Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 5 JULY 2000
80. No, no. What standards have you now set?
(Mr Corbett) On rail it is the new UIC 60 rail which
will last a lot longer than the traditional rails. Our maintenance
is directed towards getting the track quality up and over the
last four years we have had some success on that, reducing the
number of broken rails, improving train performance, and ensuring
that the network can carry more trains.
81. Can I briefly ask Mr Corbett whether you
and your colleagues ever look out of the railway carriage when
you are travelling on the train?
(Mr Corbett) Yes.
82. You will have noticed, alluding to a question
that the Chairman asked about trackside debris, that it is good
ammunition for vandals and recently there was a very near tragedy
on the West Coast Main Line just outside Rugby.
(Mr Corbett) The Kilsby Tunnel, yes.
83. I have to say I did write to your Chairman
about it because I was extremely alarmed and disturbed at all
the track side debris you can visibly see from the train. He tells
me it is looked at and picked up. I do not think it is picked
(Mr Corbett) There are standards. It is looked at
and the contractors are audited.
84. Mr Corbett, some of these bits of paper
in these little piles in nice big polythene bags have stayed there
that long that weeds start growing out of them. It is not rocket
science to clean up after you.
(Mr Corbett) No, I agree, that is not satisfactory.
85. I want to allow you to go fairly soon, Mr
Corbett, so we will go very rapidly now. Have you created your
database of reliable asset information?
(Mr Corbett) We are in the process of doing so.
86. Why did you not do it before?
(Mr Corbett) We had a programme put together in 1998
for doing it but we deferred it because of the year 2000.
87. You deferred it because of the year 2000?
(Mr Corbett) Getting the railway compliant for the
year 2000 required the whole of the resource of our computer systems
department, about 400 people.
88. Why did you think it was not necessary to
monitor your national asset base?
(Mr Corbett) Of course it is necessary to monitor
the national asset base but we did defer the programme for centralising
the asset base because of getting our computers and systems compliant
for the year 2000. Almost every company in the country had to
adjust its systems plans because of the year 2000. We are now
on course with it and the data will be populated by the end of
this year/early next year.
89. Are you not concerned that your management
of safety systems is going to be impaired by lack of reliable
(Mr Corbett) No, we are not. It is not that we have
not got the information. If you go to any of our zones and outlying
offices you will find files and files and files of all our structures
and our track. It goes back to before 1948 when the railway was
a series of different companies and all the data is in a different
form organised differently and we need to pull it all together.
90. The HSE have made it clear that they are
concerned about the fact you have been there for five years and
you have not so far established robust information of this kind
which they think will make it difficult for you to manage your
property safely. I hope you will take that seriously. Can I ask
you why you have said that you believe the Regulator is placing
a disproportionate emphasis on enforcement action? You said something
rather like that this afternoon as well.
(Mr Corbett) No other regulated utility has had an
91. Which utility are you likening yourself
(Mr Corbett) I would not liken us to any other utility.
92. Because the present Regulator is not behaving
like every other regulator, there is something wrong with the
(Mr Corbett) I would not want to comment on that.
93. You have commented on it. You have said
it more than once, you have said it this afternoon, that the Regulator
is placing a disproportionate emphasis on enforcement.
(Mr Corbett) That is my view.
94. Why does one have a Regulator if he is not
concerned with enforcement?
(Mr Corbett) If I can explain what I meant.
95. That will be helpful.
(Mr Corbett) Over-use of enforcement can and will
raise our cost of capital and we saw that last year. At the end
of the day a high cost of capital for Railtrack is not in the
taxpayers' interest because it only means at the end of the day
that the taxpayer will have to pay.
96. I see, so although you are required to undertake
certain responsibilities and you are required to a hit certain
targets and you are required to follow agreed plans, nevertheless
if you do not do it nobody should really force you to do it because
in the final analysis the taxpayer will have to pay for it?
(Mr Corbett) No, I did not say that. I said one of
the objectives behind the creation of Railtrack was its ability
to raise money from the financial markets.
97. That was the theory, Mr Corbett, although
we do not seem to hear so much about it these days.
(Mr Corbett) If you look at the exhibit on page 3
you will see that by the end of this year the debt will be 2.9
billion. That is money raised in the financial markets.
98. Very considerable amounts of taxpayers'
money has also gone to Railtrack, has it not? Why did you not
find it possible to agree with the Regulator consistent and unambiguous
performance indicators for maintenance?
(Mr Corbett) Back in 1995 there were no targets or
outputs agreed as part of the set up of Railtrack with the Regulator.
They did not come until 1998 following licence condition 7 and
the targets were then outlined in our 1998 network management
99. Do you believe that the Regulator's expectations
are going to be clearly specified when he sets the new track access
(Mr Corbett) Yes, we have made very good progress
with the Regulator's Office on clarifying the outputs and the
Regulator and us are at total one on that. We all have to know
exactly what we are supposed to deliver.