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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219

WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002

MS JULIA CLARKE, MR JOHN CHAPMAN, MR CHRISTOPHER WELSH AND MR NEIL JOHNSON

Andrew Bennett

  200. On the ports you were claiming there problems with, how does their safety record compare to the other ports?
  (Mr Welsh) I cannot answer you on aspects of safety but I have no reason to suggest that conditions of safety vary significantly and indeed local laws do exist to ensure that there is not an erosion of safety.

Chairman

  201. Local laws do not do very well, do they? In many of these instances local laws do not do very well in protecting safety, do they?
  (Mr Welsh) Certainly as far as other transport areas are concerned the European Commission is involved in setting common standards for safety.

  Chairman: We are trying to concentrate on ports. I think, Mr Welsh, we will come back to this.

Mrs Ellman

  202. Does the Government's 10 Year Plan meet the needs of ports for road and rail?
  (Mr Welsh) We have given evidence to your Committee before on that and we have made particular reference to the need for enhanced infrastructure investment and bringing forward infrastructure investment in both our rail and road strategic networks. For roads it is key motorways like the M25, the M1, the M62 and, since we last gave evidence to the Committee, we have identified the six or seven major motorways and trunk roads in Britain that our members throughout the whole of the UK have identified as the main areas where investment should go in. Likewise with railways, our members again have identified the need for investment in the east coast main line and in particular the west coast main line as being areas where investment should go in. That is critical for the whole of the UK in terms of meeting the needs of access to those ports.

  203. What have you done with the information you have now got? Where has it gone? Has it been discussed with the SRA?
  (Mr Welsh) We have not yet taken it to the SRA but we have certainly now put out our views to Mr Darling and government officials and indeed it will be our intention to talk in detail with SRA although, in fairness, we have been talking with the SRA for a long time about our common concerns about investment and tackling the right bottlenecks under the investment that is made available under the 10 Year Plan.

  204. Could I ask the SRA directly what are you doing to ensure that links to ports are adequate in relation to the 10 Year Plan?
  (Ms Clarke) We are developing two specific projects, two large-scale projects, as we speak: one to connect the port of Southampton and the other for the port of Felixstowe. These have existing rail links but they require gauge enhancement, which is the raising of the bridges and tunnels for the larger containers which are typical nowadays, and they will need additional paths for freight trains. Those projects are under development and we are working very hard to find affordable projects which will allow us to provide what is needed for those two ports. Both those routes feed on to the west coast and the SRA is working with Railtrack and other parties to solve some of the difficulties around the west coast to make sure freight capacity is available there. We have another project for the port of Immingham and other ports on Humberside which is very important. That area of ports produces about 20% of all freight on the railway and it does need upgrading. It is subject currently to a lot of speed restrictions so we are looking at improvements there. Our market development team, of whom John is a member, is looking at new connections. In particular we would like to see Dover reconnected with the network. It is a huge source of ports traffic, and some of the other ports as well, such as Birkenhead and a number of other places where we feel there is potential that we would want to capture on to the railways, so there is really quite a lot going on.

  205. Who decides what projects are value for money?
  (Ms Clarke) We have criteria to meet, so from our perspective the first thing we have to do is meet our internal criteria and get through our own Investment Committee which is the normal way of getting business propositions through.

  206. What are they looking at? What is the nature of the criteria?
  (Ms Clarke) They will be looking at the costs and how well we have managed those, what options we have looked at to make sure we have got the best value scheme from a cost point of view. Then they will be looking at the benefits which for rail freight in the SRA are to do with the environmental benefits of transfer of units of traffic from road to rail. These reflect things like accidents, CO2 emissions, other pollutants, health related illnesses, congestion and all of that kind of thing. We have a value at the moment which we apply which is under review to reflect those. That is the basic balance: the environmental benefits against the public contribution, because sometimes there are also private sector contributions to some of these projects which help to make the case.

  207. Can I ask The Freight Transport Association are you satisfied with the way the SRA develops services to ports and access to ports?
  (Mr Welsh) We have been in dialogue with the SRA before. We are anxious on all occasions to open up opportunities for rail freight services. What we have identified at the moment is what I call our key trade routes and that is, as I said before, the major trunk routes that our members have identified as being critical to the overall performance of the network and that is where they are particularly interested, so it is the west coast main line and making sure there are suitable freight train paths on that route. It is in tackling some of the bottlenecks in the system, like at Reading, Nuneaton and Peterborough where there are specific freight problems and they are well known between us as being areas where, out of the four billion that is being provided in the plan, it should go in our view.

  208. Are you satisfied that those bottlenecks will be dealt with?
  (Mr Welsh) The money is there and, like our trade routes argument, now that we have identified where that money should go we are campaigning very rigorously with Government that they now bring forward the money that has been earmarked within the 10 Year Plan for investment within those priority areas.

  209. Have there been any recent projects that you have identified as necessary but have then been overruled as not being value for money, as the SRA have?
  (Mr Welsh) That is not one that we have been involved in.
  (Ms Clarke) There is no difference at all between us on what the objective is to be. All the places that Chris has mentioned—Peterborough, Reading, all those places—are places that need investment. We have not got to the point yet of having anything turned down. We are trying to make sure that when we put the cases forward they will be sufficiently robust that they will not be turned down and we see that as our job as the champions of freight within the SRA. Certainly I would consider that the industry and the representatives of industry will be anxious until these things actually have approval and work starts, and we are as frustrated and anxious to move things along quickly as anybody else. There are signs of some good news. We do have some real work programmes for the last quarter of this year. It is a small amount of work but it is the first bridge reconstruction work on the Felixstowe to Manningtree route and we have a firm timetable now which would deliver the gauge clearance for that port by 2004. We are beginning to be able to give people the comfort that things are moving forward. We have got a timetable which is going to deliver benefits.

Mr O'Brien

  210. On this point of rail access to ports, and we have been referring to freight, are there any plans for passenger services to ports in view of the importance of our ferry services from the ports all round the coast? Is there any plan by SRA to offer passenger services to the ports?
  (Ms Clarke) Of course it is not my area of responsibility but I did ask some questions about this and I understand that passenger volumes to ports are not very large at the moment and so they do not—

Chairman

  211. You obviously do not know anything about the lines that run up to places like Fishguard.
  (Ms Clarke) I must take that trip and satisfy myself on that.

  Chairman: Only if you have a lot of time. Take your sandwiches.

Mr O'Brien

  212. What is the relationship between SRA and the ferry services for organising ferry services?
  (Ms Clarke) I am not sure I can answer that question and I am not sure it is fair to ask John to answer it either.

Chairman

  213. Mr Chapman, have you the answer to our problems?
  (Mr Chapman) Like my colleague, Julia, I deal specifically with freight but I have a brief from my colleagues on the passenger side. Basically, the lead relationship is between the passenger operating companies, the TOCs (train operating companies), and the ferry companies. If the train operating companies come to us for specific requirements to link in with ferries then we will look at those in the same way that we look at other proposals.

  214. Can we bring you back to the opportunities for expansion of bulk goods? You have identified some parts of the east coast and some parts of the west coast and you have identified some pinch points, but what potential is there to increase rail carrying of bulk transport, or are we contemplating that most of the improvements will relate to container traffic?
  (Ms Clarke) I would like John to answer in detail, but it is not true to say that it is just containers we are interested in, but the ports tend to be different.
  (Mr Chapman) Julia is right: it is not simply containers although that is a fast growing part of the market. It is estimated that container growth will be 50% between 2000 and 2010 but we are looking at other traffics as well. We are investigating here with the port operating companies car traffic, for example, movement of finished cars into and out of the UK.

  215. For that you would need to look at the cross-Britain lines, not just the east coast and west coast.
  (Mr Chapman) Oh yes, that is right. Grimsby is a major port for importing cars. Currently they all go by road and that is something I would like to see changed.

  216. Individually.
  (Mr Chapman) On car transporters or individually, yes.

  217. No; you find that large amounts of them are driven individually from the Midlands to the ports, which is bizarre.
  (Mr Chapman) It could go by rail subject to certain enhancements that need to be done, so we are looking at that. We mentioned earlier the port of Dover. Some of that short sea traffic that currently goes entirely by road, and something like two million lorries went through the port of Dover last year, conceivably could switch to rail. At the moment there is no link. We are also looking at the bulk traffic side of ports—timber, coal, iron ore—so our focus is not entirely containers; far from it. We have an interest in all traffics that pass through all ports.

  218. What kinds of percentages are you talking about between containers and bulk traffic?
  (Mr Chapman) We said earlier on that 23% of the growth is likely to come from container traffic. About 50% of the total growth is likely to be port related, so about another quarter of the traffic is likely to be other port related traffic in the categories I have just mentioned.

Andrew Bennett

  219. You talked about Southampton and the problems about the bridges there. If you actually get it on to the west coast main line are the bridges high enough there for the new containers to get underneath or do they have to have special vehicles to take them? Is there anything like the capacity on the west coast main line to really significantly increase freight movements on it?
  (Ms Clarke) My understanding, and John will correct me, I hope, if I am wrong, is that on the main part of the west coast the loading gauge is adequate for the 9'6" high container. In order to serve the port of Southampton we have to increase the loading gauge between there and the west coast and we also have to look at the loading gauge access to terminals in Manchester and Merseyside, but the main trunk route of the west coast is clear. The west coast is a difficult one. Unless you know what happened today you are always out of date with it, but the assumption that we are working on is that there will be capacity for the medium term.


 
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