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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-152)



  140. How does Railtrack react to local improvements you want to make? Are they supportive?
  (Mr Mulligan) To be blunt, for the last 18 months to two years Railtrack have been extremely difficult to deal with. Apart from going into administration, they had major signalling work. Essentially we have found it extremely difficult to get schemes off the ground, even though the Passenger Transport Executive have paid the lion's share. I can quote two immediately. In 1998 we said that we would pay for the upgrade of Ashton railway station. It is still not built. On an original estimate of £200,000 my authority is now faced with a bill of just over £1 million. I do not have long enough to tell the Committee about the ins and out of the negotiations over Stockport, which is a major regional station in the North-West of England, in getting any improvement done whatsoever.

Mr Bennett

  141. They have done some painting. Do not be hard.
  (Mr Mulligan) I think you would agree that it is still less than satisfactory.

Mrs Ellman

  142. What improvement should be made to the Strategic Rail Authority's Rail Passenger Partnership Scheme?
  (Mr Wicks) The RPP scheme is beginning to work well. There are problems with it. We have had two successes. We have had to step in at Sheffield station and the PTE has actually had to carry out the work on the station through an RPP bid because Railtrack will not actually take the risk of carrying out the work itself. That has taken a lot of work to do, but we are now getting quite a positive dialogue from the SRA on RPP schemes and they are willing to look at quite major improvements. Hopefully if we are successful with that, it will be something like a £40 million scheme, of which about one third will come through the RPP partnership. There are other frustrations. Linking back to your earlier point, one of the main regional priorities in Yorkshire and Humberside is a reasonable train service between Leeds and Sheffield. It currently takes you about one hour 20 minutes and stops everywhere on the way. The two PTEs jointly put together an RPP bid over two years ago for that. That has been put on hold until franchising is resolved. That could be quite a long wait before that bid is actually dealt with. In general, the RPP will deal with some of the infrastructure and service-related issues, provided—and even on Leeds-Sheffield it is an issue—there is the capacity there. What it cannot address is some of the major investment which is needed in capacity improvements.

  143. Does Railtrack give sufficient priority to Rail Passenger Partnership Schemes?
  (Mr Preston) We have had quite a simple example recently with an RPP bid to facilitate electric rolling stock from East Doncaster; slightly longer in length. We needed a bid for the cost of extending four platforms. We were quoted a 12-week period and a £60,000 cost.


  144. You asked for gold plating, literally.
  (Mr Preston) Yes, it must have been in the spec somewhere. It is an issue. There are some really excellent staff in Railtrack and I am not saying that just because they are sitting behind me. There is a massive job to do to get that kind of can-do culture.

Dr Pugh

  145. There was a time when PTEs used to lobby for re-openings and line enhancements. Now there is more talk about filling in the gaps with rail-bus links. Do you share that perception of the future role of PTEs, that they basically have to fill in the gaps with rail-bus links and administer those rather than work towards line re-openings and extensions of the network?
  (Mr Preston) No, we do not share that view at all. We have very ambitious 20-year rail plans in each of our areas. We are very clear about the kind of developments we need to see in our regions. We take both a regional and a local perspective.

  146. Whose responsibility is the rail-bus link, for example? Is it yours?
  (Mr Preston) We are in a very good position in metropolitan areas that we can, because we have input to both the bus strategy and the rail specification, facilitate bus and rail integration.

  147. While we are on metropolitan areas, do you think Merseyside PTE have made the right move in trying to fund themselves if not to run themselves a quality rail franchise? Do you think they are competent and capable of doing it?
  (Mr Preston) I think there is a degree of jealousy that the rest of us have not yet achieved that, yes.

  Chairman: At least they have not suggested you need a face lift like Mr Dowd.

Chris Grayling

  148. Given the capacity problems you described in your opening remarks, I assume you must have had a fairly sizeable increase in the number of services on the network in recent years.
  (Mr Mulligan) The network has grown in recent years in terms of patrons, particularly from Trans-Pennine. The point was acknowledged as long ago as 1997 when the Government's White Paper was published, that there was a major problem around the Piccadilly hub. If memory serves, it was number one priority for Government attention. That attention has not been forthcoming and my great fear is that with the enhancement being talked about on CrossCountry in terms of Trans-Pennine Express, we shall not be able to cope with that capacity and the casualty could well be local rail services which naturally is of great concern to my members. In terms of the region, there is also a great concern that we have the M6 and unless we want it to turn into a 12-lane highway both ways, the M60 which is suffering severe congestion and the M62, these rail problems have to be solved and we really need even to be involved in feasibility studies with the SRA at this point about getting these things built.

  149. Given how long it takes to do these things, would there be the option for example to take additional lines and put them as part of the Metrolink network? How viable is it to take it into Piccadilly?
  (Mr Mulligan) That is a very sensible concept. If you look at what passengers want, when we had the Altrincham and Bury lines as heavy rail, they carried about 7.5 million passengers a year. Since conversion to Metrolink, there are about 14 or 15 million passengers a year. The answer is not rocket science: frequency, accessibility, reliability. There are certain lines in Greater Manchester, for example the Marple line, where we do see the possibility of relieving pressure on Piccadilly by conversion to Light Rapid Transit, which will have inestimable benefits for the passengers but we foresee will also lose some of that in the absence of the investment.

  150. Would it be possible to create enough capacity at Piccadilly and in the Piccadilly hub to make a real impact on the problem and allow the franchise growth of Trans-Pennine and so forth and by taking a number of lines out? How many lines would you be able to take out? You mentioned Marple, but are there others?
  (Mr Mulligan) Very few; it would be purely palliative.

Mr Bennett

  151. Has Greater Manchester not been bedevilled by grand schemes which everyone dreams about and which never get built, things like the slave lane flyover, those sort of things. Would it not be better to concentrate on a few very small things which would improve matters? Mr Green earlier told us that if you actually got all the different franchises to co-operate you could get some extra capacity. Then to come up with one or two small schemes, perhaps getting some of the Leeds and Sheffield trains back to platforms 1, 2 and 3 at Piccadilly, would cut down some of the congestion.
  (Mr Mulligan) Yes.

  152. If you are whingeing about Ashton and how long it has taken Railtrack to come up with the improvements there, you have actually taken over 12 years, have you not, to come up with the promises which were made to Parliament to put the extra stations on the line from Stockport going to Chester?
  (Mr Mulligan) I take notice of that and shall write to you.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, you have been very tolerant. Thank you very much indeed for your, as always, very useful and helpful evidence.

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