Examination of Witness (Questions 69 -
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
69. Good afternoon. You are most warmly welcome.
Would you be kind enough to identify yourself?
(Mr Steer) Good afternoon, I am Jim Steer.
I am Managing Director of Strategic Planning at the Strategic
70. Did you have something you wanted to tell
us are you happy to go straight to questions?
(Mr Steer) Very briefly, thank you. I should just
like to say that the SRA welcomes the multi-modal study programme.
We do believe it is conceptually right to look at the issues across
the modes. We do also believe, however, that in some cases the
studies may have given rise to unrealistic expectations and that
is commented on in our memorandum to you. That memorandum points
to some of the particular problem areas. However, we also believe
that there are positive ways forward from the conclusions which
have been reached and from the programme and I welcome the chance
to answer any questions the Committee has.
71. You may have heard us questioning the ministry
officials on precisely this point. Do you know why, when the guidance
for the studies was drawn up, the sort of flaw you have identified
was not highlighted?
(Mr Steer) When the studies were drawn up, back in
1998, we were at an early stage in relation to the ten-year plan,
we were at a stage where, for instance, the first strategic plan
produced by the SRA had not been published, indeed the SRA itself
had not come into existence; we had a passenger franchising authority.
It is perhaps important just to recollect the passage of time
and some of the criticisms which might be levelled at the studies
could perhaps be seen as a little harsh if one recalls the exact
circumstances in which they were set up.
72. You were involved in a lot of these things
and you have said that you are worried about certain aspects of
the work. Has anybody taken any notice of your concerns?
(Mr Steer) I would not know. We have made our views
very clear as the SRA in relation to the project teams. We have
made clear our general concerns to the department and to the government
offices which have co-ordinated each of the multi-modal studies
on behalf of the various stakeholders. I guess I would observe
that yes, there is a growing realisation that there are some real
issues here and we need to find a way forward for them.
73. When do you think the Strategic Rail Authority
could start work on development of any of the recommendations
in the multi-modal studies which are not currently in the strategic
(Mr Steer) We are already working on multi-modal study
74. By "start work" I mean when could
one of these actually be built within your knowledge of the budget
frameworks for the foreseeable future?
(Mr Steer) If you are talking about a scheme which
could be built, say a new station, it is unlikely that would actually
come to fruition in fewer than three years and that would be going
some. Typically the timescale for these is rather longer than
that. I would add that we believe the emphasis on schemes and
infrastructure which characterises the multi-modal study recommendations
is not particularly helpful. We believe that there may be a need
for infrastructure schemes and they have to be taken into account
alongside other proposals the SRA weighs up. Very often, it is
a matter of wanting a new or a different service from the rail
network and the ability we have to implement new services rather
than go out and build new bits of railway is on a much faster
timescale, indeed there are some servicesI know of at least
onewhich have already been put into service in the very
recent timetable change. It is modest, but it is one additional
service to serve Hastings in the evening peak, which was one of
the things which was picked up in the multi-modal studies. So
it is possible to get on and implement some things. The lead time
to implement different kinds of projects varies and infrastructure
projects do take time.
75. The concern is that in a sense we have two
planning processes in parallel. You have the process which has
generated the ten-year plan and the SRA strategic plan and you
have the multi-modal studies taking place alongside, apparently
not interlinked with the planning which has taken place for the
other two plans. The consequence of that is that you end up with
one mode getting attention another mode not, with the result that
you effectively have a process which is very stacked towards roads
rather than to public transport and rail in particular.
(Mr Steer) I recognise the concern, but the SRA has
actively participated in all of the projects and that active participation
comes with an understanding of what the SRA's separate strategic
planning process is all about. We have been able to inform the
studies as they have gone on and as best we can keep them up to
date. Some of the studies have elected to take greater notice
of the input we have been able to make than others. I suspect
that is rather inevitable. I do not think they are two parallel
universes which have no connection. The multi-modal studies look
at the local agenda and were focused initially on unsolved problems
with what to do on the road network. They were not focused on
solving problems, on what to do, with the rail network. We believe
there are ways of drawing these together. We can take the outputs
of the studies. We can look at them in relation to all of the
other things we take into account in continuing to update the
strategic plan for railways, as we have to do.
76. Why do you believe that the SRA priorities
for long-distance routes are more important than local or regional
(Mr Steer) We would not say that we do.
77. It is the implication, is it not, of your
(Mr Steer) No, the implication is that the rail network
is a very inter-connected thing and to look at a particular geographic
slice of part of a long-distance rail network and try to come
to a conclusion on how it should be developed and services over
it should be developed, separate from considering the whole of
the route, is unlikely in our view, and that is a point we do
make very clearly in the memorandum, to be the right basis for
planning the rail network. That is not to say that long-distance
services take priority over local services.
78. It is saying precisely that, is it not?
You say you take the full network and therefore those trains which
are travelling from Glasgow to London have priority and that is
your basis. That is saying that long-distance strategy is more
important than local priorities and I should like to know on what
economic or whatever base you came to that conclusion.
(Mr Steer) I beg to differ. In looking at the whole
route, say from Glasgow to London, there is nothing to say that
we should only be looking at and indeed it would be wrong only
to look at the long-distance services on the route. We should
be looking at the local, the regional, the long-distance passenger
and freight services together. There is no prioritisation which
says multi-modal studies must therefore be secondary. I am simply
saying that if they are looked at in isolation from the rest of
the network, and perhaps the parallel on the road side is the
issue of road user charging, it is difficult to produce a coherent
picture if you do not look at the whole. There are several instances
where that has emerged from the multi-modal studies.
79. You really have very little confidence in
the multi-modal studies which have been done. You seem to be saying
that they are distorting the cost benefits when it comes to the
railways. Do you think these things should be looked at separately?
Is there something fundamentally wrong with that approach? Do
the consultants which have been used not have the right rail expertise?
(Mr Steer) No, we make a fairly specific point, which
is this. When the consultant's teams looked at the non-highway,
the non-road expansion alternative, they pretty generally came
up with a view that what you would do if you were not going to
widen the road was to do a package of things. There would be some
demand management measures, some local transport measures and,
typically in many cases as well, some rail investment. What we
have found in practice characterises the case for that package
of investment is that consultants have identified an overall cost
benefit case for the package and we have been asked as a delivery
agency to look at our bit of it, the rail bit. When we have looked
at the rail bit, even in the terms of the multi-modal study team
and the parameters they have used, perhaps their costs, their
estimates of benefits, we found the case for the rail element
does not stack up. That does in truth give us a problem, because
we are trying very hard to establish an absolutely consistent
approach to appraising different kinds of rail investment in different
parts of the country, for local, long-distance passenger and freight
services. Schemes which have a poor cost benefit performance are
not going to do very well in any kind of assessment of prioritisation.
That is a problem and it is one which needs to be tackled in assessing
how we as the rail delivery agency are to take forward a poorly
performing rail component of a package which overall makes sense.
That is an issue perhaps for the department to weigh up and I
should imagine it will be weighing up.