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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 5 JULY 2000

MR GERALD CORBETT, MR RICHARD MIDDLETON AND MR JOHN SMITH

  80. No, no. What standards have you now set?
  (Mr Corbett) On rail it is the new UIC 60 rail which will last a lot longer than the traditional rails. Our maintenance is directed towards getting the track quality up and over the last four years we have had some success on that, reducing the number of broken rails, improving train performance, and ensuring that the network can carry more trains.

  81. Can I briefly ask Mr Corbett whether you and your colleagues ever look out of the railway carriage when you are travelling on the train?
  (Mr Corbett) Yes.

  82. You will have noticed, alluding to a question that the Chairman asked about trackside debris, that it is good ammunition for vandals and recently there was a very near tragedy on the West Coast Main Line just outside Rugby.
  (Mr Corbett) The Kilsby Tunnel, yes.

  83. I have to say I did write to your Chairman about it because I was extremely alarmed and disturbed at all the track side debris you can visibly see from the train. He tells me it is looked at and picked up. I do not think it is picked up.
  (Mr Corbett) There are standards. It is looked at and the contractors are audited.

  84. Mr Corbett, some of these bits of paper in these little piles in nice big polythene bags have stayed there that long that weeds start growing out of them. It is not rocket science to clean up after you.
  (Mr Corbett) No, I agree, that is not satisfactory.

Chairman

  85. I want to allow you to go fairly soon, Mr Corbett, so we will go very rapidly now. Have you created your database of reliable asset information?
  (Mr Corbett) We are in the process of doing so.

  86. Why did you not do it before?
  (Mr Corbett) We had a programme put together in 1998 for doing it but we deferred it because of the year 2000.

  87. You deferred it because of the year 2000?
  (Mr Corbett) Getting the railway compliant for the year 2000 required the whole of the resource of our computer systems department, about 400 people.

  88. Why did you think it was not necessary to monitor your national asset base?
  (Mr Corbett) Of course it is necessary to monitor the national asset base but we did defer the programme for centralising the asset base because of getting our computers and systems compliant for the year 2000. Almost every company in the country had to adjust its systems plans because of the year 2000. We are now on course with it and the data will be populated by the end of this year/early next year.

  89. Are you not concerned that your management of safety systems is going to be impaired by lack of reliable information?
  (Mr Corbett) No, we are not. It is not that we have not got the information. If you go to any of our zones and outlying offices you will find files and files and files of all our structures and our track. It goes back to before 1948 when the railway was a series of different companies and all the data is in a different form organised differently and we need to pull it all together.

  90. The HSE have made it clear that they are concerned about the fact you have been there for five years and you have not so far established robust information of this kind which they think will make it difficult for you to manage your property safely. I hope you will take that seriously. Can I ask you why you have said that you believe the Regulator is placing a disproportionate emphasis on enforcement action? You said something rather like that this afternoon as well.
  (Mr Corbett) No other regulated utility has had an enforcement order.

  91. Which utility are you likening yourself to?
  (Mr Corbett) I would not liken us to any other utility.

  92. Because the present Regulator is not behaving like every other regulator, there is something wrong with the Regulator?
  (Mr Corbett) I would not want to comment on that.

  93. You have commented on it. You have said it more than once, you have said it this afternoon, that the Regulator is placing a disproportionate emphasis on enforcement.
  (Mr Corbett) That is my view.

  94. Why does one have a Regulator if he is not concerned with enforcement?
  (Mr Corbett) If I can explain what I meant.

  95. That will be helpful.
  (Mr Corbett) Over-use of enforcement can and will raise our cost of capital and we saw that last year. At the end of the day a high cost of capital for Railtrack is not in the taxpayers' interest because it only means at the end of the day that the taxpayer will have to pay.

  96. I see, so although you are required to undertake certain responsibilities and you are required to a hit certain targets and you are required to follow agreed plans, nevertheless if you do not do it nobody should really force you to do it because in the final analysis the taxpayer will have to pay for it?
  (Mr Corbett) No, I did not say that. I said one of the objectives behind the creation of Railtrack was its ability to raise money from the financial markets.

  97. That was the theory, Mr Corbett, although we do not seem to hear so much about it these days.
  (Mr Corbett) If you look at the exhibit on page 3 you will see that by the end of this year the debt will be 2.9 billion. That is money raised in the financial markets.

  98. Very considerable amounts of taxpayers' money has also gone to Railtrack, has it not? Why did you not find it possible to agree with the Regulator consistent and unambiguous performance indicators for maintenance?
  (Mr Corbett) Back in 1995 there were no targets or outputs agreed as part of the set up of Railtrack with the Regulator. They did not come until 1998 following licence condition 7 and the targets were then outlined in our 1998 network management statement.

  99. Do you believe that the Regulator's expectations are going to be clearly specified when he sets the new track access charges?
  (Mr Corbett) Yes, we have made very good progress with the Regulator's Office on clarifying the outputs and the Regulator and us are at total one on that. We all have to know exactly what we are supposed to deliver.



 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 April 2001