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

Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)



  20. It has not been proposed by the planning company with responsibility for the line. That is not quite the same thing.
  (Mr Rees) I am sorry, I should have rephrased that. That is quite right.

  Chairman: First, Mr Rees, I apologise to you because as soon as a division is called, I must suspend the Committee.

  The Committee suspended from 4.38 pm to 4.45 pm for a division of the House

Mr Grayling

  21. If there are no likely requirements from the Commission to impose in any way the upgrading of the existing network, is it simply therefore that the project cycle will be covered by the Directives and by the proposals in the plan?
  (Mr Rees) The answer to that is "yes". The objective of the interoperability Directives was to try to create an integrated rail network in the Community. One of the problems that the railways in the Community face today is that, particularly in the freight business, the fastest growing sector is the international sector. The railways have all sorts of technical differences between the Member States, and quite honestly for no good reason. What we aim to do and what the Council and the Parliament have already approved is to create a railway system that is much more linked together, joined together. Not only would this improve the quality of service but it would cut down the costs of the railways. Railway equipment costs a fortune in comparison to the equipment used on the roads. One of the reasons for this is that every railway system tends to build its own equipment in penny numbers, and this costs the earth. Unless we can get some degree of standardisation into the railway sector, the railways will be in very great difficulty to compete on an equal footing with the roads. As far as the UK is concerned, obviously it would have been better if Brunel's gauge was adopted throughout Europe. This is not the case in the UK, as you know, Madam Chair, but that would have been much better. Unfortunately, only Spain listened. We now have a system where we have 4.8Ö as the standard gauge. The kinetic envelope, the area around the train, varies and it is highly unlikely, with all the tunnels, bridges et cetera that exist in the UK, that it would ever be economic to change the infrastructure. What would be sensible to think about would be when railway signalling systems become life-expired, to try to adopt then standard signalling systems which have much lower costs and would offer the opportunity of much better operations across the national frontiers. The Eurostar trains now carry five different signalling systems, which adds considerably to their costs and also creates problems in terms of maintenance and reliability.

  22. One issue with the Channel Tunnel rail link is that it is only a passenger route. What you are saying therefore is that interoperability in freight must be practically impossible because, if it not going to be applied to the existing network, there is no freight carriage at all on the Channel Tunnel rail link.
  (Mr Rees) I may be wrong but I believe that both sections of the new Channel Tunnel rail link are suitable for freight traffic but I do not think there are any plans to run freight trains as yet. Anyway, leaving that aside, and it is only an observation, in terms of freight business, of course freight business already exists, or it did exist before the problems in Calais. At present, the traffic is very reduced but the objective, as I understand it, is to try to build up the freight sector, and it is already interoperable, but the locomotives that are used are rather special locomotives; the waggons can move from John O'Groats to the south of Italy without any particular problems.

  23. Can I move you on to the issue of interoperability in terms of safety systems? How much of the UK rail network will need to be covered by European standard safety systems, according to your current estimate?
  (Mr Rees) When you talk about safety systems, I imagine that you are talking basically about signalling.

  24. The ERTMS?
  (Mr Rees) You have to remember that the European Rail Traffic Management System - ERTMS - is a system basically designed for very high-speed routes, routes running above 250 kilometres an hour. The Channel Tunnel will have ERTMS. It also will be fitted at level 1, the simplest level, on the West Coast Main Line when the modernisation is finished and there is a possibility of moving forward to a new phase, phase 2 or phase 3 later on. There is no requirement in the Directives to convert the line to Southend or to Ipswich to ERTMS. It might be sensible in the future, when the signalling system is worn out, to use a variant of the ERTMS system simply to reduce costs, but there is no requirement in the Directives.

  25. You say it might be sensible. You will be aware that the British Government has said that a number of safety systems, including ERTMS - and they have in fact just said that ERTMS is going to be the preferred system rather than automatic train protection - will be introduced on Britain's main lines. Is it the case from the Commission's point of view that it is not an appropriate system to use for that purpose, given the fact that we are talking about 125 mph lines at most?
  (Mr Rees) ERTMS is an automatic train protection system in itself. The UK is adopting something I think called TPWS, which is a lower cost variant of that, as I understand, which can be upgraded later. Again, it is a choice that is open. Clearly, if you wanted to and if the money was there, you could introduce a system like ERTMS everywhere. The question is that this would have to be a national decision because, under the requirements of the Directive, it would hardly be likely —


  26. Are we talking about the Directive on Railway Safety?
  (Mr Rees) There is no Directive on railway safety as such as yet. We are talking about the Directive on interoperability.

  27. That is just so we know what it is we have in mind.

  28. This is the Directive from 1996 on railway interoperability where you have this requirement that, before you do anything, it has to be shown to be economic. It would not be economic to introduce a very expensive system like ERTMS on a line with only ten trains a day. You could do it if you wanted to but it would cost you I do not know what per passenger.

  29. But it would not be insisted upon. That is the question.
  (Mr Rees) No.

Mrs Ellman

  30. Are there any discussions taking place at the moment on making the signalling and other systems on modernising the West Coast Main Line compatible with other European systems?
  (Mr Rees) They will be compatible. The West Coast Main Line is starting off with what is termed phase 1 of ERTMS, which is still lights that the driver sees when he moves along. Then, at a later stage, it will move to an electronic radio-based system, which will take the lights away and the driver, as in a French or a German high-speed train, will see in front of him an indication of the state of the route and the speed at which he should drive. It will be compatible and the aim, as I understand it, of the promoters of the West Coast Main Line is to gradually introduce this over time.

  31. That is phase 2 as well?
  (Mr Rees) The ERTMS system is divided into different phases which move up in terms of complexity. The lowest level is level 1,on which the West Coast Main Line will start off, which is a visual system. Above phase 2, you go to a system where the driver receives signals which are transmitted from the track, which tell him at what speed to drive, whether he should stop or go forward, et cetera. Phase 3 is where you get a fully computerised system which controls the whole route and you move away from the fixed block, having the track divided into sectors and one train per section. There is a computer programme which is constantly looking at the track and keeping a distance between the trains. So they start off on 1, then they move to 2, and I think the idea is to move to 3 at some date in the future.

  32. How do you view the current problems on the rail systems in this country in relation to the developments you want to see in the White Paper?
  (Mr Rees) I think obviously it is very weak of me to say that the problems are unfortunate. The Commission believes that the best way to move forward with the railways, to exploit the potential of the railways, is to open them up to the operators from various companies. The difficulties that have occurred in the UK have given us problems in terms of persuading certain other Member States to accept that.


  33. I cannot imagine why, Mr Rees!
  (Mr Rees) I am afraid that is the situation. However, we would like also to say that the UK has shown many positive aspects as well since 1995.

  34. You would like to, but are you going to?
  (Mr Rees) Yes, I am, in the sense that the UK has shown the fastest growth of rail passenger and freight of any other Member State of the Community, and indeed this is one of the reasons why we have the problem of congestion on the railways. So the UK is a precursor, it is a forerunner, in moving forward. Obviously there have been mistakes made but hopefully, I am sure, lessons will be learnt from these mistakes. We follow the situation in the UK and take account of it in coming forward with new railway legislation. As I said, today the Commission has approved a new package which will be going to the Council and to Parliament in the next two weeks.

Mrs Ellman

  35. In the White Paper, pages 27 to 29, there appears to be a complaint; you say that too many countries have not separated the infrastructure from the train, from the server. Are you aware that separation of track from train is in fact regarded by many people as the cause of the major difficulty in the railways?
  (Mr Rees) Yes, the Commission is aware of that. The Directive that required a separation is the Directive, for what it is worth, 440 from 1991. This particular Directive required a separation at the level of management and accountancy. It did not require a separation at the level —

  Chairman: Come now, Mr Rees!

  Mrs Ellman: In the statement here, if I can look at it, it states that, however, in too many cases there is still no proper separation between the body which owns the infrastructure and the body which operates the service. That is not accountancy, is it?

  Chairman: I would also remind you that a gentleman called Karel van Miert is on record not in one speech but in many, many speeches making it very clear that it was precisely that separation that he thought was absolutely essential. In fact, many people would say the mess we have here is a legacy of the ideas that were being proposed at that time. However, that would be prejudice - not much, but it would be.

Mrs Ellman

  36. Could you clarify what this means, in view of the difficulties we are facing?
  (Mr Rees) The Directive in question requires a separation between the bodies that run trains and the body that runs the infrastructure in the allocation of train paths on the system. That was what the 1991 Directive was looking at. It did not require a separation of ownership. What is happening now for instance in France is that the French authorities are considering establishing a part of the equivalent of the Ministry of Transport, Department of Transport, in Paris as the body that will actually be controlling the access to the rail system. It is not part then of the SNCC or of the French equivalent of Railtrack, which is a nationalised organisation as well. This is in keeping with the Directive. The Directive was an attempt to allow a neutral allocation of space on the track between different operators. This requires then that the body that is undertaking the allocation of space is independent of the train operators, because otherwise you would be in a situation where, if you had, as in France now, the SNCC, which is the body that deals with any application to have the right to operate on the SNCC, clearly there is doubt there whether any request would be treated neutrally or fairly. For this reason, the Directive looked to create a separate body to allocate the space on the system; it did not require you to separate off the management of trains from the operation of the infrastructure.

  37. It does sound a little confused. I hope perhaps it will be clarified in due course. The Railways Forum considers that it will cost between £7.5 billion and £8.5 billion to implement the rail measures in the White Paper. Do you agree that is right?
  (Mr Rees) I am sorry?

  Mrs Ellman: The Railways Forum; they identify that the proposal —

  Chairman: These are people who actually worked or are working in the industry. It is a combination of experts, all directly connected with the railways.

Mrs Ellman

  38. The Railways Forum breaks down the cost and they assess: European Rail Traffic Management System, £3 billion; interoperability Directives.,£1.5 billion; noise reduction, £3 billion; and other environmental requirements, £1 billion. Would you think that is a fair assessment of costs?
  (Mr Rees) Are these in pounds or in euro?


  39. I am afraid we talk in pounds here, definitely pounds, Mr Rees.
  (Mr Rees) I cannot make a judgment but it seems that figure would be far too small for me.

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