The Eddington Transport Study (HC 458-i)
Transport Committee 16 Apr 2007
Evidence given by Sir Rod Eddington, Government Specialist Transport Adviser.
Q56 Mr. Eric Martlew: Obviously, the Japanese have this [Maglev] operating but the fact is that they are not putting it in from Shanghai to Beijing, are they? They have turned that down and I accept the argument, but you seem to view Maglev as a red herring virtually, and that was not in the majority of serious politicians' discussions about high-speed rail in this country. You seem to have brushed high-speed away on that particular criterion of the Maglev and that worries me.
Sir Rod Eddington: No.
Q57 Mr. Eric Martlew: Are you saying that you have not brushed high-speed away?
Sir Rod Eddington: No, I have not.
Q58 Mr. Eric Martlew: Oh, that is good.
Sir Rod Eddington: What I have brushed aside is speculative technology like Maglev from one end of the country to the other. In providing a set of criteria against which I think investment decisions should be made I have been generally modally agnostic and my observation is that in the densest corridors high-speed rail is a critical part of transport infrastructure.
Q59 Mr. Eric Martlew: I accept, and I have read your report, that you were misquoted by the media to some extent - we all are. My concern is this. You are talking about 2014 and beyond. I know the West Coast Main Line probably as well as any politician and they talk about longer trains, longer platforms, perhaps better signalling so you can get more on. They should all be done by 2014, should they not?
Sir Rod Eddington: Absolutely.
Q60 Mr. Eric Martlew: But you have not given us anything for the future beyond that, have you?
Sir Rod Eddington: What I have not done is give you a list of projects. I tried to build a transport strategy and talk about what the priorities are because to give you a list of projects would have taken a lot more time than I had. What I tried to do was provide a set of criteria against what future projects could be based on. I made the observation, given the timescales (and you are right to talk about them), that making best use of existing infrastructure is essential to getting us where we need to go but by itself it is not enough, that we will need to make what I describe as some substantial investments to ensure that we can meet the transport needs of the country beyond 2015. I was quite clear about that.
Q61 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you accept that the things that we have both been talking about should be done by 2015?
Sir Rod Eddington: Yes.
Q62 Chairman: I think the National Audit Commission said that by that time the West Coast Main Line would be full to capacity.
Sir Rod Eddington: Yes.
Q63 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we are talking about a high-speed rail of any sort, whether it is from north to south, whether it goes to Glasgow, Edinburgh or just Manchester or Newcastle, then the planning has to start now, has it not?
Sir Rod Eddington: I agree. We are looking at very long lead times. If you agree a transport strategy, and that needs to be pressure-tested, advisers advise and governments decide, so the Government should decide whether it accepts my findings or not, and if it can therefore deliver a transport strategy we then need to think about what it means in the most congested corridors and what is the best modal solution.
Q64 Mr. Eric Martlew: Really what you are saying is that high-speed rail fits that particular bill. You may not be in favour of Maglev but high-speed rail will fit that bill in those corridors that you have referred to?
Sir Rod Eddington: There is no doubt to me that in the most congested corridors - and you have spoken of them and, as you said, is it London/Birmingham/Manchester or is it London/Birmingham/Manchester and beyond - there should be a strong business case for trains in those corridors. That business case will live or die based on its strength in my judgement, and when I talk about investing in success I am talking about investing in places where the congestion charges are greatest, whether it is road or rail or port or airport.
Q65 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can I just change back to something that Mrs Ellman said before, and I think you answered it, but we are always looking for conspiracy theories as politicians? Did ministers or senior civil servants who were not in your immediate team propose major changes to your report at any stage?
Sir Rod Eddington: No, they did not.
Q66 Mr. Eric Martlew: They did not?
Sir Rod Eddington: No.
Q67 Mr. Eric Martlew: How many major drafts of the report did you have?
Sir Rod Eddington: I began the evidence gathering in earnest in late September/early October. I did some of it before that but I was full time on it in October, November, December, and I began to assemble my thoughts early in the New Year. I guess I had two or three drafts in the way in which you do when you do a piece of work like this, and they were not really drafts; they were collections of thoughts in different areas. I did not really do a draft report and then a second draft report and a third draft report. The document evolved as we went along.
Q68 Mr. Eric Martlew: And there were no major changes in that, nothing that was cut out that we would be interested in?
Sir Rod Eddington: Nothing that was cut out. One of the things I tried very hard to do was not to jump to conclusions too early in the piece because I think once you reach a conclusion you cease to sift the evidence. I was taking evidence and going back to some of the people who presented it to me and, as it were, asking them to contribute more thinking to the particular piece I was interested in well into spring and early summer last year, so the thinking evolved. In particular, as it became clear that issues like planning and sub-national governance were important, I did quite a bit of work on those issues in the middle of last year, so parts of the document really only came together late in the day; other parts earlier in the day.
Q69 Mr. Eric Martlew: And there was no particular significance in the fact that your report was delayed about six months? It was not ministers asking you to hold it back?
Sir Rod Eddington: No. In fact, that is a good point. I asked for more time and I asked for more time because I wished to complete section four of the report, which was to look at planning. We spent quite a bit of time thinking about the planning process and how it relates to major transport infrastructure projects, national and sub-national governance, buses, in particular what are the different models for bus ownership and operation, what works best. Those sorts of things really only came together for me through the summer of last year. When I went into this report I did not think, to be frank, that I was going to be tackling those issues in the detail I did but the longer I went into it the more I thought the delivery issues were a critical part of the report and to ignore the delivery issues would have been to short-change the report. I asked for more time.
Q110 Mr. Eric Martlew: You have tried to answer it once or twice but we have never really let you off the leash. What do you believe the role of the bus is in the future, this low cost, low technology vehicle that we have?
Sir Rod Eddington: You asked me earlier if I was surprised about anything going in. One of the things that surprised me was the low regard in which the bus is held in the United Kingdom. I find that quite strange, having at different periods of my life caught the bus to and from school and to and from work. I think the bus, particularly in the less dense corridors, and there are many of them outside the major cities, is a terrific opportunity. They have to work, customers have to have confidence in the reliability of the bus, they have to have real-time information in front of them, the buses have to be clean, well run and comfortable. Buses are a terrific opportunity, in part because they are very flexible. If you look at bus ridership in the UK over the last 50 years it has been a straight line down. That has bottomed out but I think, particularly in the context of a world in which road pricing is widespread across the country, we have to address the public transport challenges that go with that. Some of that is about the train but I think the bus has a real role to play and we need to decide how we are going to set up the governance model around buses and that is about our local authorities and the bus operators working together. I spent quite a bit of time addressing that issue in my report. I think buses are very important. They are part of the jigsaw but they are very important.
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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