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Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): I want to wish everyone present a very happy Christmasnone of this American happy holidays nonsense. I want to raise a couple of matters that have arisen over the past year that are important to my constituency. I will talk about my constituents' hopes for the future, as we should at this time of year.
I shall start with Crossrail. Since I took part in a debate on the matter in the House just over a year ago, quite a lot has happened. For example, the report by Adrian Montague that we were waiting for then was published this year. Throughout the history of Crossrail, Reading had been envisaged as a western terminus for the scheme, but last year, the company taking forward the proposalCross London Rail Linksenvisaged the western spur going to Heathrow. There were all sorts of other barmy proposals, such as Richmond, so it was pleasing when the second Montague report reconfirmed that Crossrail offered good value for money and, even better, that the barmy proposal to go to Richmond was precisely that, and should be junked. According to the report, where to the west should Crossrail go? Its conclusion was that the best proposal in terms of financial value was for it to terminate at Reading.
It was therefore a disappointment and a shock when consultation was announced by the Secretary of State for Transport in July on proposals by the Crossrail team for a route that terminated at Maidenhead. Why did that happen? One reason put forward by the Department for Transport was that Windsor and Maidenhead borough council had been screaming and shouting, jumping up and down and demanding that the scheme should come to Maidenhead. At the same time we should remember that, according to the Department for Transport, Reading borough council had not bothered to do anything. Why would the council not bother to campaign for something that would so obviously benefit Reading? To answer that, I am afraid that it will be necessary briefly to intrude on some internal Reading Labour party grief.
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The councillor with responsibility for transport for the past two or three years has been Councillor John Howarthnot a man that I would invite to my house to repair my toilet seat. In 2002, however, I invited him and a number of other key players in the Reading area to a meeting to lobby Crossrail to urge it to come to Reading. He attended that meeting and was very unenthusiastic. He spoke only about the Thames Trains services that would be lost if the Crossrail project were to go ahead. As we know, of course, Thames Trains is no more.
In the two years between that meeting and the July announcement, Councillor Howarth made no statement in support of Crossrail coming to Reading, nor did he communicate with Crossrail in support of that. The only communications between Reading borough council and anyone about Crossrail were official responses to the different consultations over that period.
Crossrail is something that I have worked to see happen for virtually the whole time since I became involved in public life in 1989. On my election in 1997, it was one of the key issues that I said I would pursue for the benefit of Reading. It is a very sad fact that, since 1997, Councillor Howarth has been leading attempts to deselect me from my position as the MP for Reading, Eastand he succeeded, eventually. It meant that he could not work with me. He could not tell anyone that I had ever done anything good or achieved any successes. The whole thing is really sad. I believe that Councillor Howarth is not fit to hold public office.
Hon. Members will be relieved to discover that another factor related to the Crossrail decision has nothing to do with Reading Labour party. The other reason why Crossrail is not currently planned to terminate at Reading is money. In order for Crossrail to agree to Reading as its western spur, it would be necessary to electrify the track from Maidenhead to Reading. The chairman of Crossrail has said that will add £300 million to the cost of the scheme. That is the main reason cited publicly by the Crossrail team for not choosing Reading, but for a scheme costing up to £10 billion, £300 million is peanuts and cannot, in itself, be the real reason for not selecting Reading.
Reading is a major hub on the rail link connecting the main east-west routes from London to the main north-south routes from Birmingham. Outside London, only Birmingham New Street is a busier station than Reading in terms of people travelling through it every day. Why miss out on connecting with all these other opportunities, and end at Maidenhead, where there are connections with nothing? No, such opportunities should not be missed when their cost adds up to only 3 per cent. of the total scheme. It is clear that some other factor must be involved. In fact there are two, and they are no secret. Earlier this month, I met Crossrail representatives, who told me that the two factors were Reading station, and resignalling.
Network Rail has plans to resignal the area around Reading station, but they will be carried out in the future. I do not think that Network Rail has identified a pot of money in a future budget, so what could be better than having Crossrail pay for the resignalling? Crossrail understands that, and does not want to fund a scheme that, in the end, Network Rail will carry out. Therefore, the second reason why Crossrail will not come to
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Reading is that it does not want to pay for resignalling. That needs doing but, if Crossrail came to Reading, it might have to bear the cost.
Similarly, Reading is known to be a major bottleneck in the rail system. Its main capacity problems are caused by conflicts between north-south train movements, and east-west movements. The borough council and the Strategic Rail Authority have worked together on proposals to tackle those problems. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport gave an answer to a parliamentary question, in which he made it clear that the council and the SRA were preparing a business case for major capacity enhancements at Reading station. Those enhancements would require an order under the transport and works legislation, application for which would be made in 2005. The business case will form part of that application.
If speculation in the local media about the scheme's scope is anywhere near the mark, it would be understandable that Crossrail would be concerned about having the scheme added in to its proposals. As a result, Crossrailwhich could deliver substantial benefits to Readingmight not be coming to Reading. Why? Because there are other proposals that would improve the rail service at Reading, but the Crossrail people are worried that they would have to pay for those other improvements as part of their own scheme.
Is it not a topsy-turvy world when transport improvements do not happen because of other transport improvements? Could there be a better example of the madness created by rail privatisation? Crossrail will not come to Reading because Network Rail wants to improve signals at Reading, and because the SRA wants to improve capacity at Reading station.
However, I am pleased to say that, now that my deselection has taken place, Reading borough council is once more backing Crossrail. It is disappointing that, although the plan to terminate the service at Maidenhead was known in April, it has taken the council until the beginning of October to pass a motion in support of having Reading as Crossrail's western terminus. Even so, I am very glad that that has happened.
Although it is disappointing that the council responded to the consultation only on the very last day, I am glad that it has at least made a response. The delay meant that there was not time to build a proper campaign, with all parties working together. Yet I am pleased that the council has finally written to the Secretary of State asking for the route between Maidenhead and Scour's lane in west Reading to be safeguarded. As a result, if it is possible to change Crossrail's mind and have it come to Reading, nothing can be built over the line or alongside it that might prevent or jeopardise that.
A cynic might also find it interesting that we had to wait from April to October for a response to the Crossrail consultation, but that the request for safeguarding was submitted within two weeks. However, I said at the beginning of my speech that I wanted to talk about hopes for the future. As far as Crossrail is concerned, I want representatives from the SRA, Network Rail and Crossrail to gather in one room
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to talk about the different proposals for Reading, when they can be implemented and who will be responsible for paying for them.
Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): This Christmas Adjournment debate gives me the opportunity to share with the House my profound concern for the future of train building in Britain, and especially in my constituency of Derby, North. In Derby, we have been manufacturing trains for some 164 years. The industry has been a major factor in the economic growth of a city that is positioned in the middle of England. We gave this country the future of modern transportation as we raced into the age of industrialisation.
According to a local historian and writer, from 1839 until the 1960s most trains had to go through Derby to get from the south of the country to the north-east of Scotland. In the mid-19th century, the Midland railway company began making railway engines in Derby, and the rail workshop became perhaps the major employer in the city.
My concern stems from the decision taken about three weeks ago by Bombardier to dispose of approximately 650 of its employees in the UK, 560 of whom are in Derby. Bombardier is the only company left in the UK that assembles, manufactures and produces trains for use here and around the world. The demise of railway manufacturing in the city of Derby has had a sorry history. Back in the 1960s, locomotive manufacture was moved to Crewe. Later, there was the bodged Conservative privatisation of the rail industry, and it has all been downhill since then. British Rail Engineering was established and spun out as a privatised company.
That was then disposed of to a company known as ABBT. I will say for the people who worked for that company that during a time when there were no train orders whateverit was an industrial desertthe chief executive in the UK, Bo Soderstrom, kept together the core design team for three years. That team was financed through the lean period in the knowledge that there would be jam tomorrow, and that was continued by Stig Svrad when he took over.
The company was then disposed of to Adtranz, which did a pretty good and effective job of building trains so that we saw a growth again of manufacturing as orders came from the privatised train-operating companies. Adtranz departed, and on to the scene came Bombardier. It has been through a huge, worldwide restructuring operation, and only a year or 18 months ago there was a real threat of closure at the Derby site. I offer my absolute gratitude to past and present employees in the rail industry, to the Derby Evening Telegraph, which ran a campaign
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