Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
200. Could I turn to Cardiff Central Station
which has enjoyed a recent refurbishment for, I am told, about
£12 million or thereabouts? Could you clarify exactly the
nature of your role as a business n those works and, in particular,
in the design and improvement of designs involved?
(Mr Carroll) For clarity, the station is owned by
Railtrack, as are all stations. They are the landlords. We are
the tenant and we lease the station for a commercial rent. We
have worked very closely with Railtrack in the design feasibility
of the overall station, in taking part in surveys to show what
customer flows were and what future requirements were and in signing
off those investment requirements. Some of the elements of that
expenditure than get replayed back to Great Western in terms of
the overall rent that we are paying Railtrack and they acknowledge
the improvements that have been made in things like booking offices,
the toilets in the waiting rooms and facilities like that.
201. You said that you signed off the designs
and so on. There are some specific things that have been raised
by some of the submissions to this Committee. One is the simple
practicality that if you stand at a taxi rank you stand outside
the canopy that has been erected and enjoy the weather. Secondly,
if the station is meant to be open access, the ticket barriers
seem to be a makeshift set of trolleys or were at one stage. Was
it not the aim of the station to be open? Could you comment on
(Mr Carroll) Taxis are a shortfall that you have identified.
202. In a literal sense!
(Mr Carroll) Yes. We will do something about that
because it is unsatisfactory. The original design was that there
was going to be a pull in of people waiting underneath the canopy.
They do not and that is unsatisfactory. The introduction of automatic
gates is a policy that has been taken forward by a number of train
operating companies. The benefits are well recognised, both in
terms of revenue protection and security. At locations where we
have installed automatic gates, such as at Reading, they tend
to deter some of the more unsavoury elements of people and vandalism
and crime that do unfortunately tend to happen at railway stations.
We have had a number of incidents of assaults to our staff at
Cardiff. Some of them have been quite serious, as well as significant
vandalism to the station in facilities that have recently been
modernised. Therefore, we see automatic gates as being an improvement
in that. We have to be very careful how we design and introduce
those gates because the station was never designed for gates.
There are key issues around access for disabled, access to lifts,
provision of information, that will be taken into account in designing
the final gates. It is also a listed building and therefore we
have to be party to those requirements in introducing gates. We
are still at a feasibility and design stage. We will be consulting
with the Rail Passenger Committee and with other interested parties,
particularly groups representing the disabled, in demonstrating
to them that any future design of gates will not be a disadvantage
203. You mentioned the Rail Passenger Committee.
There have been some reports that there have been attempts to
prevent the Committee from conducting surveys at Cardiff Central
Station. Could you say whether this is true and could you confirm
that you are perfectly happy for the Rail Passenger Committee
to conduct such surveys?
(Mr Carroll) Yes. Members will be aware that First
Great Western is subject to a special investigation being led
by the Rail Passenger Committee. A request was made which was
originally rejected but has subsequently been accepted for representatives
of the Rail Passenger Committee to be present at stations and
for leaflets to be distributed with posters advising customers
of that special investigation so that they can make a contribution
to that. That has now been agreed. We are waiting for the supply
of those leaflets and posters and they will be erected, including
at South Wales stations.
204. Going back to rolling stock, Wales and
the Borders Trains told the Committee in February that they would
have spare trains located strategically in case of failure or
delay. Do you pursue such a policy?
(Mr Carroll) Great Western does. The plan is to have
one spare set throughout the day and that is strategically located
in the west, at either Bristol or South Wales, during the morning
and then in London in the afternoon. That is a reaction to cover
the main flows of traffic and the increased capability that we
(Mr Ben Davies) First North West is exactly the same.
More often than not, we have a spare unit standing at Chester.
205. Could I now turn to skills shortages, sometimes
given as an excuse as to why trains cannot start on time. A skills
shortage of drivers and sometimes maintenance staff has severely
affected some services. We have read about various problems recently.
The Transport Sub-Committee has identified the need to "improve
the poor state of industrial relations in the railways."
Do you as a train operator have problems in recruiting drivers
or maintenance staff?
(Mr Carroll) No. First Great Western have a policy
of recruiting additional drivers at the moment to provide a spare
capability. We are also recruiting extra maintenance staff at
a number of our depots and we do not have difficulty in attracting
or recruiting high quality candidates.
206. Do I understand that sometimes Virgin Trains
are able to look upon yourselves to find train drivers when they
(Mr Carroll) There is a fair amount of circulation
within the rail industry. Great Western benefits from the fact
that drivers like to drive big, fast trains and therefore tend
to be attracted towards companies like Great Western. It is also
fair to say that there is a tradition of employment within Great
Western because of the brand and the history of it, where we still
are seen as an advantageous employer, where people are attracted
207. God's wonderful railway?
(Mr Carroll) Exactly.
(Mr Ben Davies) We are very fortunate in North Wales.
At Holyhead/Llandudno Junction in particular, we have strengthened
the workforce, both drivers and conductors, and we have no problems
208. Do you take on apprenticeships these days
and if so how many?
(Mr Carroll) We take on trainee drivers.
209. That is not quite the same, is it?
(Mr Carroll) It takes over a year to train a Great
Western driver and therefore it is a significant investment. We
take on drivers on a very planned basis not only to manage natural
changes such as retirement etc., but also we are now recruiting
drivers for the new trains and the extra trains that will be running
in 2002 and 2003. As far as apprenticeships in the maintenance
sidehere we mean the depot sidewe have not taken
on apprenticeships this year on the depot side, but it is something
we are actively looking at now for next year.
210. Going back to the two year franchise extensions,
what impact will they have on your employees' job security and
your ability to offer a long term contract of employment?
(Mr Carroll) The employees are employees of the franchisee.
Therefore, if someone was to come in and win the franchise after
First, the employees would simply transfer to that new operator.
Just as we are transferring the staff who work at Cardiff Station
to the new Wales and Borders franchise, the reality is that it
does not matter in a way who owns the franchise. We still need
station staff; we still need drivers; we still need maintenance
staff to run the train service. They will just continue to be
transferred to whoever is running the station. That is not an
211. I am thinking of morale amongst workers.
It is important that they get this message or they might be worried
about their long term employment prospects.
(Mr Carroll) Morale within the rail industry at the
moment is more affected by the performance of the railways. From
my understanding and time that I spend with our employees, their
morale would substantially improved when we start running trains
on time because clearly they are the face of the organisation
in terms of customer service. They have to put up with and manage
all the difficulties when trains run late. The morale that I see
would be improved as train services are put at a higher level
212. We have heard about your recruitment policy
for drivers but in practice do you recruit drivers from other
companies as well?
(Mr Carroll) A bit of both. We do attract drivers
from other trains companies without specifically trying to poach
them. There is a natural progression from someone potentially
working from Wales and the Borders driving small trains on Valley
services or those sorts of services to then drive an Intercity
train. We tend to attract people simply because they have the
desire to do that and their families and generations before have
done that. We still benefit from that sort of opportunity, but
more and more we advertise for drivers in the open market place
and we are more and more training drivers joining from other forms
(Mr Ben Davies) We are quite fortunate in North Wales.
We have drivers from other rail industriesin particular,
Mersey Railand they do not want to go round the loop; they
want to come round the main lines. One or two people want to come
and live in North Wales and who can blame them? Predominantly,
the drivers that we employ at my three depots come from, as I
say, the back end. It is a progression either from the platform
to a conductor or a conductor to a driver. That is a progression
we have had over the last three or four years. We have not gone
off the street yet because it is a natural progression for a railway
person to be a driver.
213. I have heard locally that some services
have been curtailed in the area I represent because of lack of
drivers. Would there be any benefit in having a whole railway
service approach to recruitment and training of staff or is that
something that could be looked at?
(Mr Carroll) The rail industry has worked closely
as an overall industry in trying to identify what the future needs
of drivers are because it is a long term process, recruiting drivers,
and there is no doubt that, with the planned increase in freight
and services as part of the government's ten year strategy, we
are going to need more and more drivers. We have been careful
not to break any legal requirements, allowing the free flow of
drivers from one company to another, because it is obviously a
requirement that one cannot put up barriers. We are working together
in understanding future needs. As far as training is concerned,
there is work now being done in working much closer together in
sharing the resources required for training. We do train Thames
Trains drivers and I know there are other initiatives throughout
the industry. Also, you will be aware that one of the recommendations
of the Cullen Inquiry after Ladbroke Grove was to use simulators
far more in training drivers. These are very expensive pieces
of equipment and it is far better if trains companies work together,
so we are actively working with Thames Trains and Railtrack to
have a simulator at Paddington for all drivers to use, so I think
there are moves in the right direction.
214. I did not hear if you did give a reply
to the Transport Sub-Committee when they identified a need to
improve the poor state of industrial relations. Would you say
that industrial relations within the industry were poor?
(Mr Carroll) I would not describe them as poor, no.
We work within a framework where a vast majority of our employees
are part of a trade union and represented by a trade union. That
can create some challenges at times, but I would like to think
that we have a very open dialogue with our trade unions. Our record
as far as industrial action is very good. In the seven years I
have been with Great Western Trains, I cannot remember a serious
industrial dispute and we continue that dialogue for the overall
benefit of the employees and the company.
(Mr Ben Davies) It is very similar.
215. It is a longstanding convention that Members
of Parliament travel on the railways for free. Alas, the same
cannot be said for our constituents. In January this year, we
saw fares rise quite considerably across most of the Welsh railway
services. Why was it necessary to raise fares above the rate of
inflation this year?
(Mr Carroll) Fares in the last 12 months throughout
the rail industry, certainly within Great Western, have been frozen.
There has been no or very little increase in fares. In this coming
January, our main fare types for season tickets and leisure fares
will not be going up again and that will give customers the benefit
in due course of nearly two years without a fares increase. Your
question is considering what has happened in the past. If one
looks at a number of the different fares types, the fares have
stayed the same or gone down. For reference, if one takes the
Apex fare from Swansea to London, in 1996 that would cost £26.
The fare today is £25.50. The fare has gone down 50p in five
or six years. The main leisure fares are subject to an RPI minus
two per cent formula so in real terms they are falling and will
continue to fall.
216. How much compensation will you receive
from Railtrack for the disruption to your services?
(Mr Carroll) The main compensation to trains companies
from Railtrack comes in the form of contractual agreement as far
as day to day delivery of the train services. If a train is delayed
and that delay is down to an infrastructure failure, there is
compensation for an element of the track access fee that we pay
Railtrack to run that train itself. Those amounts are significant.
At the moment, season ticket holders on Great Western are receiving
a ten per cent discount because of poor performance. The levels
of compensation that we are providing, the level of extra staff
that we are generally providing because of poor levels of service,
are not covered by the financial payments that we receive from
Railtrack because of poor performance.
217. Do you have a figure for the amount of
compensation you have received to date?
(Mr Carroll) No, I do not.
218. Is it possible to let the Committee know?
(Mr Carroll) Yes.
219. Quite a number of business people have
asked me why you do not have first class accommodation on these
175 trains around London and the North Wales coast. People like
to work as they are travelling and you do not offer that facility.
Any plans to?
(Mr Ben Davies) Not at the moment, no.