Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Would you say the phrase I quoted originally from your memorandum that the railways in Wales do not need major infrastructure enhancements to facilitate increased use of the network is a bit complacent?
  (Mr Gibb) I would say that will achieve a great deal. I am often being told that nothing can happen until there are hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment into the rail network in Wales. I do not believe that is true. I believe we can do a great deal now with a modest sum of investment in additional trains, for example, to provide additional capacity.

  41. Coming on to track access, it had been suggested that because of the position of dominant players in certain areas, for instance on the West Coast Main Line, train operating companies might not be sure of getting access to sufficient numbers of paths after Railtrack and Virgin had negotiated a deal, which in the event was taken to the Regulator. Have you found any such difficulty?
  (Mr Gibb) I have not found such difficulties at the moment. In terms of the future and our vision of the future, perhaps I could get Malcolm to touch on that.
  (Mr Pheasey) Most of the services that Wales & Borders or the All-Wales franchise will run do not directly impact on the West Coast Main Line, the only exception being the Holyhead/Birmingham via Crewe service. The plans Railtrack and Virgin have put together for services always envisaged that train being there. We may not be able to increase the level of service but we are guaranteed those paths and that was part of the Regulator's findings. We are not quite certain what is going to happen on the West Coast Main Line because that was the 140 miles per hour tilting railway version which now appears to have some question marks around it following the recent events with Railtrack. Elsewhere we generally have not been in the position of having to suffer from other people. In practice in Wales we really are going to be the dominant operator there on a lot of those services. The key area where we have to protect ourselves is on the South Wales Main Line where the express intercity, currently the First Great Western, services do need a fast run and that limits the space for stopping trains in between. At the moment none of the proposals which has come forward gives us over concern, but if they grew even further, then we would have an opportunity to argue our case with the Regulator.

Mr Owen

  42. You mentioned Crewe and I can give you one example of track access problems. There is a constant complaint about connections between Wales & West services and First North Western services that they cannot be made at Crewe because the Cardiff to Manchester train is held outside the station for ten minutes and passengers are then subject to an hour's delay. Why do things like this happen? I could give you several examples as a regular traveller. For example, if I get the London to Crewe train, changing for North Wales at Crewe, I often miss this if there is a delay. Why should this happen?
  (Mr Gibb) That is an existing problem rather than one which is going to come about because of the proposals for the West Coast. Crewe station was designed on a minimalist layout basis and implemented about ten years ago. There are only two platforms at Crewe station where you can cross over from the Manchester route towards South Wales.

  43. The crossover is only some seven minutes and if a train is held up for ten minutes you are never going to reach it, are you?
  (Mr Gibb) No. The problem we face there at the moment is that a northbound train from Cardiff has to wait for one of those two vacant platforms, for a southbound Manchester to Cardiff train to come out. You always stand at a place called Gresty Lane Junction, out comes the southbound train and your train then proceeds into the platform. The Cardiff to Manchester timetable is structured around the connections at Newport, so that people can go from London, through Newport to places like Abergavenny, Hereford, Leominster and Ludlow. That is the predominant passenger flow on that route. That connection at Newport takes precedence over the connections at Crewe between North and South Wales. Our aim in the future is to run a more frequent service on both corridors so that the connection possibilities exist and can provide for more connections without turning round to one group of passengers and saying we are going to cut off their connections.

  44. Are you confident you can achieve that?
  (Mr Gibb) Yes, I am confident we can do that.

Mr Williams

  45. Perhaps you could tell us whether there are any proposed improvements for bus-train interchanges at major stations such as Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor?
  (Mr Gibb) We have recently achieved a significant number of projects, particularly on Valley lines to link bus and rail services. I give as one example our proposals—and the work is now well into a completion stage—for Haverfordwest where there is a connecting service from Haverfordwest by bus on to St David's and Fishguard. Through an SRA rail passenger partnership grant funded project, a total of £99,000, we have completely revamped the front of Haverfordwest station to provide a high quality interchange between those bus services and the train services we operate. That scheme is nearing completion and the bus service is already using Haverfordwest station, but it is not a very satisfactory interchange. It will be a very high quality interchange within the next few months when that scheme is finished.

  46. In Cardiff, the capital of Wales, it is still unsatisfactory.
  (Mr Gibb) The interchange at Cardiff Central between the bus operation and the rail operation is extremely good, between Cardiff Central bus station and Central railway station. We have done many schemes. In the Valley line timetable, which we shall be providing to the Committee at the end of the session, you can see a wide variety of bus connections which have been put in place over the last couple of years with through ticketing and they are well marketed and in most cases very well used. The Valley line is a particular success story with bus/rail experiences. We have run other bus services which have been less than successful for a variety of reasons.

Chris Ruane

  47. Many civil servants, business people and politicians use the north/south rail link which you operate because they are going down to Cardiff. There does not seem to be anywhere to do work without being interrupted. Are there any proposals to provide facilities for people like that?
  (Mr Gibb) The train we currently operate, which is the 5.23 from Holyhead to Cardiff, arriving in Cardiff at 10.06, which is the main train used by businessmen, civil servants, Assembly members and others heading to Cardiff for business, is a two-carriage train of a standard type which we operate across our network. It would be possible to extend the length of the train and provide more suitable facilities for people to do some work, but we do need to retain the versatility of the train for the rest of its operations. If you go on that particular service you will know well that it is the school run into Shrewsbury and it picks up about 100 schoolchildren in North Shropshire. I am sure they would welcome a First Class facility on the train.

  48. It does not have to be First Class. It is three and a half hours down there, three and a half back, seven hours. A day's work could be completed. For people on high salaries, that is an awful lot of work they could be doing.
  (Mr Gibb) A while ago people who used that train used to be able to occupy all four seats around a table and have plenty of room to do work. The passenger growth we have seen has meant that is no longer regularly possible. People who do travel regularly on that service have complained to me that they have to share the seating area with many other passengers now which is a success in itself. Our plans for the future would bring about an increase in the number of carriages and the facilities on board the trains. Certainly providing for that specific flow is something we should like to achieve in the future. I should say also that I am in discussion with the National Assembly about north/south services. They currently fund the operation of one of the through trains between North and South Wales and we are currently reviewing that funding and how we might use that in the future to provide those services in line with people's expectations.

Mr Owen

  49. Would you consider that one train, the 5.20 from Holyhead, to be a success?
  (Mr Gibb) That service has been running for a long time. It carries a lot of people at different intermediate parts of the journey and it does carry an increasing number of people between North and South Wales. I do regard it as a successful service out of the portfolio of services we operate.

  50. Would you be looking to increase the number of through trains from Holyhead to Cardiff?
  (Mr Gibb) Yes, I would be.

Mr Caton

  51. I agreed with the point you made about promoting rail-based tourism and you are clearly particularly involved in that on the Heart of Wales line. You say it has been a successful initiative. How have you measured the success? What sort of increase in the number of tourists has there been? Some of the other lines under your control are very attractive journeys as well. Are you developing a similar approach on that?
  (Mr Gibb) We formed a number of rail partnerships across our historical Wales & West network, partnerships such as the Devon and Cornwall rail partnership, the Bristol to Weymouth rail partnership and the Heart of Wales line partnership. These partnerships are formed of local authorities, tourism organisations, attractions and other people who have a stake in the tourist business in that area. We work together to share objectives and to see whether we can come up with schemes which will meet everybody's objectives. On the Heart of Wales line we have recently repainted all the trains into a promotional livery, promoting the Heart of Wales line so that wherever these trains go, they promote the Heart of Wales line as a destination. That has been particularly successful and resulted in a very large number of enquiries to the website promoting that particular line. There we do have a direct measurement of the success.

  52. A website is not necessarily people in seats on a train.
  (Mr Gibb) Not necessarily, but where we have been doing things for a little longer, for example in Devon and Cornwall, we have been able to measure the increased passenger numbers and indeed the increased visitor spend. It is well known in that area that railborne tourists do spend more money in the local economy than people in their cars. The local authority see the partnership as delivering both their tourist objectives, but also their transport policy objectives of bringing more people into the area but without bringing in their cars. All three of those key partnerships do regard the relationship with us as having been successful and are committed to it in the future. In terms of purely measuring it through increased passenger revenue, yes, there has been an increased passenger revenue, but that alone would not have justified the activities we have undertaken in the last few years.

  53. I take your point about Heart of Wales which is a wonderful line, but you have other wonderful lines as well. Are you looking to develop tourism on those?
  (Mr Gibb) As Wales & Borders, our new train company, we shall seek to play a very full part in Wales's largest growing industry, which is the tourism industry. We shall have a very serious role in that in the future. Our office is located just four floors below the Wales Tourist Board and we enjoy a good relationship with them and all the local tourism countries. We see promoting tourism in Wales as a key part of our future business strategy, both to deliver our stakeholders' aspirations, but also to deliver our own objectives of getting more passengers on our trains and delivering good value for money for the type of train service we operate. It is not purely a commuter railway. Less than 20 per cent of our passengers are commuters and the majority of our passengers will in the long term in Wales & Borders trains be tourists and people making leisure journeys.

Mr Owen

  54. May I go back to the additional investment? I love figures and we have heard a figure of £40 million. How do you intend to spend that money? Are you looking at new trains, improved facilities at the stations? If you are improving the stations, which we all welcome, are they going to have modern information for people? I do want to touch on the point of personal security of staff and passengers. Is this part of the investment?
  (Mr Pheasey) The simple answer to that is yes.

  55. You are not going to get away with just yes. What new trains? How many new trains? What class of trains? What speed of trains?
  (Mr Pheasey) In the context of a franchise extension and in an environment where the SRA have indicated to us informally that they are not particularly minded to support significant increases in service, we are focusing on addressing overcrowding and we are focusing on addressing issues which are Welsh Assembly strategies. I should say that the £40 million is exclusive of the Welsh Assembly supported services; the rolling stock for those services will be another £40 million. I am talking round figures here. About £25million of the initial £40 million we propose will be on trains. That will enable us to run more trains, to run longer trains where the trains are already overcrowded and also to have some strategic spare trains, so that if there are problems we can insert a train mid-journey so that the second half of a journey is running to time. These are some of the tricks we can play to improve performance. The remainder of the money will principally be spent on stations and station-related facilities. That will include enhancement of the existing very well received ex Wales & West Project Inform customer information system, which has been noted as extremely good. We shall roll that out onto the other parts. Every station would have a pushbutton information call point. They would generally be bilingual as well. We would put CCTV in, in conjunction with the local authorities, where it is necessary.

  56. Who determines that? You said "with the local authorities". Who would determine whether it was necessary?
  (Mr Pheasey) That would be based on discussions with the police as to whether there is actually a security problem at that station or not. That is the essence of the secure station initiative.

  57. So you would wait for the police to identify a problem.
  (Mr Pheasey) No, we know where they are. We are in discussion with the police all the time. We understand where the issues are.

  58. It deters a lot of people, particularly in winter, from travelling on the dark evenings.
  (Mr Pheasey) We understand that. There would be CCTV. We would also propose an enhancement in the number of police officers. That is one of the elements in there and some improvement in the general environment of the station. We are always conscious that there are limitations on the amount of money that is likely to be available to us from the SRA. We are trying to get a balance of quick hits on the things which spread the benefits fairly widely, so that we do not spend all the money on just one location because we do not think that is appropriate in somewhere like Wales.
  (Mr Gibb) We have been very successful in winning secure station accreditation for the stations we operate. We have accredited more stations than any other similar operator in the country over the last 12 months and we shall be looking to continue that throughout Wales in the next year.

Mr Wiggin

  59. Something which came up earlier was the tilting trains which are running along in some competition with you to some extent. I just wondered whether the appointment of Richard Bowker from Virgin to the SRA will actually help or will make things more difficult for you?
  (Mr Gibb) I do not see us as being in competition with Virgin trains on the North Wales coast. We shall be very much in collaboration with them in order to provide a selection of through services and connecting services in North Wales. We enjoy a good relationship with Virgin trains at the moment. We are excited by their expansion plans for the next 12 months and working very closely with them to provide connecting services, indeed on Friday I am speaking in Llandudno with the Chief Executive of Virgin trains outlining our joint vision for station improvements in North Wales for example. We enjoy a very close relationship, one which is essential if we are going to provide the sort of joint level of service which everybody wishes to see.

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