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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)



Andrew Bennett

  300. How much did that cost?
  (Mr Steer) I cannot give you a figure immediately, but these are not cheap projects. There is a two mile tunnel underneath—

Helen Jackson

  301. I realise that they are not cheap projects and it seems that, because they are not cheap projects, the decision has been made by the SRA to exclude infrastructure significantly, even infrastructure investment plans, from the revised Trans-Pennine bid. Why is this?
  (Mr Steer) I think there are two points here. Just to be clear, the fact that they are expensive does not mean therefore that they do not make the plan. If they are expensive but produce commensurate benefits that is greater than the cost, they will get in the plan. They are not made a part of the Trans-Pennine bid because in fact the Manchester network is used by several franchises and by a number of freight operators. We are the major freight operation using the viaduct from Piccadilly to Deansgate. To try to pin those infrastructure investments around the development of one franchise does not, in our view, make sense as the way forward.

Chris Grayling

  302. We have taken evidence that says that it will not be possible to accommodate the Trans-Pennine franchise within the current service structure in and around Manchester because of the capacity constraints.
  (Mr Steer) One of the fundamental aims of the Trans-Pennine Express proposition as originally launched was to be able to create a pretty much even interval service of the core sections from Manchester to Leeds in/near quarter-of-an-hour intervals.

  303. With respect, I am sure that is the case.
  (Mr Steer) And we do believe that fits.

Helen Jackson

  304. And Manchester to Sheffield and Sheffield to Leeds because you mention the three major cities and it goes back to Mrs Ellman's point, do you use the same assessment for that northern region as requiring a commuter type frequency between the major conurbations as you do in the south-east and others because there is a strong feeling that that does not happen in the north?
  (Mr Steer) Exactly so, but my earlier answer to the proposition, "Are you taking account of regional factors?", was that, in terms of doing a cost benefit study, which is what these assessments crudely use, no, we do not. We apply the same criteria right across the country. There is no sense—


  305. Wait. Are you telling us that although there was clear evidence that these infrastructure changes would not only improve the times of the trains but would impinge upon all the other qualities, you ruled that out because, as far as you were concerned, that was a matter for regeneration and you do not look at regeneration because you do not look at regional involvement in economic terms?
  (Mr Steer) Absolutely not. I am saying that, at that stage—

  306. What confuses the Committee is that you simply say, "That was ruled out." Then you go on to talk about the franchises, and the franchisees themselves are very concerned because they want to know how they are going to be able to develop if they do not have the infrastructure. Did you or did you not, before you went ahead with the discussions which you are having at the present time, do the assessments of the two cases: one where the infrastructure would be improved and one where the infrastructure would be ignored?
  (Mr Steer) We did not do an assessment; we have not let the competition run so far on Trans-Pennine on the basis of a package of improvements that came out of the study—

  307. Were you aware of what would happen?
  (Mr Steer) The SRA is absolutely fully aware of the Manchester capacity study and—

  308. Then would you tell us why you took the decision that you took.
  (Mr Steer) Very simply. At the time of putting together the strategic plan, the case for making that particular package of investment could not be made. It is not a matter that it has been ruled out. It will be looked at again; it will be looked at in the preparation of the next strategic plan —

Helen Jackson

  309. In ten years' time?
  (Mr Steer) This year in readiness for publication in January next year. So, this is a current issue. What I said—and I am sorry if this sounds like picking words—was that we could not bring it into the strategic plan.

Chris Grayling

  310. Because you do not have enough money to do it?
  (Mr Steer) Because we do not have the case that is available to justify that expenditure. We did not have at that stage. We will look at it again.

  311. What we are hearing, I think, is a great deal of inconsistency over franchise related decisions from the SRA. Let me give you a specific example of that. We have in London talk by the Chairman of the SRA of the combination of franchises to reduce the pressure at major termini. So, there is talk about merging Thames Trains with Great Western; there is talk about merging WAGN and GNER, for example. Mr Bowker has made a very clear case that the reduction in the number of franchises will help the flow of trains through stations. By contract, in Manchester where you have two substantial stations and there are seven franchises currently, you are looking to expand the number of franchises without even putting into the network in that area the kinds of bottleneck easing pressures that, God willing, may actually eventually appear in the London area.
  (Mr Steer) First of all, I was not aware that we were increasing the number of franchises. We are reconstructing and they are being sliced this way rather than that way, but there were two, Northern Spirit/North Western; there are going to be two, Trans-Pennine Express and Northern. So, the number of franchises is not actually increased but you are right, they are not being reduced. It is not as easy to formulate a way to do, for Manchester, what is possible on some London terminals. The number of different franchises operating through Manchester is a large number. So, would it make sense to combine North Western, the Northern Spirit franchise, CrossCountry, West Coast, Central Trains? You would have a very cumbersome vehicle. It is not the relatively simple proposition of, say, combining Thames and First Great Western.

  312. You have just said that you are creating a Trans-Pennine franchise because you want to create a vehicle to deliver a high quality city service separate to the more localised services but, in the case of Great Western and Thames Trains, you would be doing exactly the opposite.
  (Mr Steer) Well, you know —

Andrew Bennett

  313. Do you want to reduce the number of franchises in Manchester or are you happy with the number you have?
  (Mr Steer) I think we see, on balance, there being a material advantage which we would hope representatives in the north—and we believe they are increasingly seeing, we know that there has been a view that it is not desirable—will see in having a Trans-Pennine Express separate franchise. It is true that, if you rolled it in with Northern, you could have had possibly some of these benefits of the type you refer to at Central London termini, but the truth of the matter is that at the places where it really matters, say at Manchester Piccadilly or Leeds or wherever, there will always be another operator. So, you cannot get it down to a single operator at a key station, which is an opportunity in the south east. So, if you cannot have that, is it not worth trying to get the benefit of an intercity type franchise?

  Chairman: I think, Mr Steer, there is a total amount of, perhaps, confusion and not total conviction in this Committee.

Chris Grayling

  314. The central railway proposition is designed to go through Manchester. Given what we are hearing about the problems in Manchester, is that even vaguely realistic?
  (Mr Steer) It is very challenging.


  315. Is that "no"? Is that SRA speak for "no"?
  (Mr Steer) The SRA is doing a study on the project.

  316. And you will give us notes on the results of your study?
  (Mr Steer) I am sure we will.

  317. Is it necessary to close the West Coast mainline for 18 consecutive weekends for upgrading?
  (Mr Steer) It is my understanding that that is the best balance that can be struck.

  318. Balance between whom and whom?
  (Mr Steer) Between those who are intent on providing a service to passengers and freight customers and those who are intent on delivering the upgrade which requires access to the network.

  319. Could you not do it any other way?
  (Mr Steer) You certainly could. The cost would be lower if you blockaded the route, which was RailTrack's original proposition. The cost would be higher if you just did it overnight and it would take a lot longer.

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