and the Great Western main line do not need to suffer from any particular problems of the kind that have been suggested as being associated with the upgrade of the west coast main line.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

In anticipation of the decision on full electrification of the midland main line, will the Secretary of State look at ways in which Network Rail could be persuaded to reverse its current catastrophic decision to cut back on track maintenance? In the face of decisions announced by Corus, will he look at ways of bringing forward the replacement of track, to give us the basis for a genuine rail infrastructure for the 21st century?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no basis for suggesting that there is any cut in the quality of track maintenance by Network Rail. It is something that the Government, and Network Rail, take extremely seriously, not least in the light of relatively recent tragedies. Maintaining the safety and security of the line is absolutely fundamental right across our railway network.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The chief executive of Network Rail has accused the Government of being short-sighted and betting on the wrong fuel, as the UK has only 39 per cent. of its current network electrified—the lowest proportion of any major economy in Europe. Why do the Government continue to invest pretty much all their money—notwithstanding the Secretary of State's earlier comments—in diesel trains, which are high in pollution, when there are alternatives, such as electric trains, that would be good not only for the economy but for the environment?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, that was a very odd question to ask in the light of the statement that I have made and the answer that I just gave to Mr. Bone. The reality is that we are looking hard at electrification, for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has just set out. To try to make a criticism out of the announcement that we have just made is, if he will forgive me for repeating the word, very odd indeed.

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Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

I welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to electrification. Does he accept that the electrification of the midland main line will bring by far the best cost-benefits of any electrification scheme, and does he also agree that it will bring enormous benefits to the east midlands region, particularly to Leicester—and to Nottingham and stations further north?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have promised myself that in future I will always refer to the Great Western line before I refer to the midland main line, but the case for both is equally strong.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

It sounds as if electrification of the midland main line is going to be many years away, but my constituents in Kettering cannot wait that long for the train service that they need and deserve. Will the Secretary of State take steps to improve line speeds on the midland main line before electrification, so that Kettering's inter-city status can be returned to the town?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this across the Floor of the House before. I recall mentioning on that previous occasion that there will be an improvement in the service from Kettering, in terms not only of the journey time but of the service, including one service that actually starts in Kettering, to ensure that where there are difficulties, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will have first choice of the seats on that train. I hope that he will join me in welcoming the improvements that the new timetable will bring for his constituents in and around Kettering.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On 15 January, the Secretary of State said to the House:

"we will analyse the value for money, affordability and financing options of the electrification proposals that Network Rail will put to me shortly."—[ Hansard, 15 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 356.]

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will also consult the Committee on Climate Change, because electrification of major parts of our network is long overdue, and it will have climate change implications? Will he please consult the committee on this matter?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I had not planned to do so specifically, not least because, for all the reasons mentioned so far this afternoon, electrification is generally reckoned to have positive climate change benefits. The proposed electrification would reduce the amount of carbon emitted, and, while it is true that only about 1 per cent. of carbon generated by public transport is emitted by railways in the first place, that small contribution would nevertheless be an improvement.

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