Examination of Witness (Questions 800-819)
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
800. Do you think the Government has taken recognition of that fact because they seem to be approaching this problem as an asylum seeker problem whereas I approach it as a transport problem?
(Lord Berkeley) Madam Chairman, I worry about Government policy on this because, whereas they have these growth targets, which we all support, and they specifically mention Channel Tunnel rail freight as being an element for growth, I do not see the same commitment for dealing with the asylum seekers by the Home Office or the single market either here or in France or Brussels. To me it comes in the "all too difficult" category and I see no particular acceptance that both governments share a responsibility for providing a secure transport route between Britain and France and, if it needs policing like any other frontier, then it is up to them to police it. At the moment they lob brickbats across the Channel and we tell the French to get a better fence and they tell us we have got the wrong type of immigration policy; it is very unhelpful.
801. How much freight business do you calculate there is on the West Coast Mainline?
(Lord Berkeley) 43 per cent of all rail freight in this country goes on the West Coast Mainline for some or all of its journey and therefore I think you can understand it is absolutely vital to the future of rail freight in this country.
802. So against the three per cent going through the Tunnel, it is a bit more?
(Lord Berkeley) Madam Chairman, it is very much bigger on the West Coast Mainline. If you follow that calculation through I think you will understand that if that West Coast traffic got stopped, and there are not really very many diversion routes that are suitable, it would add something like 400 lorries an hour to either motorway, M1 or M6, which is more than the capacity of one motorway lane, so it is actually very serious.
803. I happened to visit a couple of local industrialists who told me that at the point where there is no more capacity on the West Coast they are now having to go to haulage companies to get anything north of the border. Is that the situation just now?
(Lord Berkeley) There is a problem with the slower trains going over the hill either south of Carlisle or north of Carlisle at some times of the day, but many of the coal trains go on the Settle-Carlisle line. It has taken five years or so for Railtrack and Virgin and everybody else to come up with a timetable north of Crewe that works. The Committee might find that quite surprising but they are getting there for the faster freight trains. The slow ones are still a problem. I foresee the worst problem south of Crewe unless they build some or all of the four tracking in the Trent Valley because if Virgin maintain their demand and the Regulator allows them to have 10 or 11 trains an hour on that route south of Crewe, certainly down at the southern end, there will be very little room for freight at all. I hope that, Mr Bowker having taken charge of the work on that, there will be better sense talked and we will not get into a crisis.
804. Have you any idea where the negotiations are at this stage as far as increased rail paths themselves are concerned?
(Lord Berkeley) Two or three months ago there were a lot of rumours that they wanted to put all the Virgin PUG 2 trains, if I can use shorthand, on to the PUG 1 infrastructure, which would have meant virtually no freight south of Crewe. That has now changed and they are having a sensible timetabling exercise which is going on at the moment and I believe is due to finish some time in April, at which point Railtrack and Virgin may put a draft Track Access Agreement to the Regulator and then the Regulator will consult on it and everybody will have a chance to say whether they like it or not.
805. Do you think these improvements will make the difference? What percentage of business would then allow them?
(Lord Berkeley) It depends on the results of the timetabling exercise. I do urge them, and it is a point that needs to be made, that if Virgin are claiming £400 million for lost revenue or lost potential revenue if any of these changes take place, that £400 million could better be spent on building four tracks up some of the Trent Valley. It may be a rather naive way of saying it but it would be much better if it was put into work on the ground than on compensation if that were possible.
806. Just on this Trent Valley issue, can you not put the freight through Stafford, round the outskirts of Birmingham, Coventry and Rugby to get the compensation for the Trent Valley?
(Lord Berkeley) First of all, it takes an hour or two longer. Secondly, on some of the routes that you cross there is such an intense local service centred on Birmingham that you cannot get across. The first thing though is the timing because you may remember that after Hatfield there were a lot of speed restrictions on the track and we found that Freightliner and EWS were having to take much longer on their journeys than they did before because of the speed restrictions. They had to put on two drivers, where one was before, and more locomotives. The costs went through the roof, the service quality plummeted because it was taking much longer, and I think it just demonstrates that customers for freight need things to arrive on time and fast just as much as passenger ones do.
807. What do you do, Lord Berkeley, in terms of an alternative? Would that be to use the Dumfries route? What are you doing as far as your freight association is concerned in developing that because I understand that there are quite advanced plans as far as that is concerned?
(Lord Berkeley) Madam Chairman, the Dumfries route is ideal. We have been pressing for it for along time, as soon as the capacity was constraining the other route. It is much more important for freight than the Galashiels route because it goes to Glasgow which is the main destination. What it needs is double tracking again and some proper signalling and it will be fine.
808. Just double tracking and another set of signals?
(Lord Berkeley) Yes, madam Chairman, and one of the other things that we keep on emphasising to everyone is that if the railways are going to develop and grow we have to get better value for money for everything that is done.
809. So you do not believe that the latest upgrade problem in terms of night traffic, which has been reduced fairly significantly, is in the long term going to be to your advantage because you are likely to lose a lot of business, are you not?
(Lord Berkeley) I am sorry. I did not quite understand. The night traffic?
810. They are closing two of the four lanes at night. I know from some of the conversations that I have had with some of the people in the Ayrshire area that they are now looking at alternative routes and it is obviously going to go on the motorway rather than being maintained on the railway. It is a fairly significant amount of freight traffic that we are talking about. What do you make of that as a situation of what it is likely to do to the industry over the next 10 years?
(Lord Berkeley) I can answer very quickly and send you a little paper which I have already prepared for the Regulator. The point of having a railway infrastructure is that it is open for traffic. Not only have the costs got to come down but ways have to be found to maintain one track while you run on the other (safely, obviously), and have diversionary routes in place before you dig up the main line. It is something that I think Railtrack is beginning to realise now. It has taken a long time but that is absolutely essential because, Mr Donohoe, your point is absolutely well made.
811. You will give us that, will you?
(Lord Berkeley) Yes, I will.
812. The Government estimates that it costs five times as much to invest in rail freight improvements for every vehicle hour saved as it does to invest in trunk roads. Do you agree with this?
(Lord Berkeley) I am not aware of those figures. I do not think I agree with that, no. Railtrack's costs are still, I believe, higher than they should be but rail freight is able to compete with road even at the moment on many flows. When it comes to building a road and building a railway it is very difficult to generalise. It is back to what I said in answer to a previous question. The Chiltern line is being doubled and the cost per mile is quoted in the latest issue of Rail Business Intelligence as being this year six times as high as it was in the previous bit four years agosix times. That is a major issue that has to be addressed in the railway industry, getting the costs down.
813. Do you agree generally with the way the Government does its cost/benefit analysis on transport?
(Lord Berkeley) I do not, no. I think there are a lot of holes in it. We will shortly be able to publish some work done for Railtrack on the cost of the air pollution for different modes of transport which was done for the public inquiry on the West Coast Mainline. I will certainly send that to the Committee when it is ready in a week or two's time. I do not think they properly assess congestion or air pollution or many other things and it is something which needs to be addressed anew.
814. Do you think that money goes disproportionately into the major projects and we could get better value from smaller improvements?
(Lord Berkeley) I could not but agree with you on the question of the West Coast Mainline which has been swallowing money like there is no tomorrow. There is an enormous amount of small projects which would make a great deal of difference to freight, like connections into main lines from terminals. There are many examples around the country. At the moment Railtrack is saying, "We do not have any signal resources and you cannot do it for three years". No customer is going to wait three years. I know where you can find signalling resources and so do most people in the industry. It is a question of getting Railtrack to agree and that is another activity we have to get on to.
815. Do you see this as a big weakness in the Strategic Plan?
(Lord Berkeley) There are some excellent bits in the Strategic Plan and I think the freight one is good, but I would say that. I think there is a lack of detail on the engineering and the costings. That was mirrored by the lack of engineering management in Railtrack until John Armitt's appointment. I have been talking to him quite a lot this week and I believe he has already taken good steps to get more engineers in. I would like to see the SRA also have a much stronger engineering focus so that they can question why do these things cost so much or do they have to be done at all to achieve what you want to achieve?
816. Have the costs increased significantly since privatisation?
(Lord Berkeley) I believe they have. Many people have quoted examples. Again, Roger Ford of Rail Business Intelligence has quoted a factor of between two and three times the costs for similar projects. I would not disagree with him. Again, we have to look at the issues and try and find ways of getting costs down.
817. Is the issue of engineering skills being addressed properly?
(Lord Berkeley) I think it is starting to be addressed by John Armitt and the Strategic Rail Authority and ministers. They have done nothing for six or seven years; it is very late, but I do believe it is about to be addressed and it is very welcome.
818. I should like to take you to Multi-Modal Studies. You were quite critical of Multi-Modal Studies in the document. Is it your sense that they are driving roads rather than rail?
(Lord Berkeley) That is the perception that I get from some of the questions and some of the outputs I see. As I believe I said in my paper, to say that rail cannot carry certain amounts of traffic because there are no plans to make sufficient capacity available in the 10 Year Plan does beg the question of whether the Highways Agency (a) have a 10-year plan and (b) whether it is in theirs either. I do think that one first has to look at the traffic, look at the different ways in which it could be carried, (and nobody is suggesting that rail freight will go for a ten mile journey unless it is coal), and then work out what is the best way from the environment and traffic points of view and anything else of carrying it and how much it would cost. That applies to road and rail.
819. There seems to be an issue with the timing. The SRA has said there will not be any rail projects for Multi-Modal Studies until after 2010. There is a budget for road projects to happen earlier. Do you think rail will get left behind?
(Lord Berkeley) It could get left behind. I do not think the SRA has yet addressed the issue. I think it should address the issue with the Government and the Highways Agency to decide which projects should go ahead, whether they are road, rail or a bit of both.