Report on forms of railway track

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 25th June 2019.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on the relative merits of using slab track and track laid on sleepers in the scheduled works.

(2) The report must include specific consideration of—

(a) environmental impact;

(b) cost efficiency; and

(c) maintenance.

(3) The report must be laid before Parliament within one year of this Act being passed.’—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause follows an inquiry at the petitions stage of the Bill that there was no remit to consider at that stage. Hon. Members will have heard that the kind of tracking used can have a significant impact on cost, including long-term maintenance costs, and the noise of the railway. It also has an impact on the speed at which trains travel. As the route has been singled out as providing high-speed rail travel, it is right that the Government work with engineers on the issue.

Although using slabs on the rail line is believed to be more expensive initially, it could prove much more efficient in the long term than using sleepers because it is low-maintenance. Across Europe and beyond, modern railway infrastructure projects are changing, and it is common for slab track to be preferred to sleepers. This short new clause asks the Government to assess the cost, efficiency and impact of that approach.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I do not see the need for the new clause. Again, the environmental statement assesses a reasonable worst case for the impacts of construction and operation of the railway. That includes so-called slab track, and track laid on ballast, or sleeper track. To comply with the environmental minimum requirements, the type of track used must be within the reasonable worst-case impact assessed in the environmental statement.

HS2 is one of the most scrutinised pieces of legislation to pass through the House—it even has its own Select Committee—and there are several other opportunities throughout the year for an inquiry to take place. There is constant reporting to Parliament and justifications for why decisions are taken. Reporting to Parliament obviously matters, and it takes place, but constant discussions about cost add another layer of financial burden and bureaucracy when the reports are already in place. The new clause is not needed and should be withdrawn.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

I appreciate the Minister’s response. We will not press the new clause to a vote, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.