Commons Gate

The Eddington Transport Study (HC 458-i)

Transport Committee 16 Apr 2006

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Evidence given by Sir Rod Eddington, Government Specialist Transport Adviser.

Q35 Mr. David Clelland: Sir Rod, when you talk about the UK's economic success and the importance of transport infrastructure to that, did you also take into account the importance of transport infrastructure to the regions outside of London or is it sufficient just to have a successful national economy regardless of what might happen to the regions?

Sir Rod Eddington: No. Through my journey I and my team visited all the regions and the devolved areas of the UK. I personally went to Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Cardiff, Newport, Warrington, Liverpool, Southampton, Edinburgh, Glasgow -----

Q36 Chairman: You missed out Crewe.

Sir Rod Eddington: I thought you would brief me on that, Chairman. I got around the country in a substantial way, speaking to key stakeholders in all places, and I take the view that the conclusions I have drawn are as valid in the north of the UK as they are in the south.

Q37 Mr. David Clelland: Did you carry out a full-scale assessment of the costs and benefits of a high-speed rail connection between London and Edinburgh?

Sir Rod Eddington: I am regularly asked for a full-scale review. I have to say that "high-speed" means different things to different people. To some people it means Maglev; to some people it means TGV; to some people it means conventional rail at 140 miles an hour; to some people it means 125 miles an hour. I had presentations from a number of entities on the question of high-speed rail, yes.

Q38 Mr. David Clelland: But they are not calculations that are publicly available which could prove the case?

Sir Rod Eddington: No, they are not. If you take Maglev, for instance, the fact is that Maglev technology, although it operates from Pudong Airport in Shanghai to downtown Pudong, and I have travelled on it a number of times, this is not a technology that is in use anywhere else to any substantial degree and I would always be cautious about embracing technology that is unproven on the sort of scale that is being suggested in this instance.

Q39 Mr. David Clelland: But does that not come back to the point made by Mrs Ellman before that the report is not particularly aspirational?

Sir Rod Eddington: I do not think there is anything aspirational about spending £40 billion on leading edge technology that may or may not work. I do not regard that as aspirational. If you are going to spend £40 billion on the British Rail network is that the best place to spend it or would you not be better off spending a big chunk on Crossrail and a substantial chunk improving the commuter networks around our major cities in the UK?

Q40 Mr. David Clelland: We were rather hoping your report might answer these questions but it does not appear that it has. It has just raised more questions.

Sir Rod Eddington: I think it has. My position is quite clear, that high-speed rail with unproven technology and with dubious economic benefits is not something we should be spending £30-40 billion on. I was quite clear on that.

Q41 Mr. David Clelland: Can I just draw attention to another point in your report which I thought rather curious? In talking about road pricing you talked about the effects of road pricing and how that might affect urban rail services, and your solution to the problem that would arise in terms of congestion on the railways as a result of road pricing, that is, people leaving their cars and getting on the trains, would be to manage demand on the trains by putting the prices up on urban trains. Is that a sensible way forward?

Sir Rod Eddington: As my report makes clear, there is a demand for substantial investment in transport infrastructure. Given the three priority areas for investment, clearly heavy rail has a critical role to play in all three. There are many projects and schemes out there for investment in the rail network, which makes very strong economic sense, the first of which is making best use of what we have at the moment. As you go round the country there are many examples of parts of the current rail network where additional investment would give us very strong returns, so I see rail as a critical part of the solution going forward; there is no doubt about that.

Q42 Mr. David Clelland: Yes, but you seem to be saying that we introduced road pricing in order to try and resolve congestion on the roads, thereby forcing people out of their cars onto some other form of public transport. That then makes that form of public transport more congested and therefore, in order to resolve that problem, you put the prices up on public transport.

Sir Rod Eddington: One of the problems with this debate, I think, is that it assumes that the only solution to public transport is rail. In section four I spent a lot of time talking about the way in which we use buses in the UK because in many parts of the UK the traffic densities would make it very difficult to justify building a heavy rail network and buses are a critical part of the solution. It is not just about rail although I see a strong case for investment in the rail network as well. Saying I do not support speculative investment in a high-speed rail network that may or may not work does not mean that I do not support investment in rail in the United Kingdom; quite the opposite.

Q43 Mr. David Clelland: Absolutely. The point I am trying to make is that you seem to be saying that we should force people out of their cars by introducing road pricing in order to resolve congestion, and that may be a way forward that we cannot evaluate, but then they turn to public transport, like for instance the urban rail networks. You then suggest that that would put such pressure on those networks that the only way to deal with that would be to put the prices up on the trains so that not so many people used the trains. Where is that going to leave the commuter?

Sir Rod Eddington: If the only form of public transport is rail, but there are many forms of public transport, in particular buses. I would argue that whether we invest in more rail infrastructure or in buses is something that should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Q44 Chairman: Did you actually ask for a cost-benefit model or some very accurate figures about high-speed rail from either the Treasury or the DfT?

Sir Rod Eddington: I asked everybody, Chairman.

Q45 Chairman: What did they say?

Sir Rod Eddington: Including the people who came to me with the suggestion that we should build Maglev from one end of the country to the other.

Q46 Chairman: And?

Sir Rod Eddington: I think it is fair to say that the economic benefits are fuzzy.

Q47 Chairman: That is a very nice adjective; the world is full of fuzzy things. You had got very precise models that you could judge were not economically viable - is that what you are saying?

Sir Rod Eddington: All the data that I got led me to the conclusion that there is no business case for the speculative end of high-speed rail.

Q48 Chairman: But that was specifically as long as it was Maglev, or not so?

Sir Rod Eddington: Yes, Maglev.

Q49 Chairman: So you are tied to the Maglev scheme and the figures for that and you did not look at any alternative for a high-speed line?

Sir Rod Eddington: I did not but my mechanism suggests that any high-speed line proposal that was put forward should be measured against the criteria I am suggesting.

Q50 Chairman: And you are suggesting that that would mean that they were fuzzy?

Sir Rod Eddington: No. The Maglev piece was fuzzy.

Q51 Chairman: The Maglev bit was fuzzy?

Sir Rod Eddington: Correct.

Q52 Chairman: So you dismissed the whole business case but only on the basis that the Maglev bit was fuzzy?

Sir Rod Eddington: That is what I dismissed. I dismissed Maglev.

Q53 Mr. David Clelland: But you have no definitive evidence to dismiss Maglev? It is just a feeling, a fuzzy feeling?

Sir Rod Eddington: I have got plenty of evidence. The most powerful evidence to dismiss Maglev is that it does not work anywhere in the world. The bottom line is that it works from Pudong Airport to Pudong. That is a relatively small stretch. It is not even to downtown Shanghai; it is to Pudong.

Q54 Chairman: The Japanese are spending a very great deal of money and this Committee actually rode on their experimental service. Do they strike you as being a wildly speculative nation?

Sir Rod Eddington: I think the Shinkansen, which was introduced into service in 1964 in Tokyo, is a very good form of train in the corridors where it makes good sense, and when I lived in Japan for four years I was a regular user of the Shinkansen. I also know that the economic case for the Shinkansen is strongest in the Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka/Fukuoka corridor but makes no sense to Niigata where it was built by the then Prime Minister Tanaka to make a political goal.

Q55 Chairman: That is a very interesting parallel argument. I was asking you something else. The Japanese are consistently spending a very great deal of their very considerable research budget on a specific Maglev development which has also enabled them to run a test mileage. It is only 21 miles but this Committee have actually ridden on it, apart from the fact that it put the fear of God into me. What I am asking you is, did you look very closely at those other sources and why do you think the Japanese are doing that if it is so manifestly unworkable?

Sir Rod Eddington: I think if the Japanese manufacturers can produce a Maglev-type train that makes good sense and it is right for the UK we should embrace it. However, if the Japanese - and not having been with you, with respect, Chairman, I cannot comment on this - are suggesting to you that they are going to build this network across the country before the technology is proven, that in my experience is most unlike the Japanese.

Chairman: I do not think I said that.


Q105 Mr. David Clelland: Sir Rod, when you came before the Committee on 30 November I drew your attention to the catch-22 situation we found ourselves in in the north east particularly and presumably in other parts of the country -----

Sir Rod Eddington: I remember that.

Q106 Mr. David Clelland: ----- where the economic growth in the region is generating more traffic and therefore the Highways Agency were concerned about congestion and the Highways Agency were then coming forward with what were called Article 14 orders and putting a curb on the investment that we desperately need in the area because of the congestion. Given the fact that the Highways Agency under successive governments over the last 20 years have not made any major improvements to the road structure at all, we are in this catch-22 situation where as we improve the economy we cause congestion, therefore the Highways Agency will put a block on development. You said you would speak to the Highways Agency about this issue. Did you do that and if so what conclusions did you draw?

Sir Rod Eddington: I think that issue probably resonates most in some of the delivery issues in my report, in particular the role of national and sub-national governance, who decides what, what revenues are raised and how they are applied. As I said early on, I believe the work I have done is as important in the north of the UK as it is in the south and many of the challenges I have spoken to are just as important in the north as they are in the south. In some instances the scale might be a bit different, partly because London is the biggest city in the nation and it is based in the south, but there are challenges in the Midlands, in the north of England, up into Scotland and across to Wales. It seems to me that the challenge for local and regional entities is that they often have control over some of the variables in the decision making process and not others. Buses are a good example. A local authority may wish to introduce a bus franchising operation to improve public transport in that area because in their particular patch a bus may prove to be a better solution, but they do not have control of the roads and therefore they cannot designate a bus lane. There is a series of what I call governance issues which, unless they are resolved, will lead to impasse.

Q107 Mr. David Clelland: What proposals do you have for governance issues?

Sir Rod Eddington: This is clearly a much bigger issue than just transport. It is true for other areas and in the Lyons Report Michael Lyons' work on governance resonates with me. I looked narrowly at governance in the context of major transport projects and I looked at planning in the context of major transport projects, recognising that there are other issues which will bring those same two points to the table and you need a solution that works not just for transport but also for a broader church. Planning as I understand it is being examined right now and I would hope that Sir Michael Lyons' report will similarly forward the debate on the role of local and regional entities as opposed to the national entity. If you do not resolve those issues you will not change that reality.

Q108 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think the Transport Innovation Fund process will shed any light on all this?

Sir Rod Eddington: Personally I am a strong supporter of the Transport Innovation Fund. I would be, would I not? What do I mean by that? Because it looks first at trying to promote transport interventions that are pro-the economy and pro-growth, and, secondly, because one of the things it is looking to do is trying to help move the road pricing debate forward in a sensible and meaningful way, so I am a supporter of it but I do not think any piece of the jigsaw in isolation is going to get us where we need to go.

Q109 Mr. David Clelland: What role do you envisage for PTAs and local authorities?

Sir Rod Eddington: I think they are both important pieces of the jigsaw but I would draw back from those and say we have got to get it right not just for transport but for other things as well. PTAs and PTEs have a significant role but I would not start there. I would start with the challenges that you have raised about how we unblock the logjam and how we move it forward.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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