Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
180. The investment in the track is not just
about speed; it is hopefully about comfort because most of us
who travel on your trains to Paddington have spilt coffee all
over ourselves several times in a year's journeys. One would hope
that with track improvements that would no longer be the case.
Without the track improvement and with your investment in new
trains, what sort of improvement can we see?
(Mr Carroll) Having been on the new trains, both our
new class 180 trains that will be introduced and go as far as
to Cardiff, and the new class 175 train that is now in service
in the north west, the customer sees an immediate improvement
in terms of the overall on board environment, the facilities on
those trains in terms of information provision and catering improvements.
There is a substantial improvement by introducing new trains.
Yes, you are absolutely right. In terms of things like ride quality,
in terms of overall journey improvements, the track is critically
important. It is also important to remember that the performance
of the railways at the moment nationally and in Wales is unsatisfactory.
70 per cent plus of the delays certainly on south Wales services
are being caused by infrastructure failures, particularly signalling,
track, the kinds of embankment problems that I described earlier.
It is not only a matter of the ride improving; the delays that
I am sure you have experienced on our trains are largely down
to infrastructure and track problems which will only be resolved
through that kind of investment.
181. You have said the Great Western line generally
has not had a good deal. Why do you think that is?
(Mr Carroll) Part of it is that it has almost been
waiting in order. The east coast was the priority in electrification
terms during the eighties. The west coast, which was electrified
in the early sixties, became naturally the next order of priority
and that is the investment that is now being made on the line
from Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, etc. I would like to think
that it is Great Western's turn next as the third key Intercity
route in the country and one again that, from its current performance,
there is evidence that major investment is required.
182. Can I follow on from the question that
Mark asked earlier about Scotrail's idea and the way you answered
that question. It is too much of a coincidence that the area we
have just been discussing now, the most western point of South
Wales and the area we discussed earlier, the Isle of Anglesea,
the north western point of North Wales, has been somewhat neglected.
Would it not be better so that the operating companies cannot
blame the company looking after the infrastructure and vice versa?
Would it not be better at the end of the day for the whole thing
to be under one umbrella?
(Mr Carroll) Yes, as long as the operator of that
understood what they were inheriting. Recent events concerning
Railtrack demonstrate the amount of investment that is required.
Looking at last year, as far as gauge corner cracking and all
the speed restrictions, this also identifies the lack of detailed
understanding as to the condition of the infrastructure. If it
was being suggested that a new operator inherits the responsibility
of maintaining that track, that new operator would want to know
in detail what the condition of the assets they were inheriting
is. Only in understanding that and understanding the obligations
that that new operator was taking on in terms of improving that
infrastructure would that kind of structure be able to be established.
I am not sure we are there yet on that. That is why I think we
are much more comfortable in taking on responsibility for signalling
trains and controlling trains and responding to events and delays,
which is all part of the current Railtrack responsibility. The
infrastructure maintenance and renewal is a very specialist activity
that we are not experts in and that is the issue.
183. Can I move on to something which you are
supposed to be experts at? That is the stock. Why has Great Western
Trains not invested in new trains earlier? Why are your new trains
(Mr Carroll) The new trains were designed and ordered
nearly four years ago. That process of four years which is clearly
too long showed that when that train was ordered back in the late
nineties this country did not have the capability to build trains.
The train manufacturing industry in this country had declined
quite substantially because of the lack of orders during the eighties
and the nineties. If one thinks of the train that we are now having
built, it is only being assembled in this country. The body shells
are built in Spain. The engines are built in the United States.
The gear boxes and most of the components are built in Germany.
They are assembled in Birmingham. That four year process shows
where the capability of the rail production industry had got to.
The delays in us having themand you are absolutely right;
we hoped that we would have the new trains a year agoare
due to the poor performance of the manufacturer. We are working
intensively with Alstrom who are building the trains to supply
those trains. We will not accept a train that does not meet our
very high standards as far as safety, customer service, comfort
and reliability. Alstrom have not been able to demonstrate that
high level as yet. Until they do, the trains will remain under
test. We are now hoping that the first new trains will enter into
service in February and we are producing a timetable for May next
year that will have those new trains timetabled into that timetable.
184. What system do you have as a company to
check design faults along the line and to make sure that the problems
are being identified once they are in service, because there have
been examples in North Wales of such occurrences.
(Mr Carroll) The trains are still owned, managed and
controlled by the manufacturer. We have a very detailed, clear
specification as to what those trains have to achieve before we
take over control in terms of reliability, in terms of the design
and delivery against that design. We frequently visit Alstrom
and meet them on a weekly basis at a very senior level to go through
al the issues that are being identified with our particular new
trains and that is a very intensive process to ensure those trains
reach that capability before they enter service. We will not introduce
a train that will not achieve that level of reliability because
of the disadvantages that it immediately creates.
(Mr Ben Davies) It is exactly similar for North Wales
with the 175s, also built by Alstrom, and the problems we have
encountered during the summer. The main issue is safety. These
are brand new trains. Any time we feel that safety is compromised,
we will have to take them out of service. For one day, we did
take all the 175 fleet out of service until we were able to be
categorically assured that there were no problems with them. Yes,
we have had teething problems with the 175 fleet in North Wales
but those are now overcome and a 175 is now a common sight in
North Wales. Almost every other train in North Wales is now a
175, be it from Holyhead to Birmingham or Llandudno to Manchester.
We monitored the problems and changed components and I think we
are still changing them today. We have improved our on board hieroglyphics
and announcements. We were down to a kilometre between the short
stations; we have gone back and altered them and made them into
half kilometre station changes. It is only by this exercise that
we are able to ensure that we have a good, safe, reliable product.
185. You are fairly confident that they will
be in service by February 2002? How confident are you?
(Mr Carroll) That is the current agreement with Alstrom.
We have reviewed their delivery schedules to get to that point
and those seem robust. I have been accused of making various promises
which have not been delivered, so I am far more cautious than
I was in the last 12 months. We believe that February and May
into a timetabled service is a realistic and deliverable option.
186. Will their arrival improve the evening
service and will they reduce journey times to Cardiff and Swansea?
(Mr Carroll) The new trains will be very much used
between London and Cardiff, not beyond Cardiff in the short time,
so I think we will see overall improvements from Cardiff to London.
187. What timescale are we talking about to
reduce journey times?
(Mr Carroll) I have not got a number of minutes but
we are talking about a number of minutes either way for the journey
time between Cardiff and London.
188. We understand that the more expensive tilting
trains to be introduced by Virgin on similar routes, if applied
to the South Wales routes, would have reduced journey times. Is
this the case, in your view?
(Mr Carroll) No.
(Mr Carroll) The tilting train and the capability
of the tilt is specifically advantageous on a rail route that
curves. We are fortunate that Brunel, in building the Great Western
main line, built a straight line. The tilt opportunity would not
create major benefit. The journey time benefit from Great Western
is to improve the track dynamics and capability of the track.
That does not need straightening out, because essentially it is
generally a straight route.
190. You disagree?
(Mr Carroll) Yes.
191. Why has the half hourly service on the
Cardiff to London route been interfered with so that there are
now gaps even during the day? Was this to service the Bristol
and west of England market at the expense of South Wales maybe?
(Mr Carroll) No, it is completely the opposite.
192. Could you explain?
(Mr Carroll) We had a franchise obligation to introduce
a half hourly service between Cardiff and London from May of this
year. That required a number of extra trains being operated each
day, both to London and from London to Cardiff. In doing that,
we hoped that we would have our new trains available to provide
that extra capacity. We did not and, as a result, we decided to
redeploy high speed trains from the south west, serving Cornwall
and Devon, to South Wales to give us that extra capacity and to
introduce the half hourly service. That is what we did from May.
We quickly established that the timetable we introduced was incapable
of being delivered in a reliable fashion each day and, in agreement
with the Strategic Rail Authority, we agreed to cancel five trains
in total each day to give us some spare capacity on those particular
services. It still means that South Wales is getting more trains
from May than before. They get seven extra trains in one direction
and six in another. They get slightly fewer than was originally
planned That is only a temporary agreement with the Strategic
Rail Authority and we will go back to the full half hourly service,
which does operate during the main peak during the day, as soon
as our new trains become available.
193. I am reliably informed that there are no
8.55, 9.55, 1655 or 1855 trains in the current timetable, although
they were timetabled initially.
(Mr Carroll) They are the only four that are not operating.
If one looks through the rest of the timetable, there is a regular,
half hourly frequency pattern from Cardiff to London and from
London to Cardiff. Those trains will be reintroduced as soon as
we have the new trains giving us that capacity and they are reliably
entered into service.
194. What lessons have you learned, because
you did publicise the fact that "you can travel every half
hour from Cardiff to London." That was your promotional sentence.
(Mr Carroll) One of the lessons that we are all learning
is that the Great Western zone is currently running 30 per cent
more trains today than it did in 1994/5. If one takes overall
the number of trains that are running, freight trains and passenger
trains, it is something like 30 per cent more than five or six
years ago. The infrastructure is exactly the same as it was five
or six years ago. There has been no more track built. There is
no passing loop. We are trying to run a lot more trains. The plans
are to run more trains in the future. Virgin are running trains
to Cardiff planned for next year, using existing infrastructure.
The difficulty that presents is you either try to run more trains
with the risks in terms of reliability of performance when something
goes wrong, when there is a track or train failure; or you try
to design a timetable that will deliver a much higher standard
of reliability for the customer so that you can plan your journey
with some confidence. That may mean a curtailment in trains in
the future beyond what is currently being planned.
195. The operating companies including yourselves
knew full well what the state of the track was before you produced
(Mr Carroll) I am not sure we did understand what
the capability of the track was in terms of reliability. A year
and a half ago, no one knew anything about gauge corner cracking
and the difficulties that would present for the rail industry
over the last 12 months. I still believe that we are seeing, when
there is a delay, when there is a fault on the track or a train,
far more serious delays than we used to see because there are
m ore trains around and therefore a knock on effect for any failure
is far more significant than we used to have. There is a debate
with the Strategic Rail Authority as to how does one plan a timetable
that delivers the improvements in terms of frequency of service
that we have talked about but also has in-built a level of reliability
that the customer expects. At the moment, I feel we are running
more trains but if one looks at how many of those are running
on time the percentage is reducing.
196. Mr Ben Davies talked about information
on the trains now, telling you which stations are approaching
and so on. I travelled on one of your trains two weeks ago and
when we got to Bangor Station the announcement said, "You
are now approaching Llanarechen Station(?)" and we had passed
that a few minutes ago. We do understand that you are doing your
best to alleviate those problems.
(Mr Ben Davies) On the integration side, in Bangor
in particular, I believe we now have real time information for
the buses as well. As customers come off the station, we have
real time bus information at Bangor City. At Aberconwy Council,
First North Western are having a bus/rail interchange built this
coming January. All buses in the Aberconwy area will call at Llandudno
Junction Station, so you can either get off the bus onto the train
or off the train onto the bus to go to Llandudno or the Valley
and likewise with the Snowdon Sherpa. We are working with local
councils, to take the point earlier about liaisons with local
councils. We sit down almost every four or six weeks with local
councils. We are sitting down with the local council next week
to look at the development of the port at Holyhead.
197. A combination of problems of reliability
in terms of rail servicescustomer disbenefit, I think it
is calledhas meant that there has been a falling off of
members using the rail service. I saw a figure last week that
in the six weeks following Railtrack being put into administration
something like two million people have opted for other forms of
transport. Have you any figures on the Welsh services in terms
of any falling off in numbers following the administration order?
(Mr Carroll) The reality for us is that the volume
of customer usage is roughly where it was two years ago. Therefore,
two years ago, the railways were growing in quite a dynamic fashion
and we were talking about five per cent growth in volume and income
terms. The events of the last two years, which are a combination
of the safety issues with the terrible Ladbroke Grove disaster
and then the Hatfield crash and the gauge corner cracking which
was a national epidemic afterwards, have seen rail patronage,
particularly on the leisure side, the customer who is making a
non-critical journey and has other options, move away. That is
the concern we have. Our marketing activity in terms of special
promotions and advantageous pricing is very much geared to winning
those customers back.
198. You said that your new trains will only
be running between Cardiff and London. When are we going to see
better trains going west of Cardiff?
(Mr Carroll) That is an issue for franchise extension
and possibly refranchising.
199. We are talking way past 2006 then?
(Mr Carroll) The opportunity that a franchise extension
presents for the customers and for the community of Wales is that,
instead of waiting for 2006, there is no reason why a franchise
extension of two years could not be negotiated within the next
year, with obligations to bring forward investment far earlier.
That is part of the negotiation. My earlier point around the benefits
of a two year extension is that one could see things and not have
to wait until 2006 and beyond for those benefits.