Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Number 60-79)



  60. Has that arisen now, because it has not been used in the past literally up to now? Has something happened in the last few weeks which is changing the Treasury's approach?
  (Mr Coulshed) I am not sure about the last few weeks, but what has become apparent is that people wish to replace rolling stock which is needed in any event to provide services for the growing number of people who want to travel on the railway. In those circumstances, a guarantee is not such a difficult thing to give because one way or another the rolling stock will continue to be needed by whoever runs the franchise, including in the last resort, if no franchisee could be found, by the—

  Chairman: I do not want to spend much more time on this.

Chris Grayling

  61. On the issue of staffing within the train operating companies with two year franchise extensions, one of the concerns which has been raised to me is that one of the consequences of the two year extensions is that they will find it very difficult to retain technical staff of whom there is a shortage in the industry. When there are alternative employers with longer term prospects, like the ROSCOs for example, the train operating companies will not be able to hang on to key people for two years. Is that something you have looked at in assessing the viability of the two year extensions?
  (Mr Coulshed) I have not heard that point put in that particular way before, I must say. It is something I would expect train operating companies to raise in negotiations with the SRA over a possible extension, or indeed over the terms of an entirely new franchise.

Miss McIntosh

  62. In the press release the Department sent out on 18 July, it said that Railtrack and the SRA planned infrastructure up-grades on the East Coast Line in four phases, two of which were the London to Leeds service improvements—extra trains—and another one was station improvements at Doncaster and York. Is it still the case that the new vehicle and the SRA will be exclusively responsible for this, or are you asking the train operators to partially pay for these improvements as well?
  (Mr Linnard) The position has not changed since that statement was made. Some work is continuing and will continue because we are anxious that the fact Railtrack is in administration does not affect the work which is being done on the ground. When it comes to the subsequent phases of the East Coast up-grade, that will be very much driven by the Strategic Rail Authority working with Railtrack or its successor body and with third party finance and project management skills. That still reflects the position.

  63. Under the new arrangements, who will be held criminally responsible in the event of a rail accident?
  (Mr Linnard) Railtrack as it comes out of administration, as it is in administration still has directors, and those directors, subject to taking legal advice (I am not a lawyer) I would imagine still have the same responsibilities that Railtrack directors had.

  Chairman: I think if you could give us a short note on that to satisfy Miss McIntosh. Mr Bennett?

Andrew Bennett

  64. When the Government was discussing the new approach to franchising, was Sir Alistair consulted about that before the announcements were made?
  (Mr Coulshed) The new approach to franchising reflected discussions that we had been having with people at the SRA, and indeed representations had been made to the SRA and us over quite an extended period. It does not just reflect that but it was not something we had dreamed up with no opinion or evidence put in from anywhere else.

  65. So the fact that he thought it would not work, you ignored that?
  (Mr Coulshed) I am not sure that the way the new franchising statement was publicised after it was issued quite represented the truth of it and, in fact —


  66. You did think we were being unkind, did you? You were misunderstood and misrepresented as "narrowly focussed on franchise extension" nor "an abandonment of the long- term" you think was a bit cruel, do you?
  (Mr Coulshed) We do, but I am bound to say that so many people expressed the same view that we think it is probably our drafting rather than anything else.

  67. Mea culpa from a large Department. Welcome, Mr Coulshed!
  (Mr Coulshed) I think that the policy as set out had more aspects to it and was designed to be, as Mr Linnard was saying at the start, more of a "horses for courses" policy than people had properly understood it to be.

Andrew Bennett

  68. Moving on, the Strategic Rail Plan when it is published, is that going to have to be based on existing money or is there going to have to be some extra added in to make it work?
  (Mr Coulshed) The Strategic Plan will be published next month and there is a Spending Review due in the first part of next year. We are in discussion with the Treasury —


  69. That is a description on two facts, Mr Coulshed, but they are not connected. Shall we start again.
  (Mr Coulshed) We are in discussions with the Treasury about what should be included in the Strategic Plan.

Andrew Bennett

  70. So is the Strategic Plan going to be limited by costs, so it is not really going to be what is needed, it is what can be afforded; is that it?
  (Mr Coulshed) We hope it will be both.

  71. But what is realistic?
  (Mr Coulshed) It will in the end be limited by cost.

  72. It will be limited by cost. Train protection; is this still going ahead and how much is it going to cost?
  (Mr Linnard) A train protection warning system is being installed. There is a programme, there are deadlines imposed by the Health and Safety Executive, and that work is proceeding.

  73. How much is it going to cost? Do we know that?
  (Mr Linnard) There have been different estimates. The consensus seems to be around £300 to £400 million.

  74. That money is guaranteed?
  (Mr Linnard) That money is guaranteed. It is the highest priority of Railtrack's investment outside the basic investment in maintaining and renewing the network and it is also a legal obligation on train operators to fit the rolling stock equipment. Beyond that there is coming out of the Cullen recommendations the European train control system, automatic train protection, and there are requirements suggested by the report for when that should be fitted, and there is an enormous amount of work going on with the Health and Safety Executive and the industry to identify a costed programme reflecting those recommendations. But I think Ministers have been very clear that the costs of train protection in the wider sense, including TPWS and automatic train protection, that arise from the relevant reports will be brought within the scope of the ten-year plan.

  75. The Disability Discrimination Act; how much is that going to cost for railways?
  (Mr Linnard) We do not know is the answer.

  76. What about getting long-term investment on a large number of stations where you just cannot get on if you have got mobility problems or you have got a push chair, and things like that? Franchisees are the ones that have to do this. Can you really expect someone with a short-term franchise to put in major alterations to stations?
  (Mr Linnard) It is a question for Railtrack and the franchisees and a view has to be taken on what are reasonable requirements arising from the DDA, what should reasonably be done and over what timescale.

  77. I have got a station in my constituency which has got a footbridge which is very difficult to get a pram across and impossible to get a wheelchair across. The alternative is to cross the line, of which I am sure nobody would approve
  (Mr Linnard) Access for disabled people is a priority. What I am saying, though, is the way the legislation is written does not mean that every station in the country has to be wheelchair accessible within three years.


  78. What does it mean then, it means it is a priority but not for the next 20 years?
  (Mr Linnard) It is a test of reasonableness.

  79. Whose reasonableness?
  (Mr Linnard) Ultimately the courts, and judgments have to be taken. There is guidance, I understand there is a code of practice to be published, about how much a station is used, what benefits—

  Andrew Bennett: It cannot be used, can it, by disabled people if there are not the facilities there? How can you measure it? What you are saying is if so many able-bodied people use it then it has to be upgraded, but surely it is much more important to look at the needs of disabled people who at the moment cannot use particular stations. I notice you nodding once or twice but we cannot get that on the record.

  Chairman: We cannot get a nod on the record, Mr Linnard, which may be the reason you are nodding.

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