High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:54 am on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 11:54 am, 8th December 2009

I will keep my remarks brief, Mr. Fraser.

I congratulate Greg Mulholland on securing the debate and on his campaigning. It is about 20 years since I started the campaign for the upgrade of the west coast main line. I had black hair at that time and was about 3 stone lighter. The first thing that he must do is keep his seat.

I take exception to one or two points. A high-speed line would not be built to Birmingham to reduce the journey time by 20 minutes-£10 billion would not be spent on that, because it does not make economic sense. The reason for doing it is that it is the start of the high-speed line. The hon. Gentleman was rather lazy in his arguments. When he did not like something, he said that it was a lazy conclusion, but did not go into the issue.

The point is that we need to build a high-speed line because there are major capacity problems on our railways. Whether we like privatisation or not, a lot of people have been travelling by rail and there are major capacity problems. We therefore have to build new lines. If we are to build new lines, we might as well build high-speed lines so that there is a better railway. The capacity problem is in the west, on the lines to Birmingham and Manchester. Beyond that, we can argue about which direction the line should go in. There is a major capacity problem that we need to deal with and that is why we are talking about building a high-speed line. This is not a wish list. We are talking about spending £30 billion to complete one line from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. That is a lot of money, so we have to justify it. The capacity problem is the justification.

We do not have to forget about the classic, traditional lines. I chair the all-party west coast main line group and our lobbying has been successful. At the moment, speeds on the west coast and east coast main lines are limited to 125 mph. The speed on both lines could be pushed up to 140 mph with little investment. I suggest to people who live on the east coast that their first priority should be to upgrade the east coast main line, because that could bring faster speeds and quicker journey times to London and elsewhere without the need to wait 30 years for the high-speed line, as the hon. Gentleman said. We need to sweat our existing resources better.

We must be careful that those who live on the periphery of London, such as Mr. Lidington, do not block the advancement of the economy in the north. The question of Scotland, as raised by John Mason, is difficult. From the Scottish border, it is about 70 or 80 miles to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The question is whether the Scottish Government will have the money to pay for that and whether an independent Scottish Government would have the money to pay for it. I doubt that they would.

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