§ 5. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
What assessment he has made of the extent to which the rail system can relieve traffic congestion on the M6 in the west midlands. 
§ The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Kim Howells)
Work by the Strategic Rail Authority shows that the £9 billion west coast main line upgrade will lead to transfers of both passengers and freight from road to rail and help to relieve congestion along the whole route from London to Glasgow, including the M6 in the west midlands.
§ Tony Wright
My hon. Friend knows that for large parts of the day, the M6 in the west midlands does not 139 move at all. That is partly because of the local traffic that uses the motorway. If we are to get that traffic off the motorway and on to rail, we need a good local rail service, yet the Chase line which serves my constituency cannot afford to invest in more trains or longer platforms, so we have an overcrowded, unreliable service that drives people on to the roads and clogs up the M6. Does that not cry out for a bit of joined-up thinking?
§ Dr. Howells
I acknowledge the problems that my hon. Friend has just listed, but there is a great deal of joined-up thinking on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just announced a billion-pound programme for the west midlands. We are looking for ideas from local authorities, and we are looking at their local transport plans. I am sure my hon. Friend knows that Birmingham Moor Street station is being extensively refurbished, the Kidderminster and Stourbridge service via Snow Hill has increased, and the cross-city line is providing a turn-up-and-go passenger service on the west midlands city line. There is a great deal of work going on and I am confident that it will address some of the problems. I hope that my hon. Friend is under no illusion that the vast amount of traffic currently on the M6 will all be relieved by improvements to the rail service. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last December, and more recently, a programme of road widening on some parts of the motorway system, including the M6. We are also considering traffic management measures for the M42. some of which are quite revolutionary in concept.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
The Minister is right to say that the upgrade of the west coast main line will assist. but does he agree that if we are going to get more people out of their cars on the M6 and on to the railways, we must improve reliability? Is it not appalling that in the past 12 months, delays on our railways have been caused riot only by the wrong type of snow and the wrong type of leaves, but by the right types of leaves in the wrong season, and that the latest cause of delay is the current fine weather, as it is too hot? Is he not embarrassed to preside over a railway system that is more sensitive to the weather than English cricket is?
§ Dr. Howells
I have not been embarrassed since I saw England thrashed by Wales three times in a row.
On my way to London on First Great Western yesterday, I was informed that we should be watching out, as the current extreme temperature means that the rails might expand and signalling could start tripping off, which would cause big problems. The work that we are doing, and the money that we are putting into railways, are intended precisely to address such situations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to suggest that some of the delays are somehow avoidable. He knows full well that they are not avoidable, and that it is sometimes necessary to blockade lines in order to carry out the essential maintenance and refurbishment that are needed if we are to improve the railways in the long run. I am sure that he agrees that a lot of work is involved because 140 there have been decades of under-investment in our railways, in which such maintenance was not carried out.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that the question was about the M6. I say to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) that when he seeks to come in on a question, his remarks should relate to that question. He asked about railways, but he should not have done so, and this will be the last time he gets away with it.
§ Mr. Hall
My hon. Friend will be aware that since privatisation, Virgin Trains no longer has its west coast main line stop at Hartford station in my constituency. Cross Country has reduced the number of stops at Hartford, and we are also about lose the stop on the Liverpool to Birmingham run. One way of reducing congestion on the M6 would be to encourage train operators to make better use of Hartford station.
§ Dr. Howells
I take my hon. Friend's point. We certainly have to look very hard at those local services and at the way in which we utilise lines in that area, but we also need to realise that if we are to make best use of the tracks, we must look carefully at the timetable and ensure that the slow trains are not slowing down trains that should be fast. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about that difficulty, but I shall take a look at the specific issue that he raises and try to get back to him.