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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 501)



  480. There are no instances in which this has occurred?
  (Mr Brown) We are not aware of any instances where this has occurred within the train companies, no.

  481. You are not aware of any instances where there have been breaches of safety as a result of pressures to meet deadlines or avoid penalties?
  (Mr Brown) As I said, we are not aware of any of those instances within the train companies. We are well aware that Railtrack believe that that is the case within some of their organisation. It is not a viewpoint that we agree with that one can allow to happen.

Mr Bennett

  482. As an Association have you got enough members?
  (Mr Brown) Have we got enough members?

  483. Ought there not to be a bit more competition for these franchises?
  (Mr Brown) We have not done a full analysis of competition, but certainly speaking just from my own group's point of view, I think there are actually more companies bidding for the replacement franchises than was the case for the first round of franchises four or five years ago. I think the Strategic Rail Authority is injecting quite a substantial degree of competition into the franchise bidding process.

  484. On at least one contract there were only two bidders, were there not?
  (Mr Ludeman) We are clearly not privy to the number of bidders for each franchise. What we see is the number of people that are short listed and they are then driven to a final offer. In the instance of Chiltern, there were three, I believe, originally and then two. In the case of South Central, I believe there were three and then down to two. If you go on through the process there are quite a few more that have entered into the competition. In the case of Thameslink, which is one of the franchises I am responsible for, it is currently being competed for by nine people that originally expressed an interest in that franchise. How many more people do you think are needed?

  485. Is it not likely that some are perceived to be money spinners and lots of routes are perceived to be a problem?
  (Mr Ludeman) It does not actually matter what the revenue profile is, because—if you take Thameslink as an example—it pays a premium to operate that route. I know what our bid says about a replacement franchise, which I clearly am not going to reveal at this Committee, but there are opportunities there for the SRA, and Government eventually, to enjoy possibly a premium for the whole length of that 20-year franchise. If there is a railway, on the other hand, that requires a fair amount of subsidy, the way in which the bids are structured it makes no difference whether the railway makes money or does not make money.

  486. You think there are enough people bidding for it?
  (Mr Ludeman) We believe so, yes.

  487. Is there a skills shortage in the industry?
  (Mr Ludeman) It is clear that there are certain parts of the new railway industry where there are likely to be skills shortages.

  488. Such as?
  (Mr Ludeman) We are looking at massive investment in the railway and I will identify people like train planners, signallers, people that are skilled at engineering, procurement management. You will find that if you go to a meeting at the SRA now there are a lot of American accents, Australian accents and New Zealand accents, where people are being brought over from those parts of the world to help with the renaissance of the railways. There have been skills shortages in this country, there will be some critical paths where those shortages will impede progress, but we are a resourceful bunch in the industry and we will find those people somewhere.

  489. But not train them yourselves?
  (Mr Ludeman) We have an institution that has training programmes. Privatisation to a certain extent saw some people leave the industry early. We have some skills gaps that we do need to address.

  490. Are you putting the effort now into getting young people into the industry?
  (Mr Ludeman) Most groups operate graduate training programmes. Most groups operate programmes within their companies to bring their own staff on and to bring new people in from the outside. Most of the bigger companies have their own training centres where they bring people in and encourage them to come into the railway industry, and we are surprised at the number of people who are still very interested in becoming railwaymen.

  491. When Mr Corbett came before the Committee he was a little bit suggesting that, perhaps, the problem with his railway line was not that they put in poor quality line, it was your, or the ROSCOs', wheels that were wearing it out. Who arbitrates on these sorts of issues?
  (Mr Brown) We have set up a task force with Railtrack, the train operators and the ROSCOs looking at the whole issue of the wheel/rail interface. I think Railtrack are being quite truthful when they say that they do not understand what has caused the gauge corner cracking problem to spread so quickly, so widely. There are a whole range of factors that people put forward, both around the way the rail is maintained, the type of rail that has been installed in the last few years, the types of trains that operate over it, as well as maintenance of the wheels. All of those thing have been looked at as a matter of urgency.

  492. So it is another working party?
  (Mr Brown) Because people do not know the answers, one needs to get the right experts together to work through to find those answers. It does involve work and it does involve people operating together.

  493. Do you think there is going to be an agreed solution rather than, "It's your fault." "No, it's my fault"?
  (Mr Brown) There are a clear set of railway group standards, which are the codes by which all the companies, whether they are train operators, leasing companies or Railtrack work together, which cover both the track maintenance and train and wheel maintenance. That will be the mechanism, when we find out what has caused the problem and how those problems get put right, for ensuring that people change and do what is required.

  494. You told us that you were in great difficulties if things do not come out in the next six months. What news can you really give to passengers? Could you suggest that by January, the New Year, things are going to be back to where they were before Hatfield? When are they going to be good?
  (Mr Brown) The current position from Railtrack is that they are saying that on the large majority of routes, yes, indeed, things will be back to a normal level of timetable by then, and, indeed, within a small number of weeks things will be back to normal. On their current timetable, however, there are a small number of routes where they are saying it will take longer than that, and they are currently talking about March or so of next year. We have said to them quite plainly that we do not regard that as acceptable and we are looking for a substantial acceleration in that. I am telling you the position as we know it this week.

  495. Because of Railtrack's restrictions and other things, quite a lot of your rolling stock has not been used as much. Presumably you have taken the opportunity to get that better maintained, all the little snags and problems ironed out of it?
  (Mr Brown) That is not quite the position route by route, because since journey times are so extended it means that, frankly, it takes longer to provide a train service to passengers than before and, therefore, the availability of trains and train crews is such that it becomes a constraint on the frequency of trains that we operate. Most trains are being operated, in terms of numbers of hours per day, every bit as long as they were before and in some cases longer, because they are not getting into the depots in the evening as early as they did before.

  496. The West Coast Mainline trains have not had trains running from Liverpool or Manchester to London, so there must have been an opportunity there to do some of the work?
  (Mr Brown) That position was principally caused by the very extensive flooding in other parts of the country.

  497. I do not mind what it was caused by, there was the opportunity to do the work.
  (Mr Brown) The opportunity has been taken wherever it could be by companies to do that work, but there were some companies—the Northern Spirit in Yorkshire and Midland mainline in the East Midlands—whose depots were cut off by flooding.


  498. Nice to know they have some depots.
  (Mr Brown) They were not able to do the maintenance, but most of the other companies did, indeed, use that down-time to catch up on maintenance or put in preventative maintenance.

  499. Can I ask one thing? You were talking about training before. Has every company got its own individual set of standards for training? Take engine drivers, for example, do you all have different systems?
  (Mr Brown) No. There are railway group standards, and always have been, for the core areas of driver training. We put in a number of additional codes of practice after the accident at Ladbrook Grove and continued to work more closely together in terms of more and more common standards for driver training.

  500. Who monitors that?
  (Mr Brown) That is monitored by Railtrack Safety and Systems.

  501. Do you think there should be an independent safety authority, independent of Railtrack entirely?
  (Mr Brown) We do, and we said that very clearly in our evidence to the Cullen Inquiry.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen, you have been very informative. Thank you to the Members of the Committee.

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