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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)



  180. Is it part of your remit to consider how you can help to implement the regional economic strategies and the regional transport strategies?
  (Mr Armitt) I would say it is in our remit to try to support the regional transport strategies. Our fundamental job is to maintain and renew the existing infrastructure. As far as enhancement to the existing infrastructure is concerned, strategically that is very much an issue for the SRA. We have agreed this with the SRA in the last few months and it is the SRA's job to decide on what enhancements should be put into the network, it is not Railtrack's job to decide what enhancements should be put into the network.

  181. Are you saying those regional strategies are not very high on your agenda?
  (Mr Armitt) I would say they are primarily a SRA relationship issue. When the decisions are made as to what is the most effective way to spend money and improve the network, then we will go and get on with the work, assuming the decision is that it is for Railtrack to do it. There is a tendency, certainly for large schemes in the future, for them not to be carried out by Railtrack, but for them to be carried out by special purpose vehicles.


  182. We might actually ask you, Mr Rollings, whether you have any information about small-scale improvements which could count as enhancements.
  (Mr Rollings) It is probably a question which it is better for Railtrack to take.

  183. The difficulty we are falling into here, Mr Armitt, and I am sure you sympathise, is that you are saying the long-term planning is for the Strategic Rail Authority, they decide what they want to do. You do what you are told, which is of course an admirable response and one we all understand. Then when we ask Mr Rollins whether there are any extra small enhancements, he says that is your responsibility.
  (Mr Rollings) No, I did not say it was their responsibility. The question you asked was whether there were any which would enhance. That may be something Railtrack has a better view on than I do.

  184. Mr Armitt, do you have a better view?
  (Mr Armitt) Certainly I would not expect Mr Rollings to have a view. I will ask my two colleagues to tell you what we are currently doing in the North.
  (Mr Gisby) I have a portfolio of smaller investments. They are things which have been on our books for some time, that we are delivering, and more than occasionally to cost and budget! There are other things which come to us from a variety of sources. There are proposals made to us by the train operators, proposals made by the PTEs, there are developments which are-co-ordinated by the SRA. In general my role, since I have been in this job, has evolved from being perhaps the instigator and promoter of some of those schemes, which was a different form of Railtrack a couple of years ago, into one in which I am trying to finish off the inheritances I received—Leeds and Sunderland being two obvious examples of those. I am now trying to do a relatively smaller number of things better than was done in the past. It is also true to say that another part of our evolution that I have noticed in the last couple of years is a much greater openness to other people wanting to do these things if they wish to. A freight scheme is being built in Humberside at the moment. For a variety of reasons, for example our focus on TPWS which absorbed a lot of our signalling resources; we are not able to complete that scheme. It comes onto my patch but I was quite happy for somebody else to do it—it is a third party scheme—and develop it in that way. I am quite happy if other people want to build small stations, big stations or modify existing stations as well.

  185. In brief what you are saying is that you have a list, you are working your way through it but you are not objecting to anyone else coming in with anything else, you are already stuck with that.
  (Mr Gisby) No, not at all.

Mr Bennett

  186. What about that bit between Kidsgrove and Crewe? If that had been electrified then when doing a whole lot of the upgrading to the West Coast, there would have been much more flexibility in it. Does that count as a small scheme or a major scheme?
  (Mr Clarke) The option to upgrade that section of line by enhancing the electrification would ease the flexibility of the system. Whether or not that is worth the expenditure on that particular line is something which is still under consideration.

  Mr Bennett: How long has it been under consideration?


  187. And by whom, if we are told that the SRA has to take these decisions?
  (Mr Clarke) It is under consideration by a combination of what we feel is the right thing in terms of flexibility and discussions with the SRA, what they are prepared to countenance in terms of enhancements to the network.

Mr Bennett

  188. When did those discussions start?
  (Mr Clarke) The discussions regarding various parts of the network have gone on for a number of years with the options. It is being re-looked at at the moment in terms of a potential option.

  189. When is a decision likely to be reached?
  (Mr Clarke) I do not have that information.

  Chairman: Could you let us have a note on when it started, what you are looking at, what is different about it from what you were looking at before and when you expect to come to a conclusion?

  Mr Bennett: And what it might cost?

  Chairman: That would be nice, if you could tell us what it might cost.

Dr Pugh

  190. Could we look at the issue of rail speed? Many trains are trundling round the North whose speeds could easily be exceeded by a Robin Reliant with piston problems. In those circumstances, how much of a priority is it for you to do something to alleviate that? Are there any realistic targets which could be achieved in relation to getting speed up?
  (Mr Gisby) If you take my track, it is graded at various line speeds. I would welcome any move by the operators to increase the speed of some of their slower trains. I do get involved in clearance work to try to do that. From where I am sitting at the moment, I do not have any particular bottlenecks which come to mind, where I have a particularly slow piece of track, give or take the obvious temporary speed restrictions which I have at the moment. Moving to a more harmonised approach to line speed would be a good step forward on the long routes, but you would also find that if you increased the speed of local trains to make them go faster you would have to stop at stations as well and that bites into capacity. The encouraging note in that is that a lot of the rolling stock which is coming onto the network is capable of accelerating and braking much more effectively than the rolling stock it is replacing.

  191. From your point of view doing the accommodating work which is necessary to get trains running at a higher speed are you at all affected by the fact that it may be a more formidable engineering challenge and there are real shortages of signalling and engineering staff who know that?
  (Mr Gisby) No, it is not on my radar that I am constrained by trying to increase the line speed of my track.

Helen Jackson

  192. Leeds is supposed to be a posh showcase station and the passengers have suffered for the last year because of the overruns and the delays in developing Leeds. What improvements have passengers seen from the improvement at Leeds station to date?
  (Mr Gisby) They do now have a pretty fine station. It was in a terrible muddle 18 months ago, particularly the Christmas shutdown; that I can recall that in my early days up there when we did keep it closed for two weeks longer than planned.


  193. The Committee also recalls that time as we happened to be caught up there.
  (Mr Gisby) It is now completed in terms of the track work and the signalling and the station facilities. The capacity and performance of Leeds is hugely improved.

Helen Jackson

  194. Why have no extra local services started to run yet?
  (Mr Gisby) That is much more a matter for the operators and the SRA.

  195. You were talking in terms of Railtrack were you? Are there no track considerations in there?
  (Mr Gisby) We have built out Leeds to the specification which was agreed a couple of years ago; we have completed that and it is finished. It works well, it is easier to operate, it is more flexible to operate. What is now happening is that the operators are bidding for that capacity of which the most significant bid that has happened so far is the launch of the Eurostar services by GNER a couple of weeks ago. The extent to which additional services are developed in Leeds for the local market to take advantage of the capacity we have built is a matter for Arriva Trains and the SRA as the funder of that franchise and the Regulator.

  196. What lessons have been learned and why is Sheffield station still in a ghastly mess and the costs overrunning and the time overrunning by almost twice as much as expected?
  (Mr Gisby) The costs have overrun considerably at Leeds in a similar way. The lessons which have been learned from this are that building infrastructure is expensive and much more complicated than it was years ago for a variety of reasons. I am sure we could send you a separate note on that. There was a view in this industry two or three years ago that building infrastructure was probably quite a profitable thing to do.

  197. Can I just pin you down? Are you offering to send us a separate note on the cost overruns at Sheffield and Doncaster?
  (Mr Gisby) Yes. I can give you a note on the cost overruns at Leeds and I can give you a note on the current cost at Sheffield. The issue with Sheffield is more that the cost of taking forward the Master Plan is more expensive than might have been estimated previously by the management of Railtrack. The initial project going on there at the moment, the refurbishment of the station extension, the footbridge and moving the footbridge across to the trams, is not overrunning in the same way by any stretch of the imagination. What is the case is that the forward costs look more expensive than people thought they were.

  198. So you are blaming the poor estimation of your predecessors.
  (Mr Gisby) Yes. Building infrastructure is much more expensive than people thought it was.

  199. May I turn to one more issue? Do you believe that the present Trans-Pennine infrastructure is sufficient to take a significant increase in East-West freight on the rail routes in the North of England?
  (Mr Gisby) I should like to give you a detailed note on that. It is in places. Certainly what has happened on the East side of the Trans-Pennine corridor with Leeds is that most of my infrastructure now is capable of taking a lot more of the traffic flowing from the North-East, across the East Coast and through Leeds. The critical issue from my perspective on developing a Trans-Pennine corridor is back to the question about what you do to get in and around Manchester and across the West Coast Mainline either to the airport or across to Liverpool.

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