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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 112)



  100. Are you going to reduce the track access charges for freight operators?
  (Mr Corbett) That is a matter for the Regulator which he is considering as part of his review.

  101. Do you think there is a case for doing so?
  (Mr Corbett) I personally do not, no.

  102. Why?
  (Mr Corbett) Because the cost of running the freight trains is more than the track access charges we are receiving.

  103. I see and you do not see any growth in the future in freight as being useful to Railtrack?
  (Mr Corbett) No. We outlined in our network management statement a series of scenarios for the growth of freight and exactly what the various parties—us, the various operators and Government—had to do and we awaiting the Strategic Rail Authority's strategic plan for freight.

  104. So EWS are wrong when they say your network management statement is a missed opportunity to state a long-term vision for rail freight growth?
  (Mr Corbett) That is up to EWS to comment but it is interesting in the last three for four months that EWS's forecasts for the future growth of freight have come down quite significantly.

Mr Bennett

  105. You have not helped them, have you?
  (Mr Corbett) I disagree with that. We have provided capacity for a 35 per cent increase in freight over the last four years. We have enough capacity to accommodate a 15 per cent per annum growth in freight over the next five years, so I think in that sense we have.

  106. But you have made it quite clear that you want to make it more expensive. Anybody thinking about freight has to weigh up where the Regulator will come down.
  (Mr Corbett) Ultimately it is a matter for the Regulator. We had to put out all the options, which we have done. In the network management statement there is all the infrastructure upgrade that would benefit freight with the various price tags. There is a series of alternative scenarios and it is now coming to decision time.
  (Mr Smith) Could I add, Chairman, that a lot of work has gone on to look at the marginal costs of different sorts of trains operating on the network and it is on that basis that we think the variable usage costs associated with freight trains should increase to reflect the wear and tear they impose on the network. The issue of the level of charges for freight as compared with passengers is something that the Regulator has to take a view on, but if freight charges come down that income has to be recouped from passengers through the franchise operators. So I do not think there is a free ride here and it is a question of reaching an appropriate balance between costs of passengers and freight operators.


  107. If the train operating companies who get the new franchises put a lot of money into new rolling stock, are they going to be assured that there will not be any delay on the part of Railtrack in assessing whether or not there is a safety case for the use of those particular bits of equipment. Mr Middleton?
  (Mr Middleton) The answer to your question is, yes, provided that the train manufacturers follow the procedures for getting safety case approval.

  108. Why should they not do that? I have recently travelled on Corvadier where the people making the train wanted to sell it, the people with the franchise wanted to use it, but there appeared to be all sorts of delays which were nothing to do with either group.
  (Mr Middleton) My understanding of that situation is that those trains are cleared to run on the Railtrack network. The issue is between the train operator and the manufacturer.

  109. I do not think that is right. We do not want to get stuck on a particular thing, but I think that is factually incorrect. What I would like to say to you is we must be assured if the franchises are granted that Railtrack will not involve the operating companies in unnecessary delay in putting new operating stock on to the rail.
  (Mr Middleton) Railtrack will not involve the operating companies in unnecessary delay in approving the safety case for the new rolling stock but we must establish that those trains are safe to operate on the network before they come on.

  110. What evidence have you that so far companies are ignoring the proper provision of safety?
  (Mr Middleton) I think you will find if you go through, and I am quite happy to put a note to the Committee on this, most classes of rolling stock that have come forward for approval are now cleared to run on the network and the reason they are not is because of unreliability problems in the rolling stock itself.

  Chairman: I will accept a little note on that from you, Mr Middleton. Gentlemen, thank you very much. You have been very informative but I just have one urgent task from Ms McIntosh.

  Miss McIntosh: I forgot to declare I have a very modest shareholding in Railtrack.

  Chairman: I am sure that is one of your best investments!

Miss McIntosh

  111. Could I ask one last question. The Trans European Network Project opened the bridge between Denmark and Sweden in April. The West Coast rail project, and all the other 14 priority projects, when might it be completed?
  (Mr Middleton) The West Coast?

  112. Yes.
  (Mr Middleton) The current plan is to complete the West Coast in 2005.

  Chairman: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your shareholding? No? Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed, it has been very informative—I think.

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