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I end, as I began, by emphasising the strongly positive climate which now exists for rail in Britain. Decline is a thing of the past. A spirit of optimism is abroad and there is a lot to be optimistic about. The great Victorian railway pioneer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, vowed to create a railway on which, in his words,

I know that all too many passengers wish that they could sit down to enjoy their coffee and write, but I am sure that even Brunel would be impressed by the railway technology of the 21st century and all it has to offer this generation and the next at speeds rather greater than 45 miles per hour. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the prospects for the future of the United Kingdom’s railways. —(Lord Adonis.)

11.55 am

Lord Lyell: My Lords, after that wonderful speech by the Minister, delivered at considerably more than 45 miles per hour, I adjusted the focal length of my glasses and looked around to discover that I am one of the only amateurs taking part in the debate. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, my career goes back to 1952, when we both studied at that wonderful college beside the Thames, Eton. His professionalism in his new career in your Lordships’ House and outside bears testimony to all the work that he has done.

I declare an interest as a noble Lord who probably does more mileage on the railways of the United Kingdom than any other. I hesitate to say “United Kingdom”, but I refer back to my career in Northern Ireland, which the United Kingdom covers. Today, I shall desist from worrying about what went on between

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Belfast and Londonderry, let alone the integrated system to Dublin, and I shall concentrate on Great Britain, especially Scotland. I travel 450 miles twice a week between Dundee and London on the east coast main line. I would like to thank all the personnel who have worked on that line over the many years that I have travelled from Scotland to London. The Minister mentioned the British Transport Police, who on several occasions this year have been able to assist me in various aspects of my travels to and from your Lordships’ House.

Perhaps I might split my remarks between passenger and freight. On the passenger side, your Lordships may be aware that north of Edinburgh the east coast main line, which continues to Aberdeen, is not electrified. I am a veteran of the high-speed train known as the 125. I am particularly gratified to hear the Minister say that those trains are being looked at, as some of the accoutrements and furnishings go back, to my mind, to the early 1980s. I have to take medicaments because of the draughts when the doors jam open. From everything that the noble Lord has said, however, it seems that progress is being made on that line.

Those of us who use the east coast main line are impressed with the electric service and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is as well. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I may remember our elementary mathematics: 125 miles per hour is, I believe, 225 kilometres per hour. To achieve those speeds, to which the Minister referred, one needs a certain amount of infrastructure. One hears about, across the Channel, the TGV system in France and, to a great extent, the neue Bahn in Germany.

I have one point about the east coast main line. The Minister mentioned Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Perhaps he would let me know in writing, or someone may enlighten me during the debate, who is responsible for repairing the old Great Northern Railway line that goes from King’s Cross to York, which I believe is 188 miles. The layout on that line, apart from some tunnels and one or two viaducts crossing the Chilterns, is perfect. It is a testimony to what can be done on the east coast main line with the 225s, which would not require the enormous infrastructure changes and earthworks that are required in France, Germany, Italy or elsewhere for high-speed trains.

I have some experience of travelling in Europe. Germany is rather like France, Italy and some parts of Spain. I have some personal knowledge of travelling in the Alps, particularly in Switzerland. Switzerland has an excellent integrated system for passenger trains. It has elapsed-time, fixed-interval trains so that you know that you will be able to make your connection. It is beautifully adjusted. Switzerland, Austria, France and Italy cover the Alps. Perhaps the Minister might be able to confirm that I have some of this right. I have a friend in Switzerland, former Federal Councillor Ogi. He was responsible for driving through the new alpine transport system. He had serious difficulties—political, personal and others—with many people in Switzerland when preparing two enormous transalpine, or subalpine, tunnels. The one that goes into the Rhone valley is complete. The second, the Gotthard tunnel, will be open, I think, within the next four years. Perhaps the

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Minister can confirm that I have that partly right. Those tunnels will significantly reduce the road transport, pollution and other problems associated with moving freight across Europe.

The Minister mentioned both sides of this aspect in Great Britain. Can he confirm that large parts of the track infrastructure and, for all I know, the laid track of the old Great Central line that used to go from Marylebone to Manchester would be suitable for extensive freight transport? The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, knows a lot about this and may be able to fill me in later. My noble friend Lord Henley reminded me that north of Leeds there is the old Midland line from Settle to Carlisle. I call it Ais Gill because it goes over it. I understand that that line still has excellent double-line infrastructure and track for freight. The passenger traffic is not great, but it can be. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that where we have existing track and infrastructure it will still be available.

Will the Minister write to me to confirm that the loading gauge for tunnels and track—the width and all that—will be suitable for all the improvements in transport that he and all of us wish to see? Across the Channel, the loading gauge—the height, the width and, for all I know, the weight—even on the older lines, certainly in the Alps, is greater than we have in Great Britain.

From a humble position, I thank the Minister for his great exposition of the current position. I look forward to hearing what he has to say in future and to hearing the other speakers in this debate who are the real professionals on this.

12.04 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I, too, start by thanking the Minister for his optimistic view of the future. I hope that he will be able to carry it into effect. He certainly has my best wishes and, I imagine, those of most Members of the House. I will dedicate what I have to say to the memory of my friend in another place, Robert Adley, who first brought me into the political arena as the adviser to the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1993. I speak from a professional, not a romantic, point of view and not from a particularly political point of view. The Government inherited a terrible mess and the Conservatives would do well to reflect on the advice given by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is not in his place, about how the Government should efficiently run business, and on what they did to the railway. They wasted vast sums of money, created an awful bureaucracy and almost ruined our railways after Hatfield.

However, the charge that I make against the Government is that there are fundamental flaws in the current system. Leaving aside the collapse of Railtrack, which obviously occupied a good deal of their early time, and John Prescott, who forced through the upgrading of the links to the Continent, we still await the delivery of Thameslink 2000—that was its title—and Crossrail. Those will happen in future, but I remind the Minister that the Government have been in office for 11 years. He spoke about the renaissance of the railways, but the reasons why we have a much busier railway are

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that the economy has grown substantially, there has been an enormous increase in road congestion, people are living further away from where they work, so there are more commuters, and there is genuine concern about the price of oil and the environment. The increase is certainly not because we have adequate rolling stock, it is not because we have opened a lot of new lines, it is not because we have opened many new stations—British Rail had a much better record—and it is not because we have had electrification, because we have had no electrification. The only bit from St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel was probably built by the French.

Engineering costs have gone through the roof, whether the cost of track, signalling or rolling stock. Rolling stock provision has been stultified. Will the Minister confirm on the record his Written Answer of 29 October that 1,300 new vehicles will be delivered during control period 4? There is a lot of suspicion in the industry that some double-counting is going on and that not all the vehicles will be new; some will be vehicles transferred from place to place. Enterprise has been almost killed off, except in the case of freight, where the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the people with whom he works have made enormous efforts to put the freight business, which was shamefully neglected by BR, back on its feet.

The bureaucracy that surrounds our railway has multiplied tremendously. As an example, I have here the Office of Rail Regulation’s determination of Network Rail's output for the next control period. It has about 465 pages and is a heavy document, as it is printed on good paper. It encapsulates the work of armies of consultants. They are people who were never employed on the railway before and I guess that many of them do not know much about how railways work.

I imagine that the specification for the replacement high-speed train, to which the Minister referred, is a very big document. Of course, it was possible simply to go to the rolling stock industry to say, “We want a high-speed train”, and see what the industry had to deliver, rather than convening committees to design one, which has all the properties of committees designing a horse and arriving at a camel. The question of whether we need a diesel high-speed train needs re-examining. I believe that if we are to have an electrified railway, we want an electric high-speed train. If a train needs to be moved across the periphery of the railway, a locomotive can be simply attached to the front to take it to its destination.

Perhaps the Minister would also look at the size of some of the invitations to tender, which can amount to cartloads of paper. Again, we never had that before privatisation. The Government give the impression of action, but in answer to many things they pass the blame to Network Rail, the train operators and the ORR. The Minister could perhaps initiate the practice of having a notice on his desk that says, “The buck stops here. You will get answers here. We will not shove them off to other people”. This morning, on the “Today” programme, a critical item about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority said that people did not get compensation quickly because the papers are just passed from one official to the next. No one was doing anything wrong; people ticked boxes but they did not ensure that action was taken.

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In October, the National Audit Office published a report on letting rail franchises. It was a self-satisfied report, which said that everyone had ticked the right boxes and had done what they should. On 26 October, I wrote to the chief executive and asked him eight questions. Do franchise terms reflect the long life of assets and ensure that these are obtained on the best possible terms to the taxpayer? What is the cost of letting franchises? What about end-of-franchise behaviour? How is past performance rewarded in a franchise? Has the department been sufficiently imaginative in designing reward systems? Is the department really planning the 1,300 new vehicles to which I have referred? Does the report recommend that the department must increase or improve the calibre of its staff, particularly engineers? Put simply, where are these people to come from? There is no surfeit of qualified engineers. I agree with the report that PTEs should be more involved. I also agree that bidders should be much more imaginative in making bids, not simply trying to adhere strictly to the absolute word specified in the franchise.

I have mentioned the defensiveness of the Civil Service versus the train operators, which are almost afraid to make robust representation to the department. I have personal experience of this. When I first came to this place, I was on the Strategic Rail Authority. Three times, Sir Alastair Morton, who was then the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, had telephone calls from the Under-Secretary protesting that I had asked questions about transport in this House. The Civil Service is very defensive and tries to crush anyone who raises pertinent questions.

Network Rail’s advertisement for a new chairman bears looking at. It states, for example, that it is looking for someone for two or three days a month and that no particular knowledge of the railway is necessary. Yet this is the most important job in railways. It is not a job for a retired general or bank manager when he can find time to spare from the golf course. It is a serious job.

I believe that only two courses of action are open to us: either we take the whole railway back into public ownership under a reconstituted railways board or we radically reform the whole of the franchising process and, in doing so, encourage challenge on the part of the Government and empowerment on the part of the operators. Those who win new franchises or gain extensions to their existing arrangements will do so on the basis that quality of service continues to rise, that they are willing to invest real money in the system, that fares are kept level with the RPI and that there is an enormous increase in the provision of car and cycle parking. The Minister referred to this when talking about East Midlands Parkway, but more needs to be done because so many car parks are full after eight o’clock in the morning. We need long, rolling franchises; that is, if the operator does well, the franchise does not come to an end. We need to stimulate the rolling stock market, if necessary by the Government taking finance leases on rolling stock if the roscos will not do so. We also need some vertical integration, although I realise that doing that, as well as giving any directions to Network Rail, requires primary legislation.

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I turn to the question of the high-speed line to the north. I have done some work with former railway colleagues on an alternative: what could be achieved by upgrading the existing east coast main line rather than building an entirely new one. A great deal of value could be realised for much less money if that were done. I invite the Minister to meet me and my colleagues soon so that we can explain to him what could be done with the east coast main line to make it a very much better railway. Upgrading could offer, for example, a journey time of three hours 15 minutes to Edinburgh, the provision of a separate line for freight almost all the way and an all-round better service.

I do not agree with the Conservative policy so far expounded to build a high-speed line by taking money away from the rest of the railway. We will end up in the same situation as the French: a third-class railway operating underneath the TGVs. We do not need that; we need a good railway system that serves everybody. We should be starting on electrification, about which my noble friend Lord Wallace will say more. However, I draw the Minister’s attention to the perilous situation of the Bombardier works at Derby. It is the only works in this country that is building diesel trains. If the works close, which Bombardier is threatening if it does not get orders, they will not reopen and we will then have to pay a king’s ransom to buy trains abroad. The Minister mentioned Birmingham. The only thing I want to say is that a lot of the money is being spent on a new station at the top of the city and very little is being done about capacity. There are good schemes, but they need some impetus.

Lastly, I want to recount a couple of things about the situation in Wales. First, last Saturday when the train to Holyhead left Cardiff Central near the Millennium Stadium on a rugby international day, fisticuffs broke out because people could not get on the train and lots of people were left on the platform. When passengers ask, “Can’t you put some more rolling stock on?”, the simple answer is that there is no more rolling stock and you cannot rob one part of Wales for another. The second point that I want to draw the Minister’s attention to is the desperate need to redouble the line between Swindon and Kemble. That sounds a little esoteric, but in fact the only link between south Wales and London is via the Severn Tunnel. If that tunnel were to fail—it is old and full of water—there would be no credible way of connecting south Wales with London. A bit of a push from the department would have persuaded the ORR. The ORR had more representations on this than on anything else, yet it is not included in the schemes to be funded in CP4. It could be included either by extending the franchise or by finding some method of incentivising the train operating company.

In conclusion, we want a busier, larger and more efficient railway with a lot fewer hangers-on and buck-passers.

12.20 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am delighted to join others in congratulating the Minister not only on the brilliance of his historical analysis of the railway but on encouraging us to have this debate at all. It is, I

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think, the first time in my nine years in this House that the Government have initiated a debate on the future of the railway, and it is a measure of his self-confidence and that of the Government in the railway compared with a few years ago.

I should say at the outset that I am particularly pleased that the Minister paid tribute to the British Transport Police. I have spoken up for that body on a number of occasions in this House and I have long wanted its role to be expanded. I shall probably talk to him on another occasion about the role that it could play in policing Britain’s airports; that debate is for another day.

I declare a number of non-commercial interests in the railway. I am proud to be the president of the Cotswold Line Promotion Group, which is campaigning for the reinstatement of the double track on the line from Oxford to Worcester and was rewarded with success in the recent ORR determination. I am treasurer of the All-Party Group on Rail, and I chair the Railway Heritage Committee. I am an advisory board member of Greengauge 21, which is campaigning for the new high-speed line from London to Scotland, I am a trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry, and I sit on the advisory boards of the National Railway Museum and its outpost, Locomotion, in county Durham.

This is a great time to be associated with the railway, as all three speakers so far in this debate have made clear. As the Minister told us, the number of passengers carried is at its highest level since 1946, the punctuality and performance figures for most train operators are steadily getting better—even the worst performing have improved—and research into customer satisfaction shows that that, too, is higher.

I should like the Minister to consider one measure that could significantly increase off-peak business on the railway, prove extremely popular with those who would benefit, and build on the success of the free bus travel that was introduced earlier this year for the over-60s. The Government should encourage local authorities to say that the travel card, which the over-60s receive for bus travel, can double as a senior citizens’ railcard, not with a view to making rail travel free for seniors but to save them the £24 annual cost of the railcard. The railway would then benefit from some of the travelling that seniors are undertaking now. Although the card is growing in popularity, only about 10 per cent of us who are over 60 have one. There is therefore scope for increasing rail travel among seniors.

I have commented before in your Lordships’ House on how great the contrast is between the time when I worked at the British Railways Board from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when cost-cutting and retrenchment were the main imperatives, and today. I still remember with a shudder how a senior civil servant from the Department for Transport arrived at the BRB as a board member and announced to his stunned colleagues that he had been appointed “to preside over the orderly rundown of the railway”. Despite that mood, it was possible throughout the 1970s and 1980s to resist repeated suggestions to reduce the size of the network. Thank goodness that we did so. If we had not done that, we would have lost routes such as the route from Settle to Carlisle, to

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which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred—an attempt was made for many years to close that line—and scores of others that now are essential passenger and freight lines, and we would not have had a network capable of handling the increased traffic on the railway today.

As the debate is about the future, I will not spend too long down memory lane, but I cannot resist making the point that if the Treasury had allowed the publicly owned railway the same amount of financial support as today’s railway receives, we would have created many years ago the finest railway in Europe. The levels of support that the old British Railways Board received were tiny compared with what the railway receives today.

There are many challenges for my noble friend and he has his chance to secure his place in railway history. He starts with the latest ORR determination, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred. It is a reasonable way forward. As noble Lords can imagine, on the Cotswold line we are delighted with the decision on redoubling and we hope that my noble friend, as a former committee member of the CLPG, will come and celebrate with us on a suitable occasion very soon. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, he will have to cope with those who have lost out in the determination, such as the good people of Kemble, the reinstatement of whose track to Swindon was not included in the document. Their local government representative in Gloucestershire, when I met him on Monday, asked me to pass on his unhappiness to my noble friend today, and I do so.

The other point to bear in mind about the ORR determination is that the forecasts on which it is based are about half the level of growth that is currently being experienced. So the problems of overcrowding in the future will be considerably greater if this growth continues and if capacity is not increased. One way to increase capacity is to reopen stretches of line which should never have been closed, such as that from Uckfield to Lewes in Sussex, to give an alternative route to Brighton from London, and at least the Oxford to Milton Keynes section of the east-west line which used to go on to Cambridge. That would become an even better proposition if Chiltern Railways’ very imaginative plans for a new Oxford to London via Bicester service come to fruition.

I hope we shall hear some good news from my noble friend next year about electrification. There needs to be a combination of filling in the gaps, such as from Preston to Manchester, from Leeds to York, up the midland main line north of Bedford and, indeed, from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said. There needs to be an imaginative approach to the big projects, such as the Great Western main lines out of Paddington to South Wales, Bristol and the west of England, and the north to west lines from Leeds to Sheffield and down to Birmingham and Bristol.

I sense that the mood has changed in the Department for Transport. There were some encouraging comments earlier in the year from the former Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, but I stress that if we are going to commit ourselves to electrification it will be for control period 5—that is, after 2014—and the work must start soon.

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The case for electrifying an expanding railway is absolutely unanswerable. It makes so much more sense to use a fuel which can be derived from a variety of sources rather than rely on a single type of fossil fuel. Electric trains are lighter and use less energy than diesel trains and, with regenerative braking, which has recently been introduced on the west coast main line, there can be energy savings as well. In the case of the west coast main line new trains, there are energy savings of up to 18 per cent.

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