Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
640. Has Railtrack balanced the needs of freight
and passenger operators, in drawing up its own investment plans,
Mr Marshall; has it balanced the needs of passengers and freight
in drawing up its own 10-year plan?
(Mr Marshall) We have certainly tried to. It is, however,
the case that ultimately our investment requirements will be driven
by our customers. It is not for Railtrack alone to
641. Passengers, I think, Mr Marshall, do you
(Mr Marshall) I was using the word customers in a
sense of the train operators and the freight operators, Madam
Chair, responding to the question. I do regard also the people
who take our trains, our passengers, as our ultimate customers.
It is not something that the company has done, up until now, but
I think it is very important we look at it that way; that is one
of the messages we are giving, as a team, to the company today.
642. Has the Regulator made any observations
on the balance, to the Board?
(Mr Marshall) The Regulator has set a framework, he
has set a very clear framework, for how Railtrack will be remunerated
for new investment on the passenger side. The Regulator is also
reviewing the arrangements with respect to freight operators over
the next three or four months, or something of that nature, and
he will be setting the framework for that, similarly. So, as we
get into next year and we look forward to the next five years,
we will have a clear framework for both sets of customers.
643. Has the Government's 10-year plan allocated
sufficient funds to enable rail freight to increase its market;
do you think there is some loss there, because of the problems
(Mr Marshall) We think that the 10-year plan is a
huge step forward, it allocates a huge amount of money to rail,
£60 billion in total, it is a public/private split, both
are bringing money to the party, and the challenge for us all,
to be frank about it, is to create the capacity, whether it is
the supply chain that we talked about, the scarce skills and all
the rest of it earlier on, and to organise ourselves in a way,
because we are a complex industry, the capacity actually to channel
in and invest that money.
644. In view of the Government's strategic transport
policy, freight plays a very big part in that programme, freight
on the rails plays a very big part; what are you doing to try
to stimulate a greater amount of freight traffic on to the rails?
(Mr Marshall) It comes down to investment; the ten-year
plan looks for growth of 80 per cent in freight, I believe, over
the period, if I recall correctly, and once we have the framework
in place for investment, and that has now been put in place by
the Regulator, it really is a question of when the opportunities
for enhancements come our way to take full account of the needs
of our freight customers, and that we will do.
645. I will come back to my first question now,
Mr Marshall. Has Railtrack balanced the needs of freight and passengers
in their plan?
(Mr Marshall) We believe we have, yes.
646. Are there figures for that; can you let
us have a paper to that effect?
(Mr Marshall) Certainly, we are very happy to submit
a follow-up paper; we would also commend our current year network
management statement, which sets out a very clear freight strategy
alongside our passenger strategy. And clearly we will be updating
both of those in our forthcoming network management statement,
which will be either the first or second quarter of next year.
647. Your predecessor, at the CBI Conference,
on 7 November, in a statement he made, said that freight trains
were destroying the network. Do you support that view?
(Mr Marshall) I think that is further than I would
be prepared to go. Obviously, we understand that the pure tonnage
of freight trains increases wear and tear on the network. I do
not conclude, from that, that they are a bad thing. I think we
have to design the network in a way that accommodates the needs
of freight alongside the needs of passengers.
648. He also indicated, I believe, that it was
the freight train that was cracking the rail, because of the heaviness
of it. Do you subscribe to that, as a view?
(Mr Marshall) I do not believe we have support for
that, but I will ask Mr Middleton to comment.
649. Mr Middleton, are your new American engines
knocking hell out of it; freight, or rolling-stock, are they having
this effect on your rails?
(Mr Middleton) I think Mr Marshall answered, in the
sense that freight trains do impose greater stresses on the track,
and it is self-evident, they run around with 25-tonne axles, and
that is much higher than the axle weight on
650. Do you think they were a contributory factor,
Mr Middleton, to the Hatfield accident?
(Mr Middleton) I do not think they were a contributory
factor to the Hatfield accident, no.
651. It would be difficult, would it not, there
are only two trains run every week, to run into?
(Mr Middleton) Correct; exactly that.
652. So it could not have been that?
(Mr Middleton) As I said, categorically, no.
653. Can I ask, just finally, when do you believe
yourself to be in a position to resolve that particular problem;
when do you see this Professor being able to give you evidence
and information and having done calculations that will resolve
(Mr Middleton) We will have an early view of his initial
conclusions within the next two weeks, but I think the final research
conclusions probably will be a few months away, as to the cause
of the cracking and the rate of propagation and the means actually
of getting some predictors in place.
654. What, as an industry, was done before the
introduction of this hard-steel rail, in terms of trials and testing
in the lab, what was done by Railtrack itself, have you an inside
lab, or anything?
(Mr Middleton) No. I think there are two parts to
your question. At the last hearing, Madam Chair, you asked me
about mill heat-treated rail, which was introduced by BR, and
I promised to come back to you with a written response on the
testing that was done for that in BR days.
655. Yes, you did.
(Mr Middleton) What I have said at this hearing is
that modern steel, because of the greater quality control, appears
to be harder than the steel that was used 10, 15, 20 years ago;
so the actual composition of the rail has not changed, it is better
quality. So no testing was done because it has not changed. It
is believed to be harder and therefore does not wear away as quickly;
but, again, this is research that our expert has got to do.
656. And you would think that that timescale
will be six months until you hear about that?
(Mr Middleton) I did not say six months, no. I said
we will have initial views within a fortnight, but, in the manner
of academic research, the final conclusion will be a few months
away, and I really cannot put a deadline on it, because I must
make sure we get the facts.
657. Just a question arising out of what Mr
Marshall said, that "We won't take a decision until we've
found the right answer." It does beg the question, what is
the question? And, I think, what compounded the crash in Hatfield
was the fact that it was not just the gauge corner cracking, it
was also on a bend. I presume the gauge corner does not just refer
to the bend in a high-speed line. Is the research, that your expert
is doing, looking into how this would impact not just on present
lines but any high-speed rail track to the Channel Tunnel?
(Mr Middleton) Yes. The findings of the research obviously
will be applied right across the network. You are correct, I do
not wish toit is actually called a curve, we call them
curves, on the railwaybut, obviously, research into the
stresses on the rails and the forces and the impact of the findings
of the research will be applied across the whole of the network.
658. I want to ask you one or two quick questions
before I allow you to escape. What progress have you made with
work on your asset database?
(Mr Middleton) It is going very well. The computer
systems are up and running, and there is an exercise in place
to populate the database, and we are responding to the Regulator
at the end of this week on the dates by which those asset databases
will be populated, in accordance with the regulatory requirements.
659. Could you give us an indication of what
kind of date we are talking about?
(Mr Middleton) For the Railtrack asset register, we
are looking at April next year.