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West Coast Main Line

8. Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): What progress is being made on the upgrade of the west coast main line. [145871]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The upgrade of the west coast main line is making good progress and is expected to deliver significant improvements in journey times this year and next.

Tony Cunningham : I welcome that answer, but I hope that the new lines that are being laid in the upgrade are British made. Referring to journey times, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that one of the greatest problems is the greatly extended journey time during the upgrade? There is great suspicion that the reason for that problem has nothing to do with the upgrade, but more to do with avoiding paying the compensation that companies would have to pay for late-arriving trains. Will he look into the whole issue of timetabling?

Mr. Darling: Yes, I will. It is important that there should be realistic and accurate timetables. In relation to my hon. Friend's first point, I think that I am right in saying that most of the steel going into Britain's railways is British. On journey times, he will know that, when the upgrade is completed next year, the journey time to Carlisle, for example, on the west coast main line will be reduced by about half an hour. I am afraid that, in the major works that are being carried out on the line—the first major works in almost 30 years—there will inevitably be some degree of disruption. Hon. Members are well aware of that. I believe, though, that once the upgrade is completed and we have the new trains that Virgin is introducing—a number of which are now appearing on the west coast main line—there will be a qualitatively better service on the west coast than there has been for 30 years.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I warmly welcome the huge sums of money that have been

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poured into the west coast main line: my constituency has greatly benefited from that. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that as well as improving the signalling and track, the upgrade must, and should continue to, include, first, car parking at railway stations to encourage people to use rail; and, secondly, the extension of platforms to enable longer and larger trains to be put on to lines to carry people who want to travel by rail?

Mr. Darling: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Car parks at stations are extremely important if we are to encourage people to leave their cars and go by train. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the bureaucracy that stood in the way of lengthening platforms. When one looks at that more closely, it is clear that extending the platform by a few feet does not necessitate upgrading the entire station. One or two people thought that it did, which made the whole thing daft.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for the large amount of money—some £7.5 billion—that will be spent on the west coast main line. That investment is long overdue. I am grateful, too, that he takes such a realistic attitude towards the undoubted disruption that his constituents have had to endure. I hope that very shortly they will see the fruits of all that work.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will know, I have taken a particular interest in the west coast main line for more than a decade, and we are now at a point where we will see improvements. Yesterday, the first Pendolino train went from Euston to Glasgow. That service will be a great benefit to my constituents. However, will my right hon. Friend comment on the decision not to lay extra track in the Trent valley, which will create congestion and delays on the west coast main line? I understand that that decision was taken after the rail regulator intervened with Network Rail.

Mr. Darling: On the first point, my hon. Friend will know that once the upgrade is completed next year, more than half an hour will be taken off the journey time to Carlisle. I am glad that he mentioned the arrival in Glasgow of the first Pendolino train—I am told that it was eight minutes early, which is a shining example to the rest of the trains going up and down the west coast main line.

In relation to the four tracks through the Trent valley, the regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and Network Rail are discussing whether that work is immediately necessary. We are conscious of the fact that, as my hon. Friend will know, Railtrack promised to deliver the project for £2.5 billion, which was a hopelessly, wildly optimistic estimate. At one point, the cost soared to £13 billion. Even at the current £7.5 billion, it represents a very substantial investment, and we are all duty bound to ask ourselves what is necessary to deliver these journey time improvements, bearing in mind the fact that a lot of money has to be spent on other parts of the network, too.

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Motorway Noise

9. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What his policy is on the introduction of quieter road surfaces on motorways. [145872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): The Highways Agency always uses quieter road surfaces when carrying out resurfacing work on England's motorways and trunk roads. On 1 April last year, I announced a timetable for resurfacing all sections of concrete road on our strategic road network with noise-reducing material in order to provide relief from traffic noise for households living alongside noisy trunk roads. That work will be progressed in line with the priorities that were identified, which provide for the earliest relief to the worst affected properties, subject to the availability of funding.

Mr. Robathan : Unfortunately, that will not reassure my constituents who live near the M1 in Narborough, Whetstone, Cosby and elsewhere. They were expecting to have the M1 resurfaced with quieter material this summer, but it has been put off for up to three years—because of value management work, according to the Highways Agency. Yet the Minister told me in a written answer that the resurfacing project is not the result of value management work. Will he tell me who is right—he or the Highways Agency? Will he get his act and his policy together with the Highways Agency; and will he reassure my constituents along the M1 south of junction 20 that they will have a quieter road surface?

Mr. Jamieson: I would say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that, had it not been for this Government bringing in the new quieter road surfaces, there would have been no quieter road surfaces at all, whenever the surface was relaid. Work has to be carried out all round the country on the trunk roads and the major motorway system, including the M1 between junctions 20 and 21—I appreciate that many of the villages all the way down to Lutterworth are affected as well—but it has to be done in order of priority. Priority is given to road surfaces that are breaking up, and to locations where road safety is an issue, where there are potholes or where the skid value of the road has deteriorated. We carefully analyse each road that needs doing according to that list of priorities, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although it is not possible this year, he will be in the three-year programme from 2005–06, when his constituents will be able to expect the Government to provide a quieter road for them.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend meet the parish council in Bredgar when he visits my constituency shortly? The M2 runs alongside that area, and there have been campaigns against the noise for 10 years. It is an echo chamber. It seems to miss all the criteria that we apply to these problems, but the noise is unbearable to anyone walking there.

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Mr. Jamieson: A lot of meetings seem to be resulting from our questions today. Of course, I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend and I know what a strong advocate he has been on road and transport issues in his constituency. I would be happy to meet him, because I realise that this is a problem—just as it is in Leicester—for the people living alongside a motorway. Noise can be extremely intrusive.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Minister tell me, either now or in writing, when the M4 between junctions 8/9 and 12 might be resurfaced with a quieter material, which we would welcome? If he is planning an expansion of that motorway, could that be linked to the introduction of sound barriers to give some relief to residents?

Mr. Jamieson: The Highways Agency looks very carefully at the environmental impact of any improvements that take place on our roads, particularly the impact of noise on local residents. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman on the matter of the M4. As he knows, certain stretches have been resurfaced with a quieter material, but this work has to be done in order of priority. Priority has to be given to surfaces that have deteriorated, and we cannot just resurface roads that are still in good condition. I am sure that he appreciates that in terms of value for money for the taxpayer, but I shall certainly write to him about the sections of the road that he mentioned.

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