asked Her Majesty's Government:
Following Railtrack's network management statement of March that 12,000 line closures per year would be required for the next few years to upgrade the West Coast Main Line, what action they are taking to ensure passenger and freight services are maintained to an adequate quality.
My Lords, the 12,000 engineering possessions a year which Railtrack considers will be necessary on the West Coast Main Line during the upgrading include about 9,000 required for maintenance purposes and are, therefore, independent of the upgrade. All 12,000 possessions are ones for which 30 weeks' or longer notice has been given to operators by Railtrack. Train operators will thus be in a position to make arrangements for passenger services to be diverted, amended or replaced by buses, and freight operators will be in a position to negotiate appropriate arrangements to enable disruption to be minimised. No permanent track closures will be involved in the upgrading works.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as chairman of Rail Freight Group. I thank the Minister for that Answer. My noble friend is right. One cannot have such a major upgrade for a new line without closures. He is also right that alternative routes need to be found.
When the line was electrified 25 years ago, alternative routes were provided. I am told that one such route was the Midland Mainline and Buxton to Matlock. Does my noble friend believe that that line could be opened? Derbyshire County Council and Railtrack have commissioned a study. Is he surprised that the strategic rail authority has refused to contribute any funds to that study?
My Lords, the franchising director has received an application under the rail passenger partnership scheme for a feasibility study of the Buxton to Matlock reopening proposal. The rules governing the use to which rpp funds can be put preclude their use for financing feasibility studies. Projects have to be advanced beyond the feasibility study stage before the rpp assistance is sought. The franchising director has no other source of funding for private feasibility studies, although he has the ability under certain circumstances to commission feasibility studies of his own.
My Lords, following on from that question, may I ask the Minister whether any arrangements have been made, and, if not, whether he will press the Strategic Shadow Rail Authority to make arrangements to provide other trains on alternative routes? I refer, for example, to doubling the length of trains to Birmingham on the Chiltern line or providing some services to Manchester by the Midland Mainline even without the reopening of the Buxton section. Given the problems with train operating companies, does the Minister believe that such arrangements could and should be made?
My Lords, I cannot answer on that specific line. However, Railtrack and the operators have agreed extensive diversions. They avoid some of the areas most affected. The strategic rail authority, with whom I have checked, has not received any representation from passenger operators concerned about the effects of any of the works on their business at present. As I said, there will be few long-term route closures. Most of the operational work will be undertaken at night and at weekends.
My Lords, will the Minister ask Railtrack and the operating companies to give passengers a little notice about closures and delays? At present one receives little notice. As a long-suffering user of trains to Cumbria I say that with much feeling. Some notice to passengers would not come amiss.
My Lords, in the re-franchising process which is already under way it is our intention to ensure that the interests of rail travellers have a greater prominence than they may have had in the past. I shall bring my noble friend's comments to the attention of Railtrack and the operating companies.
My Lords, first, I note the Minister's comments that most of the closures will be at night. That is fine for passenger train companies but not for freight companies. Can the noble Lord assure us that freight services down the West Coast Main Line corridor will not be interrupted in a way that will deter freight companies from putting their freight on rail?
Secondly, what is the Government's attitude towards compensating Railtrack for the £3 billion costs for the extra-contractual obligation to provide block signalling?
My Lords, Railtrack and the operating companies have had an extensive consultation process. They have agreed well in advance the necessary diversions. It is easier to organise those diversions with freight than with passenger services. We have every confidence that that will be concluded.
The Rail Regulator is reviewing the costs of renewing and enhancing the West Coast Main Line as part of his periodic review of Railtrack's access charges. He intends to publish in June of this year that consultation document which sets out his provisional views on the efficient level of costs and who should pay for any cost overruns.