§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I am asking Railtrack, as one of its first acts on taking over infrastructure provision in April, to examine the case for providing an alternative route for channel tunnel freight trains which avoids central London.
§ Mr. Soley
I hope that the Minister will take on board—I think that he is beginning to do so—the enormous and growing opposition from residents who live alongside the west London line. That opposition does not affect just my constituency, because the proposal to increase usage of the line to about one train every eight minutes, day and night, is seen as unacceptable in a residential area. If the current minimal use of the line is increased, people should be compensated when trains pass within a few feet of their windows. Concern is growing, however, about local authorities that are not financially equipped to meet that need.
§ Mr. Freeman
I hope that there is all-party support for the exploitation of the channel tunnel, for both passenger and rail freight trains. I am sure that the hon. Member shares my hope. My Department has recently agreed to consider requests from all local authorities, including those in London, for additional financial provision to contribute towards the erection of noise barriers. I answered another question recently from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) dealing with compensation issues.
§ Mr. Dunn
In the context of rail freight, is my right hon. Friend aware of the policy to involve private money in transport schemes, as advocated by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)? Will my right hon. Friend speculate on how many extra freight trains would run as a result of that policy?
§ Mr. Freeman
Perhaps my hon. Friend refers to the document published today, which I have read with interest. I am bound to say that it is a consultation document, which contains no proposals. Meanwhile, the Government are getting on with introducing private sector capital to the rail infrastructure. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) laughs, but I can tell him that, within the next few days, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will issue the pre-tender qualification documents to invite private sector finance for the construction of the channel tunnel rail link.