Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
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
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 receivedLeeds 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 itit is a third party schemeand
develop it in that way. I am quite happy if other people want
to build small stations, big stations or modify existing stations
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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
(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.