Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Fifth Report


Transport demand

9. The Committee considered several of the White Paper's more important proposals. The key target of the White Paper is to ensure that by 2010 the share of the market held by each mode of transport, except road, is returned to 1998 levels. According to the Commission, the implementation of the White Paper's proposals (including charging for the use of transport infrastructure, the harmonisation of fuel duties and making rail and water more attractive forms of transport) would restrict the growth of road haulage between 1998 and 2010 to an increase of 38 per cent rather than the 50 per cent predicted if the measures were not in place. Similarly the proposals would limit the increase in car use to only 21 per cent over the same period compared with a 43 per cent projected rise in Gross Domestic Product.[15] The Commission says that the implementation of the White Paper's measures will achieve "a marked break in the link between transport growth and economic growth, although without there being any need to restrict the mobility of people and goods."[16] The Sub-Committee was told by Mr Rees, however, that there was not "a magic solution" to the European Union's transport problems. He thought that the White Paper would stop the situation "getting any worse" and that there might also be some improvements, such as stopping the increase in greenhouse gases and other emissions.[17]

10. We are dismayed that the Commission does not aim to reduce the need for people and goods to travel long distances, merely to reduce the dependence on more environmentally damaging forms of transport. Decisive action is required now to reduce demand. The Commission has failed to formulate an implementable sustainable transport policy, which should include the integration of transport and land-use planning to reduce the need to travel.[18] The Commission must reexamine its priorities and focus on reducing demand for transport and how transport policy would contribute to tackling social exclusion.


11. As part of its programme to revitalise the railways, the White Paper includes several measures, which were subsequently approved by the Commission in January 2002, intended to liberalise the rail market further. The main measures include the Directives on interoperability and the creation of the European Railway Agency.


  12. The Commission has put forward two interoperability Directives which apply to projects for construction or upgrading of infrastructure or rolling stock. Directive 96/48/EC applies to projects on the trans-European high-speed network and the regulations to implement the Directive are expected to come into force in early 2002. In the United Kingdom this Directive applies to the Great Western, East and West Coast Main Lines and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which is presently under construction.[19] Directive 2001/16/EC applies to interoperability on the trans-European conventional network. It is required to be implemented by April 2003.[20] The Directives appear to be driven by a desire to open up the Single Market rather than to improve safety. They are intended to enable the inter-working of trains on those networks and to assist manufacturers by the adoption of common standards for equipment.[21] Both Directives will be applicable in the United Kingdom even though the through-working of trains to other countries is likely to be very limited. Most main lines and some branch lines are covered by the two Directives and a new proposal recently adopted by the Commission seeks to extend interoperability to all of the Member States' rail networks.[22] The Commission contends that no railway system can be fully competitive unless all matters relating to the removal of technical barriers to trade in rolling stock and their ability to run anywhere on the network are resolved first. While carriages and goods wagons are technically capable of travelling across much of Europe, locomotives are affected by significant constraints relating to electrification and signalling systems. Differences between national railway networks have restricted rail's development at a time when road services, which are not subject to similar technical barriers, were able to capitalise on their flexibility.[23] In order to reduce these constraints, the Commission has been developing a harmonised train command and control system known as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) since the early 1990s. It believes that the deployment of this system marks a considerable step forward in network and system interoperability. The use of ERTMS has been made a condition for the Community co-financing of rail infrastructure and equipment.[24]


13. The Directives require the fitting of a compatible train protection system under ERTMS known as the European Train Control System (ETCS), which would involve the provision of new equipment on trains, at the lineside and in signalling control centres. The system will function in a similar way to the Automatic Train Protection system introduced by British Rail on a limited basis, but using new and incompatible technology.[25] In the United Kingdom, the West Coast Main Line is expected to be the first route which will have to have the ETCS equipment as part of the current modernisation programme.[26] It is expected that this would be followed by other high-speed and by conventional lines at later dates.[27] Although the Commission has not set a timetable for the installation of the system, the Uff-Cullen Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems recommended that in the United Kingdom ETSC should be fitted to all 100 mph lines by 2008 and that all trains running at above that speed should be similarly protected by 2010.[28]

14. The financial implications of interoperability are as yet unclear. When questioned, the Commission said that it did not know what the cost would be of implementing the White Paper's plans for the railways in the United Kingdom.[29] A broad estimate of the scale of the costs involved has been made by the Railway Forum. It has calculated that compliance with the interoperability Directives could cost £1½ billion and the price for the installation of the second and third levels[30] of ERTMS, which is attributable to a combination of European and domestic policy requirements, could be £3 billion.[31] The costs of achieving full interoperability could be prohibitive.

15. The actual costs of interoperability are not imposed by the Directives themselves. They arise from the compliance with mandatory technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) which set out how interoperability is to be achieved.[32] The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions states that derogations can be sought from all or part of the technical specifications arising from the Directives, as well as on a project by project basis. An exemption could be sought, for example, for an upgrading or renewal scheme where the economic viability of the project would be undermined by the application of the specifications.[33] The Department's best estimate of the net cost of interoperability on the high-speed network is £45 million. No formal estimate has yet been made of the costs of interoperability on the trans-European conventional railway network in the United Kingdom.[34] The options for extending automatic train protection and their costs are also being examined further.[35] The Strategic Rail Authority excluded the effects of the interoperability directives from its Strategic Plan, because it said that the costs were not presently known.[36] The Plan includes funding for only the pilot studies on ERTMS.[37] The Commission failed to include indicative costings for implementation of the interoperability Directives. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions should assess them with care. The financial viability of some domestic rail services could be undermined by the strict application of the technical specifications for interoperability leading to traffic being transferred from rail to road. If subsidiarity is to be a reality those Directives are clearly an area in which it should be exercised.

16. A further consideration is the proposed Directive on the assessment and management of environmental noise. Although not mentioned specifically in the White Paper, it received its second reading in the European Parliament in October 2001.[38] It has been estimated that the cost of compliance with this Directive could be £3 billion.[39] Unless additional money is provided, there are fears that the requirements of the proposed Directive on environmental noise will further reduce the investment that is available to expand the rail network.[40]


  17. Another of the proposals is to create a Community structure for assisting safety and interoperability.[41] The Directive to create the European Railway Agency was approved by the Commission in January 2002. The Agency may be established in 2004 or 2005. It is expected to have around 100 staff. According to the Commission, the Agency will coordinate the groups of technical experts who are seeking common solutions to safety and interoperability problems. Any proposals that are brought forward would have to be endorsed by Member States representatives before they were implemented. The Agency will also liaise between the different national authorities.[42] The Commission has said that the Agency will be purely advisory and technical and will not have any legislative powers.[43] Mr Rees told the Sub-committee that it was necessary to create a body expert in these matters because of the complexity of the issues involved, which were beyond the competence of the Commission's own staff.[44] Nevertheless, the plans for the Agency have given rise to concern that it is "a first step" towards the complete integration of the organisation of all of the European Union's railways.[45] While the exchange of information and best practice techniques, especially concerning safety issues, between railway operators should be encouraged, existing organisations are capable of performing those tasks. The Agency, which we suspect may seek legislative powers in the future, should not conflict or duplicate the work of relevant organisations already established in the individual Member States. In particular, we are concerned that the Commission's proposals will conflict with the establishment of the new rail industry safety body proposed in the United Kingdom.


18. In order to tackle the problems caused by increasing dependence on road and air transport, the White Paper states that "the growth in road and air traffic brought under control, and rail and other environmentally friendly modes given the means to become competitive alternatives".[46] Amongst the plans for aviation discussed in the White Paper is the creation of "the single European sky" by 2004 to be achieved by introducing a harmonised regulatory framework, better cooperation between Eurocontrol and the military over the use of airspace, as well as through other actions.[47] Proposals for introducing a kerosene tax, a new slot allocation system, ending "the open skies" agreements with the United States, as well as initiating a debate on the future of airports are also outlined in the White Paper.[48] Mr Rees told the Sub-Committee that one of the Commission's responses to the anticipated increase in demand for air travel is to encourage the transfer of journeys currently undertaken by short-haul air services to high-speed rail services by encouraging the development of direct connections between airports and the high-speed rail network.[49] There was evidence of this trend already. An Air France passenger starting his journey in Brussels, for example, would travel by train rather than plane to Paris for his onward flight.[50]

19. Air services currently provide essential transport links to many otherwise isolated towns and cities. The proposals to control the growth in air transport could severely disadvantage the peripheral regions of the United Kingdom which are dependent on air services. Those regions receive nothing from the White Paper in their rail links are inadequate or non-existent and their maritime links are already well used. They may instead have to pay more for their air links to the rest of the European Union. That seems to be in direct contravention to the Commission's attempts to reduce the impact of peripherality and should be addressed.

20. The White Paper assumes that aviation congestion problems arise principally from constraints on airspace. Much congestion is in fact due to the lack of runway capacity in the centre of Europe. The Committee is pleased to note that the Commission plans to address the provision of additional runway capacity within the European Union in a paper in 2004. It is hoped that the improved coordination of airspace throughout the Community and the use of technical improvements will provide sufficient additional airspace until extra runways are constructed. We have yet to determine the extent to which a predict and provide policy, which attempts to create sufficient capacity to accommodate the anticipated increase in demand, is appropriate for aviation. We will consider air transport capacity as part of our forthcoming inquiry into the United Kingdom's White Paper on aviation. The Commission has created proposals that achieve the convoluted result of being both too general and too detailed, while failing to reflect the commercial, environmental and economic needs of Member States. It is essential that the provision of additional runway capacity at congested European hub airports is reviewed.

Inland waterways and short-sea shipping

21. The White Paper notes that water transport is now the poor relation for freight transport even though it is inexpensive and causes less environmental damage than road transport.[51] Indeed, there is considerable potential in the United Kingdom for freight traffic to be transferred from the roads to inland waterways.[52] In spite of these advantages, these modes have lost traffic because they have not generally been able to offer the quality of service which matched that provided by road hauliers.[53] The Commission now proposes a range of actions to make more use of inland waterways and short-sea or coastal shipping. Amongst other things these include, the development of "motorways of the sea" with certain shipping links becoming part of the trans-European network in the same way as motorways and railways; improved port facilities and services; and regulatory and safety changes.[54] These forms of transport are also expected to benefit from the 'Marco Polo' programme which is intended to support the development of inter-modal freight services.[55]

22. The Commission believes that there is the potential for developing coastal shipping routes from the north east of England and Scotland to ports in the Northern Basin which would offer an alternative to road haulage.[56] The potential of the inland waterways network in the United Kingdom for taking lorries off the roads, however, may be neglected in the proposals. Mr Rees was not able to offer the Sub-Committee much hope of Community assistance for inland waterways, although he said that there may be some possibilities for helping those sections of the network that are open to commercial traffic.[57] While the Committee welcomes the Commission's intentions to encourage greater use of water transport, assistance must be available to the inland waterways in the United Kingdom if this form of transport is to be an effective alternative to road haulage.

Diesel tax harmonisation

23. The White Paper proposes to increase the consistency of the tax system by subjecting the fuel used by commercial road transport to a uniform level of tax by 2003.[58] The Commission's aim is to introduce a harmonised Community excise duty on diesel for commercial uses which would be higher than the current average tax on this fuel. It believes that this would encourage the use of alternatives to road transport for freight; improve the working of the single market; and stabilise prices for road haulage.[59] This, however, would have the reverse effect in the United Kingdom. Although tax would be harmonised at a level above the current average of the Member States, this would probably require a reduction in the existing rate in the United Kingdom. In its report on the road haulage industry, our predecessor rejected the case for reducing the prices paid by road hauliers for their fuel. It felt that real increases in fuel duties had gone some way to reflecting the full costs of road freight, such as pollution and congestion.[60] Harmonisation of diesel tax would almost inevitably mean a lower level of tax in the United Kingdom. A reduction in the price of diesel would make road haulage more attractive and would undermine the Government's efforts to encourage the use of railways for freight and to reduce road congestion. The Government should strongly resist any attempt to harmonise fuel tax rates, unless the freedom to maintain rates above the standard rate is explicitly preserved.

Road safety

24. As the White Paper points out, road is the most dangerous form of transport and is the most costly in terms of the number of deaths. In 2000, more than 40,000 people were killed and more than 1.7 million people were injured on the roads in the European Union. The Commission goes on to say that road safety is a major concern of Europeans.[61] To address this issue, the White Paper sets a target of reducing by half the number of people killed on the roads of Europe between 2000 and 2010. While most of the responsibility for achieving this objective will fall to national and local authorities, the European Union will take action to promote the harmonisation of penalties for motoring offences and the promotion of new technologies to improve road safety, as well encouraging the exchange of best practice.[62] The Commission does not wish to legislate in this area if progress was being made with road safety improvements. It believes that if those Member States with high numbers of fatalities adopted the practices of those countries with the best record, then it should be possible to reduce the death toll considerably without the need for legislation.[63] If there were to be no improvement by 2005 or 2006, however, the Commission will consider taking action.[64] It is unclear what it would have the competence to do. Road safety is the single biggest transport issue in the European Union. We fail to understand why the Commission, having set a demanding target to reduce the numbers of fatalities on Europe's roads, has failed to propose any substantive, practical measures to achieve that target. The measures that it does propose—common road signs on the trans-European Network and the advertising of high-risk sites—will have minimal affect on casualty reduction. The hundreds of thousands of European citizens who will be the victims of road accidents over the decade ahead deserve something more than yet another meaningless target.

Pedestrian protection

25. By contrast with some of the other issues covered in the White Paper, pedestrian protection is an area in which the Commission has competence and is one where firm action to improve motor vehicle design could pay real dividends. The need to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists is acknowledged in the White Paper and it notes that safety standards for the design of car fronts could save up to 2,000 lives each year.[65] The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that safer car fronts could reduce the number of serious and fatal pedestrian injuries in Britain by twenty per cent.[66] In spite of this, following discussions with the car industry, the Commission decided to enter into a negotiated agreement with manufacturers, rather than to implement the draft European Pedestrian Safety Directive, which would have made design changes to reduce casualties mandatory. The tests that the industry has committed itself to introduce are less demanding than those that would have applied under the Directive and would set lower standards than those which have already been achieved by an existing model.[67] The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has described the Commission's decision as "extremely unfortunate"[68] and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has concluded that the negotiated agreement "fails to deliver a high level of protection and, paradoxically, could lead to less safe designs than at present".[69] There is also concern that there is no provision for Parliamentary or public scrutiny of the agreement.[70] We are very disappointed that the Commission has not shown its commitment to road safety in the one area in which it has direct competence. By refusing to bring forward the European Pedestrian Safety Directive, the Commission has shown a callous disregard for the lives of European citizens. The voluntary agreement which has been put in its place will be far less effective.

Membership of international bodies

26. The White Paper states that it is "paradoxical" that the European Union which is the world's leading commercial power and conducts a large proportion of its trade outside its borders has "so little say" in the adoption of the international rules which govern much of transport. The European Union has only observer status in the work of inter-governmental organisations which govern transport. The Commission argues that this position should be rectified urgently by allowing the Community to take up full membership of the main international bodies including the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and Eurocontrol.[71] This, the Commission believes, will enable the Member States to speak with "a single voice" and to influence those organisations' activities in "the common interest and in support of sustainable development".[72] The Commission also contends that the Community should negotiate air transport agreements, especially with the United States of America, as the Member States would be in a stronger bargaining position than when they are making agreements individually.[73] Mr Rees told the Sub-Committee that the Community would act as the single voice for Member States only where there is a Community law in force. In areas where there was no Community competence, Member States would continue to express their own views.[74]

27. The United Kingdom Government has "serious reservations" about the practicability and the desirability of some of the Commission's proposals on this issue, especially if they were to compromise the status of the United Kingdom and other Member States at international fora.[75] At present individual countries have membership of international transport bodies in their own right. There could be serious consequences if the Commission was successful in securing full membership of such organisations. The position of individual Member States could be completely undermined in negotiations that have direct consequences for the working conditions and economies of those States. It would be bizarre if Member States relinquished control of such important matters and the Community adopted the lowest common denominator view among Member States. The United Kingdom Government must resist the Commission's ambitions.

15   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, pp. 15 and 16. Back

16   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 16. Back

17   Q 3. Back

18   Q 3. Back

19   The Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems, Health and Safety Commission, 2001, para. 5.17. Back

20   HC Deb, 23 October 2001, col. 192W. Back

21   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 30.  Back

22   ETW 1, para. 1. Back

23   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 30. Back

24   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 31. Derogations from the Directives may be sought, however, on three grounds (see The Strategic Plan, Strategic Rail Authority, January 2002, p. 17). Back

25   The Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems, para. 3.10. Back

26   The Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems, paras. 8.12 and 8.13. According to Uff-Cullen, ETCS Level 2 will be installed south of Crewe and Level 1 will be installed northwards on the route. Back

27   The Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems, para. 8.12-8.16. Mr Rees told the Sub-Committee that ERTMS is a system basically designed for very high speed routes, those running at above 250 kilometres per hour. The system would be fitted to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the West Coast Main Line. He said that there was no requirement in the Directives "to convert the line to Southend or to Ipswich" (Q 24). Back

28   The Joint Inquiry into Train Protection Systems, para. 11.25. Back

29   Q 44. Back

30   ERTMS has three levels: level 1 - an automatic train protection system using lineside signals, track circuits, axle counters and track antennae to monitor a train driver's speed to automatically slow a train to the designated speed or to stop it. It is based on the concept of a train moving from one block of signals to another; level 2 - uses a combination of radio signals from a control centre together with track circuits, axle counters and antennae and does not necessarily require the use of trackside signals. It does require full coverage of the Global System for Mobile Communications on Railways (similar to modern cell-phone technology). The system can monitor train speeds but maintains safe distances between trains this within specific blocks of track and signals; and level 3 - does not rely on fixed blocks of track and signals. The authority for a train to proceed depends on radio signals between that train and a signalling centre. As train trains can safely be operated more closely together using this system, the line capacity and train frequency can increase (Railway Safety: HM Chief Inspector of Railways' Annual Report on the Safety Record of the Railways during 2000/01, Health & Safety Executive, 2001, para. 11.40).  Back

31   These figures are broad estimates and assume that these projects are undertaken at the same time as other work, such as that needed to comply with the requirements of the United Kingdom's Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (see 'The Tsunami', Railway Forum Briefing Note, December 2001). Back

32   ETW 1, para 3. Back

33   ETW 1, para 4.  Back

34   ETW 1, para. 5. The estimate was produced by the European Association for Railway Interoperability and is in 2000 prices. Back

35   See ETW 1, para. 6. Back

36   The Strategic Plan, p. 26. Back

37   The Strategic Plan, p. 26. Back

38   The Strategic Plan, p.16. Back

39   'The Tsunami', Railway Forum Briefing Note, December 2001. Back

40   See the memorandum from Railtrack PLC to the Transport Sub-Committee's inquiry into the Ten Year Plan (TYP 52). Back

41   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 30. Back

42   'Revitalising the railways: Commission makes proposals to speed-up establishment of an integrated railway area', European Commission Press Release, 23 January 2002. Back

43   Q 68. Back

44   QQ 70 and 71. Back

45   'Brussels to rule by land, sea and air', Sunday Telegraph, 3 February 2002. Back

46   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p.24. Back

47   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, pp. 36 and 37. Back

48   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, pp. 38-40. Back

49   Q 55. Back

50   Q 55. Back

51   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 41. Back

52   The Fourth Report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Inland Waterways, HC (2000-01) 317, para. 17. Back

53   Q 86. Back

54   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, pp. 40-48. Back

55   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 46. Back

56   Q 94. Back

57   Q 94. Back

58   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 103. Back

59   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 76. Back

60   The fifteenth report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, The Road Haulage Industry, HC (1999-2000) 296, para. 109. Back

61   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, pp. 65 and 66. Back

62   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 66. Back

63   Q 64. There is a large disparity in the number of road fatalities between the Member States. Despite having a population of a comparable size, 8,487 people were killed on the roads in France compared to 3,564 in the United Kingdom in 1999 (EU Energy and Transport in Figures, European Commission, 2001, Table 3.6.1). Back

64   Q 64. Back

65   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 70. Back

66   Memorandum to the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee's inquiry into Road Traffic Speed (RTS 16). Back

67   The Honda Civic. Back

68   Memorandum to the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee's inquiry into Road Traffic Speed (RTS 16) Back

69   Safer car fronts for vulnerable road users, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, October 2001. Back

70   Safer car fronts for vulnerable road users, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, October 2001. Back

71   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 104. Back

72   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 92. Back

73   European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, p. 94. Back

74   QQ 100-104. Back

75   European Common Transport Policy White Paper Consultation, Annex A. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 8 March 2002