Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
180. But where is that money actually coming
(Mr Bowker) Effectively, it comes from the money that
I get in order to run the Authority.
181. Which is from Train Operating Companies?
(Mr Bowker) No; no, it comes from Government, it comes
182. So, effectively, you are a laundering service
for the Government, to fund their Company Limited by Guarantee
(Mr Bowker) Government's view is that it would be
wrong not to have a bid.
183. So do you think there is a conflict between
the Secretary of State funding a bid team and the Secretary of
State being the final arbiter in the decision-making process,
over which bidder is finally chosen?
(Mr Bowker) It is for the DTLR and the Secretary of
State to decide on their conflict issues; but what we are doing,
what our work primarily is doing, is making sure that, to the
extent that any bidder wants to talk to us about what the SRA's
position is, in relation to Railtrack's successor going forward,
we are open to talk to anybody.
Chris Grayling: But do you not feel you are
putting the SRA into an impossible position; you are, effectively,
laundering the Government's bid, but also you are trying to be
neutral arbiters to all the other bidders? How can they possibly
look upon you as a fair arbiter, a fair negotiator, in this?
184. You will not take that decision though,
(Mr Bowker) Which decision?
185. Not the final decision, but the negotiations
over some of the details?
(Mr Bowker) We will negotiate with any party that
wishes to come.
186. In exactly the same way; you have already
(Mr Bowker) Absolutely clear.
187. Can I take you to the detail of the Plan.
You have made a number of assumptions in the Plan, or a number
of very clear statements, about the timetable for the completion
of projects. Let me give you two very specific examples, one being
the extension of platforms on the South West Trains, and the other
being the Special Purpose Vehicle and the modernisation of the
South Central route. Both of those dates are the dates that were
set out in the original Heads of Agreement with those companies
for the franchise renewal. Mike Grant, when he appeared before
this Committee, told us that he could not guarantee that those
franchise negotiations would be completed on time, in fact, he
said they would be delayed. Both those companies have told me
that they do not expect those projects to be completed in anything
like the time frame that was originally in the Heads of Agreement;
in the case of South West Trains, they used the date of 2006/2007,
yet your Plan still contains the original date of 2004. Can you
(Mr Bowker) I cannot comment, obviously, on what South
West Trains may have told you; but we are working very hard with
both them and South Central to progress those projects, and we
are looking at ways in which some of the key infrastructure components
could be protected, to make sure that they are not subject to
delay as a consequence of bigger issues on sorting out the longer-term
188. So are you able to give us a categoric
commitment that it will be possible, and indeed that it will happen,
that those projects are completed according to the time frame
in the Plan?
(Mr Bowker) I cannot give you a categoric commitment
about anything in the Plan, on that. What I can say is that we
are working extremely hard with them and with Railtrack, who are
involved, to do it in the earliest possible time frame consistent
with the Plan.
189. Why was Central Railway not referred to
in your Plan at all?
(Mr Bowker) You are referring to the freight railway?
(Mr Bowker) Because, the way that the Plan has been
analysed, we do not believe that Central Railway, as currently
conceived, well, we believe we can deliver the freight target
on the basis of the plans that we have got in here. However, we
have been talking to Central Railway and we will continue to do
so, but we believe we can deliver these freight targets without
that specific project.
191. But if a project of that scale were to
go ahead, given what we have discussed earlier about skills shortages,
and so forth, it would be a huge logistical exercise for the industry,
right in the midst of your 10 Year Plan process; so it would be
surprising, if you were expecting that project to go ahead, if
it were not referred to in the Plan?
(Mr Bowker) Anything we look at that is not in the
Plan has got to be assessed on the basis of its business case,
on its viability, on its value for money and the impact that it
has in terms of resourcing. And you are absolutely right to say
that we have got to be careful that we do not suck out, by doing
other things, the resources that we need in order to deliver the
commitments, and that will be a concern. I think it is a manageable
concern, but it is a concern over the next few years. And that
will be part of the criteria for assessing any new project.
192. So, in your view, will Central Railway
(Mr Bowker) I honestly cannot say. We will look at
that, like we will look at any project, and form the appropriate
view at the time.
193. Lastly, can I just ask you about the capacity
issue, congestion issue. The assumption in the Government's Plan
and in your Strategic Plan is, whether it is 40-50 per cent, or
50 per cent, nonetheless, very substantial growth in passenger
numbers over the next ten years. Does the investment programme
deliver an increase in capacity in the places where you expect
that growth to happen, to keep up with growth in passenger numbers,
or, in fact, is that 50 per cent growth going to lead to increased
levels of congestion on some routes?
(Mr Bowker) Certainly, if you take 50 per cent as
a target, or 40-50 per cent as a target range, that is an average,
and it is also an average not just by geographical region but
also by sector markets, so it takes into account peak, off-peak,
and so on. What the investment here does is address the issues
that are entirely interlinked with capacity, like overcrowding,
and says, "Look, we need to make sure that, in creating capacity
for growth, we are also addressing overcrowding as well."
So the range is an average, and I accept that, and beneath that
there are some more specific issues about how we address specific
194. Can I ask you, have you got a detailed
investment plan, with a sort of week-by-week assessment of where
you are going to go, and a set of measures that would enable you
to know how you are doing?
(Mr Bowker) What we are doing at the moment is turning
this into a detailed SRA Business Plan that will enable us to
manage its implementation. I must be clear and say that when I
arrived at the SRA one of the things that I found a concern was
that the organisation itself was not able to implement delivery
in as effective a manner as I wanted it to do. And so, in parallel
with this, we are undergoing a major organisational change to
bring a lot more focus on delivery. Now I am not waiting for that
to happen to do what you have just suggested, we are doing that
195. No, but there will be a proper structure,
and you will be able to say, for example, at a certain point,
"It looks as if we're going to hit an underspend"?
(Mr Bowker) There will be a much better structure
in place to deliver project spending than I believe the
196. A much better structure; but if you did
not have a structure before, anything is a much better structure?
(Mr Bowker) I want the most "fit for purpose",
most effective structure I can get.
197. Then I ask you again, will it be detailed
and will it be set against a series of indicators that can be
(Mr Bowker) I know of no other way to run an organisation,
to make sure that we know what we are delivering and we know how
we are delivering it.
Chairman: Oh, Mr Bowker, where have you been
all my life?
198. What minefields are you looking at; this
lack of an asset register, as far as Railtrack, how important
is that lack of an asset register?
(Mr Bowker) The asset register is very important indeed,
and that has been recognised by the industry for some time. There
is quite a lot of information, but it is not kept up to date and
managed, perhaps, in the way that it ought to be. It has been
recognised by all the industry parties, the rail regulator has
made it a licence condition, given its importance. So it will
take a little bit of time to get that in place, there is no doubt,
and during the period of getting it in place we may have to make
some transitional views, particularly on issues like risk allocation.
But, long term, it is the right thing to have, and it is essential.
199. So it is possible that almost all the things
that are in the Strategic Plan are going to have to be based on
somewhat dodgy foundations, because you do not know what the assets
are that are involved in those particular projects and the need
for their renewal?
(Mr Bowker) I would not say perhaps dodgy. There is
actually a significant amount of information that does exist;
it is actually the manner in which it is communicated and updated
which is perhaps a very serious issue.