Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000

MR GERALD CORBETT, MR RICHARD MIDDLETON AND MR CHRIS LEAH

  80. And are they trained?
  (Mr Corbett) So each area has resource for managing the contractor and managing the assets. Each zone has an audit team, which goes in and does audits of the contractors, they go in and do what is called end product checks and then they issue corrective action reports. Now what we do have to ask ourselves, post Hatfield, is whether or not these audits have been sufficient. And, obviously, there was a local failure at Hatfield and the audits that we have got did not pick it up, and that is not acceptable, and I have no doubt we are going to have to make some changes.

  81. I am sorry, I should not have intervened.
  (Mr Corbett) I think you are right, Madam Chair; in Scotland, they do do some of the track patrolling by Land Rover, so I think that has been done.

  Chairman: Yes, I think it is far more common than you obviously believe, but perhaps I can give you some information about your contractors in due course.

Mr Donohoe

  82. Can I just ask, is it the case that the rail that you are now using is new, it is something that is fresh?
  (Mr Corbett) The rail that we are now using; well, the rail that we are now starting to put in is called UIC60, which is a special type of steel.

  83. So it was not there when BR was around?
  (Mr Corbett) The UIC60, I do not believe so.
  (Mr Leah) We have only just started it, yes.
  (Mr Middleton) We have only just started installing UIC60, which is a bigger, heavier, European rail. Up until this year we used what is called BS113A rail, which is the rail which has been in standard use by British Rail for many years.

  84. Have you had any problems with the question of gauge corner cracking with the new rail?
  (Mr Middleton) The UIC60, we have not come across any yet, but we have got so little on the network at the moment it is impossible to draw conclusions.

  85. You are aware of the situation at Heathrow, while it is rails we are talking about here, on the Heathrow Express, where it is wheels that are wearing out when it goes round corners?
  (Mr Middleton) Yes, we are aware of that.
  (Mr Leah) Yes, we are aware of that, and we are aware of it at the Paddington throat as well, where the new rail went in there and new wheels. Certainly, when you have new wheels and new rail you do tend to get more wear with it than average wheels and average rails.

  86. You do not see that as a problem then?
  (Mr Leah) We did a lot of research both with third parties and with Heathrow Express, looking at their bogies and looking at the rail, to see which came first and which caused which as an agent. And I think we did actually come up with some compromise situation.

  87. Who decides when rails are replaced?
  (Mr Corbett) That is decided by the maintenance contractor, based on the patrolling and the ultrasonic testing.

  88. So you, without any qualms, if they decide that the rails should be changed it will be changed; they are not under any bonus payments, the people who are involved, the workers themselves, none of them are under any bonus arrangements, are they?
  (Mr Corbett) I do not believe so. They then put what is called a renewals proposal forward to us, and then that is reviewed, and if it is agreed that the rail needs renewing then it is scheduled into the possession plan and the logistics are organised and it gets renewed.

  89. Can I just turn to, during all of this problem you have been indicating that there are perhaps too many companies within the railway industry; does that stand for the infrastructure companies as well, because by my reckoning I think it is seven or eight, one of which, by the way, is Circle, which I understand is bidding for Air Traffic Control, which has got connotations outwith this particular inquiry as well, has it not? But these companies, are they all satisfactory, as far as you are concerned, or would you want to have them reduced?
  (Mr Corbett) Part of our strategy, as we are renegotiating the contracts, because there were 30-odd contracts put in place on privatisation, is to reduce the number of contractors.

  90. To what?
  (Mr Corbett) We have said four to six, but we have not specified precisely the number, because, obviously, that would send out shock-waves through the industry. But we do want to reduce the number of contractors, and we do want to increase the average size of the area, because there is a critical mass issue in terms of the right size of a contract area.

  91. Who was the contractor responsible for the stretch around Hatfield?
  (Mr Corbett) Balfour Beatty.

  92. Can I just turn to another aspect of this, it was raised earlier by Mr Olner, about the West Coast; when were Ministers or civil servants notified of the closure of the West Coast Main Line north of Carlisle?
  (Mr Corbett) We have apologised for the West Coast Main Line, it was not handled well. We informed Ministers the next morning as to what had happened and why.

  93. So it was after the event that you notified Ministers?
  (Mr Corbett) The events happened in the evening.

  94. So the following day you notified Ministers?
  (Mr Corbett) Correct.

  95. And civil servants were not notified either; so there was nobody in Government had any inkling as to the closure of this major section of the West Coast Main Line?
  (Mr Corbett) That is correct.

  96. Is there any precedent to this action, where you close a track?
  (Mr Corbett) Yes.

  97. And did you intimate it was going to be closed for three days?
  (Mr Corbett) It was not handled well. I am afraid that in the—

Chairman

  98. Mr Corbett, it is not really good enough to say I am sorry and it was not handled well; it is almost becoming, if you will forgive me saying so, a bit familiar, is it not, really?
  (Mr Corbett) I do not enjoy it.

  99. Do you not think we deserve a better explanation of "it was not handled well"?
  (Mr Corbett) The local people took the decision and then did not communicate it upwards.


 
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