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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. What do you call the medium term? Next week?
  (Ms Clarke) Maybe not for the full 10-year period. We may have to start developing things for later in the 10-year period. We have got a breathing space to do that and we are intending to try and accommodate a significant proportion of the growth by extending train lengths. This is not a simple matter. You cannot just run a longer train. It depends on signal spacings and loop lengths and that kind of thing, but perhaps a more modest investment than extra tracks. You can increase the lengths of trains by as much as 50% so in a sense half of our growth could come simply from longer trains in the paths we have today.

  Chairman: It all sounds very optimistic.

Miss McIntosh

  221. Perhaps I should also remind the Committee of my interest in Railtrack. May I ask the SRA: in the balance which has to be reached between the now strict planning regulations to improve capacity in reaching ports by both rail and road, do you think that that balance has been reached and that we are developing capacity at ports and are improving access on road and rail as opposed to perhaps the planning constraints might sometimes be winning out?
  (Ms Clarke) I am very sorry; I am not sure I understand your question.

  222. Do you think that the balance is right the way the planning regulations impose the constraints that they do as opposed to the desire of ports like Felixstowe and Harwich to increase their capacity?
  (Ms Clarke) Are we talking about land use planning, local government type regulations?

  223. Yes, and also the Habitats Directive, "Let's be nice to the birds".
  (Ms Clarke) Goodness! I really do not feel qualified to answer that. My immediate problem is simply to make my investment case. I do not believe that we have an awful lot of planning problems on the rail side for increasing capacity although in some cases we will have to go through TWA (the Transport and Works Act) and I know that is quite an onerous and lengthy process. In the order of obstacles that I see between where we are in achieving our objective, that is not one on the rail side that I would put right at the top.

  224. Could you just say how high up the SRA's wish list improved freight capacity north of Newcastle would be?
  (Mr Chapman) The hinterland of ports is the whole nation. Southampton, for example, carries boxes that will go as far north as Inverness and even beyond.


  225. Is there anything beyond Inverness?
  (Mr Chapman) I am reliably informed there is. In fact, I have been there and seen it myself.

  226. Now I shall get dozens of letters.
  (Mr Chapman) It is important that we look at all the strategic routes and north of Newcastle and the east coast main line is a strategic part of the network. Already much of the work has been done on that line so there is not much that remains to be done in terms of gauge enhancement. Even further north in, say, Edinburgh, we are looking at the route to Aberdeen. I have had dialogue with the Aberdeen Harbour Board and the North East Scotland Rail Freight Development Board on developing traffic to and from Aberdeen by rail. At the moment there are significant constraints so we are looking at the gauge right through to Aberdeen.

  227. You have mentioned Southampton and Aberdeen. Any others with gauge constraints?
  (Mr Chapman) Most ports are gauge constrained in some way or another. Felixstowe, as we have mentioned before, has a major scheme going forward. Dover and the Channel Tunnel have major gauge constraints and we are looking at that. There is a study starting very soon on what can be done there. Those are the main ports but if you look at the smaller ports, for example, I went to the port of Poole recently, which feeds into the main line that Southampton uses and they have a gauge constraint. It is unfortunate that the British railway network was build by our predecessors to a particular size and it turns out subsequently that other railways elsewhere in the world have built to a larger size so people tend to standardise, particularly things like international containers, on other people's gauge size and we have unfortunately lagged behind and need to catch up.

Miss McIntosh

  228. Can I ask The Freight Transport Association: do you think the balance is right between planning constraints and improving access to ports?
  (Mr Welsh) Again, when we have looked at the strategic road network, indeed, when we gave evidence to your Committee in relation to the 10 Year Plan, we have been undertaking a detailed analysis of rule 32, multi-modal studies, for example, which obviously include both road and rail links. Out of those only six so far have reported. What we have found is that in many of those the planning processes are well behind. We are very keen therefore, having gone through extensive analysis, through the multi-modal studies with recommendations being made, that we have some recognition of that in fast-tracking of the procedures in relation to our key trunk routes, the road ones and indeed ultimately the rail ones, in other words that any parallel modelling that needs to be done in terms of the environmental aspects and assessment of the case so that it fits in with the overall strategic plan is brought forward, because the parallel modelling work both by the Highways Agency and the SRA has not yet taken place. That is all part of getting this fast investment now into the system to give business confidence that we are going to deliver on the 10 Year Plan.

  229. What are your members doing to increase the use of coastal shipping otherwise known as short sea shipping?
  (Mr Welsh) The European Commission has published in its 10 Year White Paper its sea motorways with the object of promoting short sea shipping.


  230. It sounds like them.
  (Mr Welsh) In fact, the growth in terms of increased opportunities for short sea throughout Europe is growing quite significantly and business is improving. We as an association have entered into a major exercise in promoting performance indicators in conjunction with short sea operators,, shippers, ports and intermediaries to identify those elements which will encourage greater use of short sea if it suits particular needs. We were in particular asked by the Dutch and Swedish Governments to manage a project between Gothenburg in Sweden and Rotterdam where we brought together everybody in the supply chain, including the two ports, all the short sea operators on the route and the major shippers that were using the route, and we have just concluded that project after a year.

  231. Do you want to give us a copy of the results?
  (Mr Welsh) We would be delighted to, Chairman.

Miss McIntosh

  232. In your memorandum you focus on security. Are you happy that port security is as secure as airline and airport security?
  (Mr Welsh) Neil Johnson, my colleague, has been involved in that.
  (Mr Johnson) Obviously, the focus up till now has been on security at airports rather than ports but clearly, following September 11 there has been interest, particularly by the United States Government, in security issues for maritime transport and containers in particular and we look forward to working with the ports and other bodies to make sure that there is a workable project.


  233. What does that mean? Do you mean you are going to put some money into it or you have got a plan or you have had discussions with them? What do you mean by that? Obviously I hope you are going to work with them. I do not know who the hell you are going to work with if you do not work with the ports.
  (Mr Johnson) We are promoting a basis of known shippers for the maritime sector which is based very much upon that already in existence for the air freight sector which involves all participants, including the customer, the shipper, in improving their own security, so if that system is taken up, as we very much hope it will be, there will be a cost imposed upon shippers as well as everyone else in the chain.

  234. Mr Welsh, who should pay for the improvements in the infrastructure, particularly in ports?
  (Mr Welsh) Clearly in this country we have a private sector ports industry. We would look in terms of the actual ports themselves to the ports to provide the necessary investment.

  235. So the ports should improve their own infrastructure?
  (Mr Welsh) Yes.

  Andrew Bennett: Including the rail links?


  236. Including the constraints that we have just been hearing about that you are discussing with the SRA?
  (Mr Welsh) I think that as far as the rest of the network is concerned we think—

  237. I am not asking that the port of Felixstowe should contribute to the improvement in Immingham, although that might be an interesting idea. Where there is a direct constraint in the infrastructure of a particular port who should be responsible for that? Should it only be a matter for the SRA and Government money?
  (Mr Welsh) Apart from the contribution that the freight industry is already making in terms of the tax that is taken—

  238. We are all taxpayers, Mr Welsh. We all make a marvellous contribution towards the transport industry, but that was not actually what I was asking you. Who should be responsible for improving the infrastructure round the ports, particularly where there is a constraint which causes some difficulty for your industry? Who should be responsible for that?
  (Mr Welsh) We think society should be.

  Chairman: Society; anybody except us. I think that is clear.

Andrew Bennett

  239. But how are you going to decide between one port and another port? Surely it would be logical for the port to make a contribution so that they could persuade The Strategic Rail Authority that a particular port was more desirable than another one?
  (Mr Welsh) If a particular port wants to invest because it sees that it would be in its commercial interest to do so, then I think that is a commercial decision for that particular port, and a port that does that may attract the sort of business that it is seeking to generate.

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