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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)

MR EUAN CAMERON, MR CHRISTOPHER GARNETT AND MR CHRIS GREEN

WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002

  100. Is there anything else apart from that?
  (Mr Garnett) Then you have things like delays at stations. The timetable was written in 1990, so you have a two-minute stop which allows people to get on and off the train for 45 seconds. You simply cannot do it in 45 seconds any more because there are so many people on the trains. That means extending the timetable and if you extend the timetable everybody then jumps up and down and says you are trying to get out of your Passenger Charter and everything else. There has to be a mature debate in the industry about how we address some of those issues and that is one of the very good things that the Strategic Rail Authority is now beginning to lead with its review of timetables.

  101. Anything else?
  (Mr Garnett) That is the key issue. We have to make sure we recruit enough drivers ourselves. So far, of the 144 drivers we have recruited since the start of the franchise 29 per cent are now coming from outside and between now and the end of the franchise that will rise to 50 per cent.

  102. How many of those 144 have you trained?
  (Mr Garnett) We have trained them all, but from outside the industry we have trained 34, coming totally off the street. The rest have come in from other parts of the network and we have then had to retrain them on our railway, on our rolling stock.

  103. Did the HSE look at your training programmes?
  (Mr Garnett) They looked at our training programmes, but I do not know what they said. If they had been critical, I would have heard about it very quickly and I heard nothing to say that there was a problem.

  104. As far as you know, they did not raise any particular policies you were following and they did not make any criticisms of how you did it.
  (Mr Garnett) As far as I know, but I shall write back to confirm that point when I have had a chance to check it.

  105. Do you think it is sensible to hold season ticket prices at RPI minus one?
  (Mr Garnett) In all honesty, no. We are squeezing more and more traffic in into a narrower and narrower period. With the ever increasing escalation in London house prices we are noticing that people are moving further and further out. For us the rise in season ticket holders from places like Grantham and Newark is very considerable in the last two to three years; enormous house expansion taking place there and all we are doing is adding to this congestion coming into London termini. I go back to my point that if you got rationalisation of the operators in London termini you might be able to squeeze some more paths in during the peak.

  106. More paths. You would not use money as a barrier to make sure that only some people were able to use season tickets.
  (Mr Garnett) It is very difficult, if people have gone and bought a house out in Newark on an assumption of what the season tickets cost. In the late 1980s BR dramatically changed the rules on season tickets. I remember, though I was not involved in the railways then, that it caused a tremendous outcry from people who had moved out on an assumption and then the rules changed dramatically. We cannot go on distorting the fares. It is a bit like the fuel escalator. If you hold fares at RPI minus one over a period—the same point that Mr Green was making about the saver fare—you start seriously to distort the relativities and at some stage this issue of season ticket fares is going to have to be grasped. My guess is that it is not one any government is going to want to do in the short term.

  107. You are seriously suggesting that in fact it would have to be changed.
  (Mr Garnett) I think at some stage it is going to have to be addressed because we cannot afford to run more and more trains in a two-hour period in the peak and a two-hour period in the evening, if we do not have the capacity in the network to do that.

  108. Mr Green, sections of your CrossCountry network are in need of substantial improvement. Do you think that those priority improvements which you identified will actually be implemented by 2010?
  (Mr Green) What is happening at the moment is a £200 million investment programme to upgrade the track. It is bang on schedule and it is being very well managed. I am confident that will happen.

  109. That is a rather careful answer. You did actually identify things like additional tracks, Darlington-Newcastle, all the others, you have a long list, including electrification for Crewe-Kidsgrove and Crewe-Chester. Forgive me if I say I am mildly surprised that you think everything is bang on track. Are you saying that the one bit you have started is all right, but you are not talking about the others?
  (Mr Green) Yes, that is fair. For the future, I think the rail industry is going to need more capacity in the North-East. I think the Darlington-Newcastle corridor will get congested and will need extra capacity which could be done. We should worry about the whole schedule.

  110. When are you going to finish your negotiations about the West Coast Mainline?
  (Mr Green) I would have thought by this autumn we would have a new deal with the Strategic Rail Authority, Railtrack, Regulator, in place. It is a complicated process which has to be gone through, as you know.

  Chairman: We have gathered that it is not quite as simple as it might be.

Mr Bennett

  111. When does autumn start, when the leaves get on the track? You said "by this autumn" and I just wondered whether you could tell us when autumn started.
  (Mr Green) I am sorry, I cannot give you a precise date. I made a general comment that by the time all this has been through the process of the Rail Regulator, the process of the Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack and our board, I would have thought autumn was a fair bid for a date. The work is still happening. The trains are being delivered, the track is being renewed. It is all about re-funding.

Chairman

  112. Mr Cameron, they have excluded infrastructure plans from the Trans-Pennine bids. Are we therefore saying there will be no improvements before the end of an eight-year franchise?
  (Mr Cameron) None is planned at the moment for the Trans-Pennine Express network. They were planned in the original bid, but they were excluded, as you quite rightly say, from the second bid.

  113. The Strategic Rail Authority said that it will move to a 15-year contract between break points, but the Trans-Pennine contract is eight years. What can you do in that time?
  (Mr Cameron) They put a very specific franchise bid to us. They suggested that we had to come up with plans to spend £140 million NPV over eight years, which roughly speaking is about £25 million a year. What we put back in our proposal was to put new rolling stock in, 176 vehicles. We are also making sure that we put additional drivers and conductors in place to make sure there is operational resilience for running the service. We are talking about £15 million worth of station improvements, much quicker ability to buy tickets by investing in ticket offices which do not currently exist at some stations, places like Kendal, by putting additional staff in on those stations, car parks, CCTV. That is what we are proposing to spend £140 million on.

Mr O'Brien

  114. Over what period?
  (Mr Cameron) Over eight years.

Chairman

  115. Mr Garnett, you have a negotiation of your own with ASLEF. Are we to take it that you are more dependent on fare box revenue that the other operators?
  (Mr Garnett) Yes, we are totally subsidy free. We operate totally in the private sector in terms of having to live on every passenger who pays to travel on our railway. We pride ourselves on having good working relations with our staff. We have partnership agreements with the three trade unions; we are the only train company to have that. We also received Investors in People the other day, the first train company to do that. We work very, very hard to get these good working relationships with our staff, them with us. We are therefore dependent on negotiations with the trade unions and we have to make sure that we can survive inside that framework of being subsidy free.

  116. Every one of you is comfortable with the programme which is being suggested to you by the Strategic Rail Authority for upgrading your various services, or not?
  (Mr Garnett) If I may respond for the East Coast, we do not yet know. We are waiting to hear what the East Coast upgrade is going to be and the timescale on it. We hope to hear in the near future.

  117. Mr Green, you are still in negotiation.
  (Mr Green) My worry would be that 85 per cent of all the investment in the West Coast is now going to go on renewals, which means that only 15 per cent is going on enhancement. There is going to be a shortage on new capacity and we are talking very seriously with the Strategic Rail Authority on that subject and they fully understand the issues.
  (Mr Cameron) On the Trans-Pennine Express, in the first bid we put in quite a lot of infrastructure, nearly £1 billion of infrastructure. Whilst that is not forthcoming in the second franchise, what we have suggested is that we do something akin to the Highways Authority, where we develop schemes on behalf of the Strategic Rail Authority ready for when funding becomes available in future ten-year plans. On the Northern franchise no proposals have been put to us yet, so we do not know what may be forthcoming in the Northern franchise.

Mr Bennett

  118. As far as Manchester is concerned, there are too many operators, are there not, just as the argument about coming into London, coming into Manchester Piccadilly and there are problems of capacity at the airport? Would it not be logical to have one operator coming into Manchester and not this huge fragmentation?
  (Mr Green) Certainly fewer; I do not know that you could ever get it down to one. You are absolutely right.

  119. If we could have fewer, how much extra capacity could we get by having fewer?
  (Mr Green) There would certainly be more; I could not possibly guess a percentage. At the moment we have conflicting needs, conflicting demands, we physically cross on the tracks outside Manchester and it is quite a mess.


 
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