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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-262)



  260. Would you say that the condition of the network in the North is better than that in the South?
  (Mr Crow) There is less of it up there; that is the problem. Seventy per cent of trains either start in London or finish in London. I would not say that the conditions are any worse on a personal basis. There might be some kind of academic evidence on that. I would not say it is any worse in the North than it is in the South.
  (Mr Rix) I worked in that area for most of my railway life and I can honestly say that the condition of the infrastructure and the provision of infrastructure is far worse than it is in the South. There are four major links across the trans-Pennine corridor. One is between Leeds and Manchester over the west route, which is generally termed as the Wessie route, which is the main artery which can take traffic away from the M62. If you look at the number of car and lorry journeys on that route over the M62, then you will realise that it is on a par with the M25, yet for the last 12 years there have been proposals from one source or another and in fact even a plan put together to electrify that route. This is one out of four trans-Pennine routes. All four of them have Victorian signalling, Victorian type of track, short-welded rather than long-welded, they all operate at low speeds and none of them has any electrified railway route. If you look at the railway map as it is today and you look at what was proposed by the Serpell report, you will find that the vast majority of the neglected areas of infrastructure in the UK were through the corridors north of London, both on the East Coast and the West Coast and the routes across. In the Serpell report which was produced by the Government in the 1980s, it was not intended to keep those corridors of communication open. I believe that the infrastructure and maintenance regime and the funding of operations and train services throughout the UK has really been operating to the Serpell report. Apart from the South and the South East and some overhauls on certain parts of the East Coast network and the West Coast network, the vast majority of the railway network, especially in the North and across the North, has suffered because of a lack of investment. It is really a third-class system in the North, and especially out in other parts of the regions, compared with the South and the South-East.

  261. Mr Rosser, at the beginning of the session you made some opening comments and suggested that there was a great concentration by the SRA on the South. Were you suggesting the North gets a raw deal?
  (Mr Rosser) I was not suggesting the North gets a raw deal, because I have to be careful. If we were looking here at investment in London and the South East, I am not sure that I would be sitting here and saying that there was too much. The SRA's argument is that 70 per cent of journeys are to or from the South East. What the SRA will also say is that a lot of the money which is going in as far as the North is concerned is in subsidy because the former regional railway companies in the North are the ones which do require quite a lot of subsidy rather than investment. If you are asking whether we would wish to see more money being made available for investment in the railway industry, the answer is yes. I wonder whether I could comment on the question you asked about vandalism and security of staff. There are things which can be done such as modernising some of the stations and making sure the lighting is adequate and more CCTV. It does not necessarily stop somebody being thumped, but on the other hand people might think twice about doing it if they think somebody might be watching them and it is on record. Training for staff in how to handle potential confrontation situations is also another measure which can be taken. On the issue of vandalism which was mentioned, I think that as an industry we need to start accepting that much as it is needed over money being invested in train protection systems, actually the number of lives being lost as a result of vandalism, children getting access to the track, is also a significant issue and not to underestimate the levels of investment which will be needed to deal with that particular problem. One of them is that access to the track is often too easy, fences are not repaired, are not checked to see whether they are in an appropriate condition. There are actions which can be taken there. Mr Donohoe earlier asked why costs were higher under the contractor situation. I would hope—and you may have done it when Railtrack were in here—that Railtrack would be asked why it is better value to use contractors, rather than for Railtrack to do its own maintenance in-house.


  262. They have undertaken to give us an answer on that.
  (Mr Rosser) May I just quote something which was in a railway journal some three years ago from a railway worker? What it said on this issue was that every time you sub-contract work there are mark-ups and overheads. This was in the context of signalling companies. There are other costs which the private signalling companies have to find which were previously lost in the vertically integrated railway. It costs money to manage processes such as possessions, to hire works trains and plant. A prudent contractor adds in provisions against possession overruns and vagueness in the specification. Bidding itself has become more expensive, especially given Railtrack's tendency to ask whether you have added in the phone number and please come up with a cheaper offer. Even pre-qualification includes a mass of documentation which all costs money to prepare. One of my signalling chums of long experience reckons that a scheme like the recently completed Woking one costs twice as much as it would have done in the 1960s and takes twice as long. Everybody wants their cut. Every time you use more sub-contractors they all want their five or ten per cent plus and some of those sub-contractors are hiring staff through recruitment agencies who are charging very high percentage commission.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, you have made some very interesting and important arguments. I am very grateful to you all. Thank you very much. Order, order.

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