Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
40. Would you say the phrase I quoted originally
from your memorandum that the railways in Wales do not need major
infrastructure enhancements to facilitate increased use of the
network is a bit complacent?
(Mr Gibb) I would say that will achieve a great deal.
I am often being told that nothing can happen until there are
hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment
into the rail network in Wales. I do not believe that is true.
I believe we can do a great deal now with a modest sum of investment
in additional trains, for example, to provide additional capacity.
41. Coming on to track access, it had been suggested
that because of the position of dominant players in certain areas,
for instance on the West Coast Main Line, train operating companies
might not be sure of getting access to sufficient numbers of paths
after Railtrack and Virgin had negotiated a deal, which in the
event was taken to the Regulator. Have you found any such difficulty?
(Mr Gibb) I have not found such difficulties at the
moment. In terms of the future and our vision of the future, perhaps
I could get Malcolm to touch on that.
(Mr Pheasey) Most of the services that Wales &
Borders or the All-Wales franchise will run do not directly impact
on the West Coast Main Line, the only exception being the Holyhead/Birmingham
via Crewe service. The plans Railtrack and Virgin have put together
for services always envisaged that train being there. We may not
be able to increase the level of service but we are guaranteed
those paths and that was part of the Regulator's findings. We
are not quite certain what is going to happen on the West Coast
Main Line because that was the 140 miles per hour tilting railway
version which now appears to have some question marks around it
following the recent events with Railtrack. Elsewhere we generally
have not been in the position of having to suffer from other people.
In practice in Wales we really are going to be the dominant operator
there on a lot of those services. The key area where we have to
protect ourselves is on the South Wales Main Line where the express
intercity, currently the First Great Western, services do need
a fast run and that limits the space for stopping trains in between.
At the moment none of the proposals which has come forward gives
us over concern, but if they grew even further, then we would
have an opportunity to argue our case with the Regulator.
42. You mentioned Crewe and I can give you one
example of track access problems. There is a constant complaint
about connections between Wales & West services and First
North Western services that they cannot be made at Crewe because
the Cardiff to Manchester train is held outside the station for
ten minutes and passengers are then subject to an hour's delay.
Why do things like this happen? I could give you several examples
as a regular traveller. For example, if I get the London to Crewe
train, changing for North Wales at Crewe, I often miss this if
there is a delay. Why should this happen?
(Mr Gibb) That is an existing problem rather than
one which is going to come about because of the proposals for
the West Coast. Crewe station was designed on a minimalist layout
basis and implemented about ten years ago. There are only two
platforms at Crewe station where you can cross over from the Manchester
route towards South Wales.
43. The crossover is only some seven minutes
and if a train is held up for ten minutes you are never going
to reach it, are you?
(Mr Gibb) No. The problem we face there at the moment
is that a northbound train from Cardiff has to wait for one of
those two vacant platforms, for a southbound Manchester to Cardiff
train to come out. You always stand at a place called Gresty Lane
Junction, out comes the southbound train and your train then proceeds
into the platform. The Cardiff to Manchester timetable is structured
around the connections at Newport, so that people can go from
London, through Newport to places like Abergavenny, Hereford,
Leominster and Ludlow. That is the predominant passenger flow
on that route. That connection at Newport takes precedence over
the connections at Crewe between North and South Wales. Our aim
in the future is to run a more frequent service on both corridors
so that the connection possibilities exist and can provide for
more connections without turning round to one group of passengers
and saying we are going to cut off their connections.
44. Are you confident you can achieve that?
(Mr Gibb) Yes, I am confident we can do that.
45. Perhaps you could tell us whether there
are any proposed improvements for bus-train interchanges at major
stations such as Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor?
(Mr Gibb) We have recently achieved a significant
number of projects, particularly on Valley lines to link bus and
rail services. I give as one example our proposalsand the
work is now well into a completion stagefor Haverfordwest
where there is a connecting service from Haverfordwest by bus
on to St David's and Fishguard. Through an SRA rail passenger
partnership grant funded project, a total of £99,000, we
have completely revamped the front of Haverfordwest station to
provide a high quality interchange between those bus services
and the train services we operate. That scheme is nearing completion
and the bus service is already using Haverfordwest station, but
it is not a very satisfactory interchange. It will be a very high
quality interchange within the next few months when that scheme
46. In Cardiff, the capital of Wales, it is
(Mr Gibb) The interchange at Cardiff Central between
the bus operation and the rail operation is extremely good, between
Cardiff Central bus station and Central railway station. We have
done many schemes. In the Valley line timetable, which we shall
be providing to the Committee at the end of the session, you can
see a wide variety of bus connections which have been put in place
over the last couple of years with through ticketing and they
are well marketed and in most cases very well used. The Valley
line is a particular success story with bus/rail experiences.
We have run other bus services which have been less than successful
for a variety of reasons.
47. Many civil servants, business people and
politicians use the north/south rail link which you operate because
they are going down to Cardiff. There does not seem to be anywhere
to do work without being interrupted. Are there any proposals
to provide facilities for people like that?
(Mr Gibb) The train we currently operate, which is
the 5.23 from Holyhead to Cardiff, arriving in Cardiff at 10.06,
which is the main train used by businessmen, civil servants, Assembly
members and others heading to Cardiff for business, is a two-carriage
train of a standard type which we operate across our network.
It would be possible to extend the length of the train and provide
more suitable facilities for people to do some work, but we do
need to retain the versatility of the train for the rest of its
operations. If you go on that particular service you will know
well that it is the school run into Shrewsbury and it picks up
about 100 schoolchildren in North Shropshire. I am sure they would
welcome a First Class facility on the train.
48. It does not have to be First Class. It is
three and a half hours down there, three and a half back, seven
hours. A day's work could be completed. For people on high salaries,
that is an awful lot of work they could be doing.
(Mr Gibb) A while ago people who used that train used
to be able to occupy all four seats around a table and have plenty
of room to do work. The passenger growth we have seen has meant
that is no longer regularly possible. People who do travel regularly
on that service have complained to me that they have to share
the seating area with many other passengers now which is a success
in itself. Our plans for the future would bring about an increase
in the number of carriages and the facilities on board the trains.
Certainly providing for that specific flow is something we should
like to achieve in the future. I should say also that I am in
discussion with the National Assembly about north/south services.
They currently fund the operation of one of the through trains
between North and South Wales and we are currently reviewing that
funding and how we might use that in the future to provide those
services in line with people's expectations.
49. Would you consider that one train, the 5.20
from Holyhead, to be a success?
(Mr Gibb) That service has been running for a long
time. It carries a lot of people at different intermediate parts
of the journey and it does carry an increasing number of people
between North and South Wales. I do regard it as a successful
service out of the portfolio of services we operate.
50. Would you be looking to increase the number
of through trains from Holyhead to Cardiff?
(Mr Gibb) Yes, I would be.
51. I agreed with the point you made about promoting
rail-based tourism and you are clearly particularly involved in
that on the Heart of Wales line. You say it has been a successful
initiative. How have you measured the success? What sort of increase
in the number of tourists has there been? Some of the other lines
under your control are very attractive journeys as well. Are you
developing a similar approach on that?
(Mr Gibb) We formed a number of rail partnerships
across our historical Wales & West network, partnerships such
as the Devon and Cornwall rail partnership, the Bristol to Weymouth
rail partnership and the Heart of Wales line partnership. These
partnerships are formed of local authorities, tourism organisations,
attractions and other people who have a stake in the tourist business
in that area. We work together to share objectives and to see
whether we can come up with schemes which will meet everybody's
objectives. On the Heart of Wales line we have recently repainted
all the trains into a promotional livery, promoting the Heart
of Wales line so that wherever these trains go, they promote the
Heart of Wales line as a destination. That has been particularly
successful and resulted in a very large number of enquiries to
the website promoting that particular line. There we do have a
direct measurement of the success.
52. A website is not necessarily people in seats
on a train.
(Mr Gibb) Not necessarily, but where we have been
doing things for a little longer, for example in Devon and Cornwall,
we have been able to measure the increased passenger numbers and
indeed the increased visitor spend. It is well known in that area
that railborne tourists do spend more money in the local economy
than people in their cars. The local authority see the partnership
as delivering both their tourist objectives, but also their transport
policy objectives of bringing more people into the area but without
bringing in their cars. All three of those key partnerships do
regard the relationship with us as having been successful and
are committed to it in the future. In terms of purely measuring
it through increased passenger revenue, yes, there has been an
increased passenger revenue, but that alone would not have justified
the activities we have undertaken in the last few years.
53. I take your point about Heart of Wales which
is a wonderful line, but you have other wonderful lines as well.
Are you looking to develop tourism on those?
(Mr Gibb) As Wales & Borders, our new train company,
we shall seek to play a very full part in Wales's largest growing
industry, which is the tourism industry. We shall have a very
serious role in that in the future. Our office is located just
four floors below the Wales Tourist Board and we enjoy a good
relationship with them and all the local tourism countries. We
see promoting tourism in Wales as a key part of our future business
strategy, both to deliver our stakeholders' aspirations, but also
to deliver our own objectives of getting more passengers on our
trains and delivering good value for money for the type of train
service we operate. It is not purely a commuter railway. Less
than 20 per cent of our passengers are commuters and the majority
of our passengers will in the long term in Wales & Borders
trains be tourists and people making leisure journeys.
54. May I go back to the additional investment?
I love figures and we have heard a figure of £40 million.
How do you intend to spend that money? Are you looking at new
trains, improved facilities at the stations? If you are improving
the stations, which we all welcome, are they going to have modern
information for people? I do want to touch on the point of personal
security of staff and passengers. Is this part of the investment?
(Mr Pheasey) The simple answer to that is yes.
55. You are not going to get away with just
yes. What new trains? How many new trains? What class of trains?
What speed of trains?
(Mr Pheasey) In the context of a franchise extension
and in an environment where the SRA have indicated to us informally
that they are not particularly minded to support significant increases
in service, we are focusing on addressing overcrowding and we
are focusing on addressing issues which are Welsh Assembly strategies.
I should say that the £40 million is exclusive of the Welsh
Assembly supported services; the rolling stock for those services
will be another £40 million. I am talking round figures here.
About £25million of the initial £40 million we propose
will be on trains. That will enable us to run more trains, to
run longer trains where the trains are already overcrowded and
also to have some strategic spare trains, so that if there are
problems we can insert a train mid-journey so that the second
half of a journey is running to time. These are some of the tricks
we can play to improve performance. The remainder of the money
will principally be spent on stations and station-related facilities.
That will include enhancement of the existing very well received
ex Wales & West Project Inform customer information system,
which has been noted as extremely good. We shall roll that out
onto the other parts. Every station would have a pushbutton information
call point. They would generally be bilingual as well. We would
put CCTV in, in conjunction with the local authorities, where
it is necessary.
56. Who determines that? You said "with
the local authorities". Who would determine whether it was
(Mr Pheasey) That would be based on discussions with
the police as to whether there is actually a security problem
at that station or not. That is the essence of the secure station
57. So you would wait for the police to identify
(Mr Pheasey) No, we know where they are. We are in
discussion with the police all the time. We understand where the
58. It deters a lot of people, particularly
in winter, from travelling on the dark evenings.
(Mr Pheasey) We understand that. There would be CCTV.
We would also propose an enhancement in the number of police officers.
That is one of the elements in there and some improvement in the
general environment of the station. We are always conscious that
there are limitations on the amount of money that is likely to
be available to us from the SRA. We are trying to get a balance
of quick hits on the things which spread the benefits fairly widely,
so that we do not spend all the money on just one location because
we do not think that is appropriate in somewhere like Wales.
(Mr Gibb) We have been very successful in winning
secure station accreditation for the stations we operate. We have
accredited more stations than any other similar operator in the
country over the last 12 months and we shall be looking to continue
that throughout Wales in the next year.
59. Something which came up earlier was the
tilting trains which are running along in some competition with
you to some extent. I just wondered whether the appointment of
Richard Bowker from Virgin to the SRA will actually help or will
make things more difficult for you?
(Mr Gibb) I do not see us as being in competition
with Virgin trains on the North Wales coast. We shall be very
much in collaboration with them in order to provide a selection
of through services and connecting services in North Wales. We
enjoy a good relationship with Virgin trains at the moment. We
are excited by their expansion plans for the next 12 months and
working very closely with them to provide connecting services,
indeed on Friday I am speaking in Llandudno with the Chief Executive
of Virgin trains outlining our joint vision for station improvements
in North Wales for example. We enjoy a very close relationship,
one which is essential if we are going to provide the sort of
joint level of service which everybody wishes to see.