Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
140. There has been a much longer delay in the
Government reaching a decision on the national franchise for Wales
than anyone could have reasonably expected. What do you think
the reasons have been for the delay in reaching a decision
(Mr Carroll) I believe there is a debate going on
within the SRA at the moment as to the future makeup of franchises
in general. People have talked about a smaller number of franchises.
Clearly there is a critical appointment of a new Director to the
SRA who will be taking up his post in literally the next couple
of days, and I think that has caused the delay. Certainly as far
as the South Wales stations are concerned, in a similar way as
Ben has described, we have partitioned and separated that South
Wales operation ready for transfer to the new Wales and Borders.
We have provided the SRA with the information that they would
need to make that decision. On the basis of that decision being
made that transfer could take place very quickly. All the safety
issues which are clearly critical in making sure that all the
key responsibilities for the operation of the Wales and Borders
franchise have been considered, and what are called "safety
case provisions" have been progressed. All the key issues
in planning for that change have been made. Staff have been consulted;
consultation is taking place with the staff involved so they are
aware and prepared for it. It is very much the SRA's decision
now about how they want to set that new organisation up, and when
they want to start the operation from.
141. Implicit in your answer it is your professional
opinion there remains the possibility that in fact the franchise
will not actually happen?
(Mr Carroll) I think that is unlikely actually. With
the progress that has been made with Wales and Borders, the planning
that has gone into it, I think it would almost be an impossible
scenario to see that decision not being made. I do think in other
franchises that have been set up, such as Wessex which is a similar
kind of body, there is ongoing debate as to whether that kind
of fragmentation is still valid, or whether grouping things together
in a new franchise structure is more valid.
142. Wales and Borders Trains told us that the
franchise could be let by competition in September 2002. Do you
agree with that kind of timescale?
(Mr Carroll) I think that is realistic, yes. If one
looks at the timescales taken so far in the amount of work that
would have to be, that is not in shadow franchise mode that is
full longer term franchise, yes, First would certainly be happy
to work to that timescale in putting in a final bid and going
through the final process on that.
Mr Martin Caton
143. Mr Carroll, you have told us in your introduction
that First is an integrated transport operator, could we move
on to multi-modal travel schemes. What provisions are now being
made by the Government, the SRA and the Assembly to ensure railway
companies participate in multi-model travel schemes in areas outside
London and the PTEs?
(Mr Carroll) In ensuring, I think, one has to refer
back to the franchise obligations, and what is actually directed
within those in terms of integration. If one takes the First Great
Western franchise that was originally awarded in 1996, one of
the obligations within that franchise was to develop comprehensive
integrated transport schemes at a number of stations, and the
output from that is this (indicating), which I am
sure some of the members have seen, which is a very comprehensive
guide covering a number of South Wales and Welsh stations, that
lists all the new bus/rail type connectional services and facilities
that have been developed. That really is an output from a specific
obligation. I would expect to see that one of the outputs you
referred to in your earlier question of a new Wales and Borders
franchise would be to take this a number of steps further
in actually making firm commitments for whoever was taking the
franchise forwards in developing those kinds of integrated transport
144. You will shortly be handing over your stations
in South Wales to Wales and Borders. Reflecting on your experiences
over the last four years, can you describe what efforts you have
made and what success you have had in integrating bus and train
(Mr Carroll) I think it would be better if Justin
dealt with that.
145. If you could be specific starting with
Port Talbot and then going on to Neath.
(Mr Justin Davies) Port Talbot, Neath and Swansea.
At Port Talbot itself there has just been an extensive scheme
funded by Neath and Port Talbot County Borough Council to improve
the station forecourt area, which includes provision of an additional
bus stop on the site. The main effort which we are examining currently
at Port Talbot is with the building of Bangor Hospital, which
is obviously going to transform the needs of the community to
move from Neath to the Bangor Hospital; we were very keen to establish
core services in the bus which linked with the train, both at
Neath and Port Talbot, serving the hospital and calling at Port
Talbot bus station, which is itself being refurbished at the current
time. We would be able to ensure that people who need to visit
this hospital, who work in the hospital, have the maximum opportunity
to make integrated journeys to and from that site.
146. I congratulate you on that. Would you say
that is a model for other towns to follow, because it is in stark
contrast to what you have not really achieved in places like Neath,
Swansea, Llanelli and Carmarthen?
(Mr Justin Davies) We have been working progressively
as First Cymru, by using consultants, on improving networks we
provide. We have just done some work in Swansea, of which I have
examples here, which have strengthened the route network. We have
the same consultants now working for us in Neath, Port Talbot
and Maesteg, and they are helping us to look at that network,
and we are currently consulting with the hospital authorities
very much to understand who is travelling, where are they travelling
from and what are their ultimate destinations.
147. To what extent do you actually consult
with disabled groups in those localities?
(Mr Justin Davies) I meet disabled groups personally.
I had a meeting with them about two or three months ago in Pontardawe,
where I met with both the Swansea and Neath/Port Talbot action
group and spent some time with them, particularly on concerns
which both ourselves and they have of ensuring that buses can
actually get to the side of the road where we have got local facilities,
and customers can actually use them. One of the big problems we
have at the moment is you get so many cars parked in bus laybys.
148. I understand there are complaints about
the visibility of bus stops in Swansea station in particular.
What are you doing about that?
(Mr Justin Davies) There are couple of issues on Swansea
station. A £1.3 million scheme has just been approved, funded
partly by the Assembly, to build a new interchange at Swansea
station. Currently taxis are at the front of the stationthat
will change and taxis will still be readily available but buses
will have much greater access to the station forecourt, which
will be a very great improvement at that site. Secondly, in conjunction
with the local authority, we are currently installing real time
passenger transport information on the service, which runs via
the station to Morriston and Morriston Hospital. This will mean
that when passengers exit from the station they will be able to
see a display which indicates what time the next bus will depart
to the city centre or, indeed, up to Morriston.
149. When we announced this inquiry we invited
people to put evidence, and we have had a letter from someone
living in North Wales talking about their experience of integrated
transport in the Netherlands. They talk in their letter about
having experienced at the railway station that before the train
comes in a bus arrives; just after the train has left a bus departs
for example to link to a bus station in Swansea. We are nowhere
near that, are we?
(Mr Justin Davies) I think we are making great strides,
particularly in Swansea. The level of bus service outside the
railway station is literally every seven or eight minutes from
that bus stop into the city centre. Indeed, the service then goes
out to Swansea Valley towards Llanelli, and Gorseinon and places
like that are on a regular headway. We provide through-ticketing
from the rail service into the bus operation. You can buy a through
ticket already as advertised both in the bus link guide. This
is the latest style of timetable we are producing now in Swansea
which includes details of the rail operation there and the through
ticketing as well. That is all possible and is achievable today
and we are doing it. I think the strides we are making with the
city council, in terms of better publicity, will help us. We discussed
with the Rail Passenger Users' Committee of Wales last week how
we can do things and improve things. One of the main things in
Swansea is more bus lanes through the city centre so that services
from the west of Swansea, the Gower/Mumbles area, can access the
rail station much easier than they can do now. The reason we do
not do it today is that congestion in the city centre and lack
of bus access would not enable me to run a reliable service; and
I do not want to do that linkage until such time that I can guarantee
the level of service.
150. When you come into Swansea on a Great Western
train you will be informed about a connection on the rail service
to go down to West Wales, but you are not informed anything about
what possible bus links there might be; and you are not informed
about where the buses are. I take your point about improving the
location of where buses stop, but you could at the moment be told
where the buses are going, to whichever part of the city you want
to go to. We do not get any of that. If that cannot happen when
you are actually running the rail service and you are running
the bus service, when is it going to happen?
(Mr Justin Davies) We have recently installed at Swansea
Railway right by the ticket office a brand new bus map of Swansea
which details all the routes and frequencies, and includes a cut-out
of the city centre section, showing the high street station and
the central bus station. We have just placed that. That is a feature
which has been missing for quite some time from the station itself.
151. Do you think there is the possibility of
having announcements on the trains, which is what most of us would
(Mr Carroll) Certainly the information system that
we have at all our stations now with the screens is capable of
feeding from the bus time information. If you take Reading, for
example, when you look at what traditionally would be seen as
the rail screens, they have got bus services to Heathrow listed
on there as well. There is no reason why we should not progress
in that way, and progress in terms of public address announcements
as well. We do make public address announcementswe have
set up a new system at Bristol as far as the central city centre
bus link there; and we do make announcements to that effect to
encourage customers and inform customers at that opportunity.
152. Are you familiar with some of the problems
of through ticketing between bus companies across valleys?
(Mr Justin Davies) Any particular areas?
153. The Avon Valley and Llangynwyd Valley,
for example, across the top of the two.
(Mr Justin Davies) Maesteg?
154. Yes. There are problems which my constituents
raise with me between those two valleys between companies.
(Mr Justin Davies) I think the particular difficulty
you are referring to there, there is a route number 23 operated
Port Talbot, Cymmer(?) to the top. One section is a commercial
section, and one section is an attended section, and the attended
section changed hands from one operator to another. I think you
will find that particular situation has been resolved by the operator
of attended service and extended into Port Talbot.
155. What plans are there for seamless interchange
at Cardiff and other stations I have mentioned?
(Mr Justin Davies) At the other places mentioned,
particularly at Neath, we are currently in discussion with Neath
Borough Council on the traffic flowing round the centre of Neath.
Currently you have got the Gardens(?) bus station and the rail
station which is somewhat separate and they themselves have just
launched a study into the road network of Neath and how the traffic
flows. We already have a control point of our own at Neath Station,
and we would be very keen to integrate the bus station and the
rail station together. It would enable us to better regulate services
and get the interchange which everyone would like to see. We are
in discussion there.
156. I think the leader of Neath Port Talbot
County Borough Council would be keen to correct the record. It
is Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.
(Mr Carroll) In Cardiff I think the opportunity to
relate to the vicinity of the rail station and the bus station
and really an opportunity to improve signage to attract people
to continue their journey, there is a big opportunity at Cardiff
which I do not think so far we have maximised.
157. Can we turn to the structure of the railways.
Under the new financial regime for railways, are you more or less
optimistic about the prospects of modernising the railway service
(Mr Carroll) The new structure being the establishment
of the Wales and Borders?
158. No the broader financial
(Mr Carroll) I think the debate taking place at the
moment is establishing the scale of investment that is required
in the railways in general, both in terms of infrastructure investments
for both maintenance of the existing infrastructure and then improvements
to that infrastructure, as well as investment in trains. There
is actually a significant amount of investment already going into
trains and the customer is starting to see new trains appear on
the rail network. I think there is a greater understanding of
the needs. I think the establishing of the Wales and Borders franchise
itself will create an injection in motivation in terms of future
investment because it will come with obligations to do just that,
and working closely with the SRA and other interested parties.
Yes, I am more confident.
159. In terms of the broader financial regime,
the obvious changes the Secretary of State has been making and
how that affects you as a train operating company, do you think
within the next 12 months specifically investment in railways
and its infrastructure is going to be sustained; or is there a
prospect it may be delayed through the natural process of administration
and changes taking place?
(Mr Carroll) I think it would be sustained.