Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. That means yes, I think, does it not? Do you have figures of the number of occasions when trains deliberately ran past stations?
  (Mr Jenner) Yes, we do.

  221. It would be helpful if we could have that as well.
  (Mr Jenner) I should add, if they do it deliberately it can be the subject of enforcement proceedings by us.

  222. Deliberately, that implies that sometimes they do not do it deliberately, they do it accidentally. Do we have trains up and down the country which are accidentally running past stations at which they are meant to be stopping? I find that very surprising. Is that what you meant to say? What is the alternative to deliberately running by them?
  (Mr Jenner) It will be picked up in the monitoring regime. It will be the subject of enforcement proceedings if it breaches a particular benchmark.

  223. Suppose the rule is 20 occasions, you can run past that 19 times and nothing happens. So, if you are behind and you are coming to the end of your benchmark measuring period you know you can save time by running past all of these stations and nothing happens. That is a bit soft, is it not?
  (Mr Jenner) In replacement franchising we are tightening up on these benchmarks.

  224. Will it be the case for every occasion when somebody deliberately goes past a station?
  (Mr Jenner) It will depend on the benchmarks. The new benchmarks will be subject to negotiation.

  225. The benchmarks for deliberately running past a station will be higher than zero. You are prepared in constructing this system of letting contracts to allow people running trains to carry passengers beyond the station for which they have paid and there is no sanction on them?
  (Mr Jenner) If we feel they are doing it deliberately then we have other options under the franchise agreement, which may lead to them being in breach and, in serious cases, may lead to it being terminated.

  226. How could they be doing it other than deliberately? Putting it another way, they must be doing it accidentally, and I find that quite horrifying as well. Is there a third way between deliberately and accidentally?
  (Mr Jenner) There have been occasions when drivers do forget to stop at stations.

  Mr Davidson: Okay, I understand there will always be occasion for human error.

  Chairman: Can we have a note on the instances, the stations, the benchmark you use and the instances of enforcement as well, please.

Mr Campbell

  227. I am going to be brief because most of the questions I want to ask have already been asked. It is roundabout that time of year when my constituents are likely to make their annual journey, if they are able, by train. I am anticipating some letters in January, a flood of letters, on a couple of matters which have been referred to, to which I have not heard satisfactory answers, so I am going to draw you back to them. The first one is overcrowding. The definition in paragraph 3.7, which says, if I heard Mr Jenner correctly, "A train is not really overcrowded until there are more than 28 passengers per carriage standing for more than 20 minutes", he said that was something dating back to British Rail days, giving each passenger, he thought, 0.55 square metres of space. I thought one of the purposes of privatisation was not only to get some more money into investing in railways but to improve standards, so how has it improved in terms of overcrowding if we are still sticking with the British Rail standards?
  (Mr Grant) The way it will be improved is to provide more capacity. In the franchise replacement, as I explained earlier, one of the elements will be the train plan and how they are going to provide that capacity and how that matches up with forecasts and our forecasts on what the growth will be. How it is going to be improved is providing more capacity, and that involves major infrastructure. It involves more trains and longer, and so that is how it will be improved.

  228. I want to come back to that then, picking up on what you said to Mr Davidson, how do you know if a train is currently overcrowded?
  (Mr Grant) There are measures on the number of people being carried on trains. Also on a number of trains coming forward there will be a mechanism to physically weigh the train and that will give you an idea of how many people are on the train.

  229. Currently it is quite difficult to check how many trains are overcrowded. We heard the difficulties a moment ago on this question of whether or not it has safety implications. I am talking about enforcement and penalty issues for existing franchises. How do you know how many trains are overcrowded?
  (Mr Grant) They are physically measured. People are counted. They do a passenger count on the London commuters every autumn.

  230. That is a sample.
  (Mr Grant) It is a sample.

  231. From that are you able to extrapolate—
  (Mr Grant) We have identified the worst overcrowding, and you will see that in the Report.

  232. The East Coast Mainline, on which many of my constituents will travel—as I did until recently—cannot be overcrowded, can it?
  (Mr Grant) I do not understand the question.

  233. An East Coast Mainline train cannot be overcrowded because there are no national measures of overcrowding. Overcrowding is only something which applies to commuter trains, is it not?
  (Mr Grant) The overcrowding count is on commuter trains.

  234. The operator on the East Coast Mainline does not have to worry too much roundabout Christmas time because they cannot actually be accused of running overcrowded trains?
  (Mr Grant) They certainly will be accused of not providing a decent service. On any system you cannot design the system just for peaks.

  235. Designing the system is a point I want to come on to in a second. I am a bit worried that when I reply to letters in the spring that people will complain that over the Christmas period the trains that they were on were overcrowded, and I have to say to them, well, actually, they were not because East Coast Mainline trains, not being commuter trains, are not subject to the same regulations as commuter trains in the South of England.
  (Mr Grant) New franchise agreements will be looking at the train plans being put forward and the growth figures and, of course, we will be trying to make sure that there is adequate capacity for the growth that they envisage.

  236. I abandoned the rail network about three weeks ago at 1 o' clock in the morning at Durham Station, and I have flown most recently. I am not particularly happy, although I understand why they are there, with all the checks that I need to get through in order to get on an aeroplane, it is actually not as convenient for me as travelling by train, but I am not willing to take that risk. I am just wondering in this age of electronics why is it that we cannot monitor the number of people that need to use trains at particular times and, perhaps, make sure that we are not selling more seats than there are on those trains. They manage it on aeroplanes, do they not?
  (Mr Grant) Clearly you cannot stand on an aeroplane. As far as the train operating companies are concerned they are encouraging people to book a seat when they book a ticket.

  237. What is extremely frustrating, as you well know, is getting on a train from Kings Cross to Newcastle Central, in my case, and not knowing, for example, which train I am going to be on and not booking a seat—perhaps I should do—only to find a whole carriage of seats are booked and then discover that for more than half of them nobody bothers to turn up. It does not seem to me that there is very much incentive for people to book seats or not to book seats. Is it part of the Strategic Rail Authority remit to suggest ways forward on matters such as these?
  (Mr Grant) We will be taking a much more proactive approach going forward. As I mentioned earlier, we have organised the shadow SRA to be delivery-focused. We will be paying a great deal more attention on franchise management and having a lot more discussions with the train operating companies on what we believe they need to do, not just in terms of enforcement, and this is the contract, but in terms of practical suggestions of how better they may run things. We are not looking entirely to rely on the contract. We want to be proactive and put forward good ideas.

  238. We are pleased to hear that. We have more people using trains, which is very good news, indeed, we have commitments about more new carriages and investment in future, that is fine, it is the case that some companies have reduced and do reduce the size of their train fleets. Mr Steinberg referred earlier to windfall profits because the reality is that if you run fewer trains and there are more passengers you can make bigger profits, can you not?
  (Mr Grant) I think you will find that most train operating companies today are running many more trains than the minimum amount they have to run. In future excess profits will be an opportunity to claw back.

  239. Taken overall I am sure that is true. One does read and hear of reports where individual trains arrive and they are smaller than people had anticipated, therefore, they are overcrowded.
  (Mr Grant) Yes.

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