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27 Feb 2007 : Column 253WH—continued

Although the majority of these route utilisation strategies cover passengers and freight in specific geographical areas, the specific network-wide needs of freight have also been recognised in the work undertaken for the freight RUS—the final version of
27 Feb 2007 : Column 254WH
which Network Rail plans to publish in March this year following consultation on the draft. The freight RUS consultation document shows the important role of both Tees and Hartlepool, and Redcar, as ports—centres of industrial and commercial activity. They are also the origin of rail freight flows to locations across the UK including power stations, inland rail terminals, metal processing and production facilities and, locally, the potash mines at Boulby and steel production facilities close to the docks.

The document also recommends further work on the evaluation of options for rail gauge enhancements on the route from Teesport to the east coast main line. During the next 18 months, the proposal will be taken forward by Network Rail, with support from the ports and the regional developments agencies, as part of a gauge evaluation package for the key northern rail routes.

Each Network Rail route utilisation strategy covers a period of about 10 years. In the longer term, the Government will continue to take forward a number of projects to enhance capacity, including the Thameslink project, for which we have recently received planning permission, and to whose further development we have allocated £30 million in advance of the outcome of this year’s comprehensive spending review.

This year, our strategy on the high level output specification programme will set out our long-term expectations for rail. I should mention at this point that the high level output specification will not specify outputs for freight because the Government are not actually customers of the freight industry, but it will specify clearly what it expects from passenger rail during the next control period—from 2009 to 2014. One of the main considerations will be the capacity of the network and how to respond to the inevitable increases in demand. The document will specify passenger outputs and also draw on work done by the industry in the freight route utilisation strategy. That will take into account the reasonable requirements of freight to inform directly our demand models so that we can plan for passenger growth while keeping an informed eye on the needs of freight as well.

Given that rail projects can take a number of years to come to fruition, the Department will also consider the strategic direction for the railways over a longer period so that in the shaping of the first high level output specification we will be aware of the likely pressures and requirements in subsequent years. That will ensure that we do not carry out abortive works and that any renewals that occur are designed with the longer-term requirements in mind, which will save time and money when schemes are implemented in later years.

We recognise the importance of Teesport to the immediate locality and to the UK as a whole, and the strategic importance of its rail freight links to the east coast main line and beyond. We also welcome rail freight growth and wish it to continue across the country, including north-east England. The challenge for the future will be to develop the rail network to cater for such growth. I pay tribute once again to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland, and thank him for raising the matter today.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Two o’clock.

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