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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. Can you give us an assessment of the situation in and around Manchester that we have just been hearing about from a Railtrack perspective?
  (Mr Armitt) The situation in and around Manchester which is clearly one of the largest and busiest cities and therefore it is operating at near capacity.
  (Mr Clarke) The issue principally in the Manchester area is one of capacity at the peak times with the morning and evening flows of traffic. At other times there is spare capacity in the Manchester area. There is certainly a significant issue at that time relating to the number of trains which pass through the Manchester corridor.

  161. What can be done to ease that problem in a realistic timetable?
  (Mr Clarke) Infrastructure changes to ease that congestion situation would be difficult in the short term. The obvious issue is capacity of the trains themselves which would increase the passenger carrying capacity in that area without taking up additional paths.

  162. We mentioned the possibility of transferring some lines to the Metrolink and therefore removing services altogether from Piccadilly. From what you know, is that a viable possibility?
  (Mr Clarke) No, the discussions we have currently going on with the PTE relating to Metrolink at the moment would not affect the issues relating to the Manchester corridor into Manchester Piccadilly. It only relates to the Oldham line.


  163. One of the previous witnesses actually said quite clearly that it was not a question of the capacity of the rolling stock but co-operation in the way that the train paths were organised. Do you think that is not the case?
  (Mr Clarke) In certain areas of the network in Manchester it is a capacity issue because of the number of trains at a particular time.

  164. So it is both the rolling stock and the capacity. How long have you been debating this with the operating companies concerned?
  (Mr Clarke) In respect of . . . ?

  165. Better paths, better co-operation.
  (Mr Clarke) We are in constant discussions with the operating companies about how we path trains through to maximise the infrastructure which is currently there. It is an issue at the peak times. In principle there is spare capacity at other times.
  (Mr Armitt) I spent yesterday and today in Blackpool with train operating companies.

  166. We all have great excitements in our lives. I am sure that was one of them.
  (Mr Armitt) Agreed. The train operators and the Railtrack people are having a conference which involves all the train operators and all our train planning people at which they sought out the issues which you are referring to.

  167. Would you like to give us a detailed note of the conclusions of that?
  (Mr Armitt) The conclusions of that will not be known for several more months, because it is a discussion which leads to the summer and winter timetables for 2003-04. These discussions are held in detail, train paths are agreed almost in a sense of a consensus of negotiation between the various train operators and our ability as Railtrack to satisfy the very often conflicting demands of different train operators in an area.

  168. Yes, consensus of negotiation seems to me to be to see more.
  (Mr Armitt) We try to agree. On occasions we actually have to say, sorry, that is it.

Chris Grayling

  169. Are you saying that it would not be possible to create extra train paths at peak times by taking one or two suburban lines and putting them into the Metrolink network rather than the heavy rail network?
  (Mr Clarke) It is not going to make a significant difference at the moment.

  170. Given where we are in the franchise process, and we have been hearing about the urgency of getting that sorted, but also some of the issues within it, can you tell us where you are in terms of discussions with Network Rail about the future? A number of the franchise processes require very tangible commitments about service enhancements and by definition infrastructure enhancements.
  (Mr Armitt) We as Railtrack are not in discussions or negotiation with Network Rail. Mr Rollings as the Administrator, can probably bring you up to date with where the transfer to Network Rail has got.

  171. Not even operational discussions?
  (Mr Armitt) No.
  (Mr Rollings) Railtrack PLC is not in negotiations with Network Rail. Network Rail is in negotiations with Railtrack Group for the purchase of the shares of Railtrack PLC. As we sit here today, nothing has been signed, no agreement has been reached; although agreement is close, it is not quite signed. When it is signed, if it is signed, then there will be a number of steps—


  172. Wait a minute Mr Rollings. You have to have some pity on those of us who are simple creatures.
  (Mr Rollings) By all means.

  173. It is closed, but not signed, but if it is signed it will close.
  (Mr Rollings) If agreement is reached between Network Rail and Railtrack Group, there will be a number of further hurdles which have to be gone through.

  174. Yes. You are of the opinion, however, that agreement has been reached.
  (Mr Rollings) I think agreement is close to being reached. I am not party to those particular negotiations, so I cannot tell you exactly where they have got to.

Chris Grayling

  175. But if operational discussions have not started about future investment programmes, how they are going to be financed, what they are going to be and when, do we have any sense of how long that is going to be before those can start?
  (Mr Armitt) The reality is that when all of this is completed, Network Rail will acquire Railtrack PLC. We will then have an integrated management of those members of Network Rail who join in with the current Railtrack management. Railtrack management has prepared its business plan during the last few months, going forward. No doubt Network Rail will have been producing their own figures. They are aware of our plan and therefore we would expect to sit down very quickly and hammer out a common plan and then to proceed inevitably with an application to the Rail Regulator for a review of the funding available to Network Rail/Railtrack.

Mrs Ellman

  176. Who defines what is maintenance and renewal as opposed to upgrade and enhancement. Who decides where that division comes?
  (Mr Armitt) I think I would be correct in saying that decision is essentially made within Railtrack. Maintenance is maintenance of the existing asset. Renewal is renewal of the existing asset, essentially in its current form but if there is some development of technology then in what would be the current but new technology when the capability of the network is enhanced. In other words you can actually travel trains at faster speeds or at closer headways or if we are increasing the capacity of the network and that is what we would describe as enhancement.

  177. How much of the West Coast Mainline can be improved in a significant way through local improvements?
  (Mr Armitt) The West Coast Mainline is in our current forecasts, at least three quarters of it, if not slightly more, as what we would describe as renewal. The upgrade to the West Coast Mainline is essentially one of giving enhanced speeds and giving greater capacity by being able to run trains more closely together.

  178. Why does the line have to be closed for 18 consecutive weekends?
  (Mr Armitt) The reason that we have sought to close it for 18 weekends is to maximise the efficiency of the work which is to be carried out and to meet our overall programme requirements. If we were to carry on doing the work in the evenings and in short possessions, it would simply spin out the time taken to do the work and it would cost considerably more. That is why, as far as possible, we will go for blockades through discussion and negotiation with the train operating companies.

  179. Is your decision based on time to bring the improvements into effect or is it straight cost?
  (Mr Armitt) It is both. We want to keep the cost down of improving the West Coast; we should like to deliver it as quickly as possible.

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