Railways: High-speed Line — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 21st April 2009.

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Photo of The Bishop of Carlisle The Bishop of Carlisle Bishop 2:44 pm, 21st April 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to develop a high-speed rail line from London to the north-west and Scotland.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, the Government have set up a new company, High Speed Two, to develop the case for high-speed services between London and Scotland.

As a first stage, High Speed Two will report by the end of the year with a proposed route from London to the West Midlands, setting out any necessary options. It will also consider the potential for the line to extend to serve the north of England and Scotland.

Photo of The Bishop of Carlisle The Bishop of Carlisle Bishop

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree that at this time of growing unemployment, and to further targets for reducing carbon emissions and to improve our national infrastructure for growth after the recession, it is a highly opportune time to build the high-speed rail link? Does he further agree that because of the freight trains and the curves on the existing line north of Crewe, only a dedicated line will meet the need to reach the north and Glasgow quickly? Does he agree that, by comparison with other leading European nations, our progress with high-speed rail is woeful?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I understand that the right reverend Prelate retires from the See of Carlisle and the House at the end of the month. I think that I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that he leaves with our very best wishes. I have greatly appreciated my conversations with him about transport issues, on which he is a great expert. I agree with almost all his questions, but I cannot speak for my right honourable friend the Chancellor in terms of commitments we are able to make in the future. However, I note with strong approval that the Synod of the Church of England recently passed the following resolution:

"This Synod urges Her Majesty's Government ... to sustain employment opportunities, further environmental targets and strengthen future economic and social development by implementing the planning and development of a high-speed rail line from London to the North-West and Scotland".

Now that the high-speed line has divine sanction, nothing can stand in its way.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his decision to spend the whole of last week travelling the length and breadth of Britain's railway system without a bag carrier or press officer in attendance and armed only with a standard class rail rover ticket was immensely appreciated by everybody who cares about our railways? Having spoken to so many people during the week that he was travelling, was his impression of the need for new investment in the railway in terms of electrification and the high-speed rail line enhanced as a result of that experience?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, the highlight of my week was meeting my noble friend on the Swanage railway, where, for the first time in my life, I was on the footplate of a steam engine. That was immensely exciting for me but I think is a common occurrence for my noble friend. I, of course, embrace warmly the need for further investment in the railways and further investment is being put in place. As regards models for the future, when I finished my national tour at the York Railway Museum I was fortunate to arrive just as the Tornado was arriving on one of its trips out of London. There were vast crowds to see it. However, my particular concern was to have my picture taken next to the Japanese bullet train, which is a recent addition to the collection at the York Railway Museum, and which I have to say I see as rather more of a model for the future.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, in the light of the noble Lord's comments on the crucial importance of the high-speed rail link to the north-west, will he not neglect the equally urgent need to improve the high-speed rail link from King's Cross to Newcastle and on to Edinburgh on the east coast line? In the light of his recent experiences, did he enjoy the privilege of dining at his seat on National Express?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I will take up the case of the tuna sandwich and the tomato juice. However, I did not have the opportunity to enjoy the at-seat dining facilities on the East Coast Main Line because I was in the cab. Therefore, I had a better view of what was going on, particularly the issue which I know will be of concern to the noble Lord, which is that the East Coast Main Line north of Darlington has a much lower line speed than south of Darlington, where it is 125 miles an hour for a good part of the way. A key issue as we develop high-speed services is that we can get fast running all the way to Scotland. Therefore, I had to forgo the sandwich, steak and other delicacies on offer on the East Coast Main Line in order to get some practical experience.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister, Wales

My Lords, following the supplementary question of the right reverend Prelate, my interest is that my carbon footprint created in getting to Westminster would be 70 times less if we had a high-speed rail line from Scotland. Given that the Atkins report has costed the Government's proposal at around £31 billion, does the Minister have an updated figure on the possible benefit to the economy?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I passed through Montrose on my journey and thought of the noble Duke, who I imagined owned everything I could see. I do not have an updated figure, but I am in the market if anyone wishes to make a contribution.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative

My Lords, in his replies the Minister has been looking forward, rather apocalyptically, to the construction of new railway lines. Would he not agree that it is important in the current world that existing rail lines run as swiftly as possible, and that every effort is made to achieve that? I declare an interest as someone who was an hour late on the north-west main line yesterday.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, which is precisely why I spent a week travelling on the railways to see what is in fact going on. Whatever we manage to achieve in terms of high-speed rail over the coming years—and I see this as an important priority for the country—the great majority of travellers will be travelling on the existing railway, and in particular those who commute in and out of our major cities want to see more carriages, the best possible value and the fastest journey times that we can offer them.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson for Transport

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the High Speed Two line will be very welcome, there is a very urgent need, as has been stated, to upgrade services on the GNER, London and north-east lines? Also, will he give attention to how much use can be made of the Midland Mainline, which I believe the Government wish to electrify? By so doing, many more cities in this country would have the benefit of better rail services than would be the case with HS Two

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly says, we are looking in detail at the case for electrifying the Midland Mainline for precisely the reasons that he gives. In terms of improving the East Coast Main Line, a programme of work is taking place in the next five years that will remove bottlenecks and make it possible to have higher running speeds over some parts of it. As the noble Lord knows better than anyone in the House, there are a number of constraints on the East Coast Main Line north of Darlington, where track alignments make it very difficult to get much higher running speeds.