Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
240. Am I right in saying the creation of an
all Wales and Borders franchise, which we await with bated breath,
that that will, to some degree, overcome some of the objections
that you have just outlined?
(Mr Coulshed) As I say, this is a matter for ministers,
I do not think it has all that much effect in the sense that the
Wales and Borders franchise as conceived by the SRA would involve
a number of services running through England, indeed running through
many parts of England, certainly the service from Chester to Shrewsbury
and down to Newport, large parts of that service operate in England
and the services along the North Wales line many of those run
into Chester and Manchester, so they are services serving England
as well as Wales.
241. The National Assembly does not currently
have the power to nominate an SRA board member although one of
the members take responsibility for Wales. In the spirit of devolution
should the National Assembly nominate its own member?
(Mr Coulshed) Again, this was a matter which was discussed
when the Bill was going through Parliament last year and ministers
made clear their view that the members who were appointed to the
SRA do not serve as representatives of any particular interest,
I take the word "interest" widely, they are there to
bring a particular expertise and knowledge.
242. Do you mean a geographical interest?
(Mr Coulshed) Yes, that is what I meant.
243. Do you not think that is important?
(Mr Coulshed) I am not saying that at all, what I
am saying is that ministers took the view whereas it was appropriate
for them to consult the National Assembly about the appointment
of a member who could speak within the SRA with knowledge of Wales
and Welsh interests it was not appropriate for that person to
be appointed as a representative by the National Assembly.
244. Does that mean that we could end up with
out having nobody from Wales on the SRA board?
(Mr Coulshed) I would have to check the statute to
be quite sure. My understanding is that the Secretary of State
is obliged to appoint somebody having consulted the National Assembly
and with particular regard to somebody who can speak for and about
the interests of Wales. I do not know what the implications of
that are in terms of where they come from.
245. Can I just clarify, are we talking about
the Secretary of State for Wales now?
(Mr Coulshed) Secretaries of State collectively. Appointments
are made in the primary instance by my Secretary of State, yes,
that is right.
246. I appreciate you are going to look into
this, from your answer it does seem that the current SRA board
member happens to come from Wales, but I press you again, there
could be a situation where there would be nobody from Wales and
it is a huge geographical area with identified problems.
(Mr Coulshed) I am not sure whether they are obliged
to come from Wales, there has to be somebody on the board of the
SRA who can speak with knowledge of the interests of Wales.
247. The National Assembly has called for a
strong voice in the new body which succeeds Railtrack, how will
Wales be represented on that new body?
(Mr Coulshed) This is still very much work-in-progress,
indeed there is still an awful lot more work to do. I imagine
what you are thinking about is the Secretary of State's notion
of a company limited by guarantee. The way that proposal currently
stands is that there would be a membership of stakeholders broadly
cast whose membership could conceivably include people from Wales
or Scotland or from any other stakeholder group. This is all still
very much work-in-progress and I am not sure it is very helpful
to speculate about it at the moment.
248. Where is that work in progress?
(Mr Coulshed) It is being led by a team at the department.
249. In the spirit of equal partnership do you
think that that work-in-progress should include the National Assembly?
(Mr Coulshed) I cannot answer the question. I do not
know it is working, but I am sure the National Assembly will be
250. Presumably the Secretary of State for Wales
(Mr Coulshed) I am sure that is so.
251. On the structure of the railways, it has
been suggested that Scot Rail might operate a virtually integrated
company, both manning the infrastructure and operating the trains
in Scotland, (1) do you think that is a viable model for Scotland
and (2) do you think it is a viable model for Wales?
(Mr Coulshed) It has been suggested. I am not sure
it has ever been suggested by the government. I think you heard
from your previous witnesses that what sounds like a simple proposition
quickly breaks down into a lot of rather difficult questions.
Your previous witnesses were saying they would be interested in
taking over the operation but not maintenance. There are other
people who would say that that does not really address the problem,
because the problem is integration of the maintenance operation
with the operation of the trains. There are others who might say
that the operational side must be kept separate from individual
operators because there is more than one operator using most pieces
of track and it is necessary for there to be fairness, which means
that the operators of the trains should not be responsible for
operating pieces of track. These are illustrations of the kind
of issues that arise, it is not currently government policy to
move towards a vertical integration of any one of those models,
we are talking about one of the things that will have to be thought
about further. To answer the question about Scotland and Wales,
I think we come back to the geography again. The reason why people
often do quote Scotland as a potential example, where vertical
integration might be tried, is because the network is fairly geographically
distinct. It is not quite so true for Wales, of course the point
about the borders matters less in this particular context, nonetheless
there are two or three main lines running east to west within
Wales and a linkage on the east side, as you know no doubt better
than I do. It is not quite so obvious, that that is exactly the
right layout, if you like, for a vertical integration trial, should
one be taken.
252. The preferred successor to Railtrack now
seems to be a not-for-profit company, something along the lines
of the company that has taken over responsibility for water provision
in Wales. Certainly, this is in the realms of rumour, I have to
admit, my understanding was that DETR were not very enthusiastic
about the glass company approach when that option was being put
forward for water, why now is your Government department so enthusiastic
for this type of company? What do you see as its advantages? Do
you see a possible devolved structure within it?
(Mr Coulshed) You are trespassing into territory which
I do not think any of us is really able to speak with any knowledge
about. What I will say is there are no simple answers to the issue
of the post Railtrack structure. All of the models that people
suggest come with a range of advantages and disadvantages and
further work clearly needs to be done to settle on the model and
the details within the model, which are very important, which
produces the best set of advantages and the most manageable set
253. Can you give us an idea of what you see
as the advantages and disadvantages of a not-for-profit company?
(Mr Coulshed) I do not think I can. We will have to
give you some written advice on this, this is not something within
254. Can I turn to the memorandum and bring
your attention to 4 g), the question of why are taxi company telephone
numbers not provided. In your answer you mentioned Train Taxi
Limited, I wonder does that apply to England only or if not could
you give us some information about the Wales situation?
(Ms Phillips) Yes. I am just trying to think. I am
sorry, I can see the book, the train taxi book, I have it, but
I cannot remember whether it is England only or England and Wales.
We will let you know.
255. In North Wales I am not aware this service
(Ms Phillips) I will look at it. To describe it briefly
to the Committee, it is a book which lists all of the railway
stations and gives taxi numbers that are accessible from those
stations. I will look to see whether it applies to Wales.
256. If we are talking about an integrated system
(Ms Phillips) Absolutely, very much so. We have very
close working relationships with the Assembly on the question
of Transport Direct, which is the information system that we are
hoping to build on integrated transport. This train taxi system
is one of the building blocks of that. I will check and see whether
it does include Wales, if it does not it would be something that
the Assembly could take forward or we can help them to take forward.
257. Can I turn our attention to franchising
now and ask you what would be the benefit of the creation of new
Wales and Borders franchise? As a second question to that, could
you tell us what has been the reason for a delay in setting up
(Mr Coulshed) The franchise has not been delayed for
any reason particularly to do with it, if I can put it like that.
The SRA started work on Wales and Borders about the beginning
of this year, or perhaps a little sooner, and it got to the stage
of inviting initial proposals, it drew up a short list. Round
that time difficulties started to emerge with other franchises,
in particular you are, no doubt, aware of the delay there was
over the East Coast franchise. What we were discovering as that
process was going on was there were a lot of unanswered questions
about the cost of rail infrastructure improvements which were
associated in some cases with franchising proposals. In addition
we were becoming increasingly aware, again from franchising processes
that had preceded Wales and Borders, of difficulties that were
emerging as a result of the SRAs very open-ended process, where
bidders, as you heard earlier, were given, more or less, a blank
sheet of paper and asked to come forward with their own best ideas
of how new franchises should be shaped. All this came together
over the first half of the year and during that time it really
was not very sensible for the SRA to make further progress with
Wales and Borders or indeed a number of other franchises until
the position became clearer. Subsequent to that, as you will have
seen, the department issued a draft set of directions and guidance
to the Strategic Rail Authority and also a draft policy statement
which, taken together, tried a reshaping of the franchising process.
Once they are settled and when the SRA strategic plan comes out
in the next few weeks that will be a sign for the process on Wales
and Borders and on a number of other franchises to be started.
258. What do you think the benefits will be?
(Mr Coulshed) I think this is a question better addressed
to the SRA than to us, because a lot of the benefits from particular
aspects of franchises are to do with operational and service provision,
and that is an area they are more expert in than we are. Certainly
when the original proposition for Wales and the borders was put
forward by the SRA back at the beginning of the year those were
the benefits they were speaking of, that it would be possible
within such a franchise to provide a better service to passengers
on railways in Wales and in a railway terms a more integrated
259. That is rather an open reply.
(Mr Coulshed) It is more open given where we currently
stand in the process.
2 See supplementary note on page 60. Back
See page 60. Back
Train Taxi Limited covers all stations in Great Britain. Back