Commons Gate

Delivering a Sustainable Railway: A 30-year Strategy for the Railways? (HC 219-i)

Transport Committee 9 Jan 2008

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Evidence given by:
2.45 p.m.; Greengauge 21: Jim Steer, Director, Greengauge 21; Julie Mills, Director, Greengauge 21. Roger Ford: Roger Ford, Industry & Technology Editor, Modern Railways. The Railway Forum: Paul Martin, Director General.
3.30 p.m.; Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Cliff Perry, Vice Chairman, Railway Division. Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT): Martin Brennan, Chair, CILT Strategic Rail Forum, Mary Bonar, Member, CILT Strategic Rail Forum. County Surveyors Society: Dr Ian Harrison, Deputy Director, Environment, Economy and Culture, Devon County Council, Colin McKenna, Head of Highways and Transport, West Sussex County Council.
4.15 p.m.; Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC): George Muir, Director General, Eurostar UK Ltd, Richard Brown CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Louisa Bell, Head of Environment and Energy. Virgin Trains: Tony Collins, Chief Executive; Chris Gibb, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Gibb: In the latter years of BR and the replacement rate of things like bridges was negligible and the solution to a breach deteriorating in the last ten years of BR was to put a speed restriction on it. Clearly many of those bridges were built over a hundred years ago and require to be renewed at the moment. If you examined Network Rail's rate of bridge replacement at the moment, it is quite staggering. It is many times higher than anything that BR did in its last years. We are really renewing a railway that is over 100 years old and I feel sure that some of the costs are attributable directly to that situation. Having in my latter years in BR presided over things called maintenance holidays, I have never seen that kind of behaviour since privatisation.

Q207 Mr. Eric Martlew: Maintenance holidays meant you just did not do any maintenance?

Mr Gibb: Absolutely. You just put it off because you could put it off by putting on speed restrictions, slowing the trains down, making the trains lighter. There was always a way of avoiding spending money in the last ten years of BR and leaving it for some generation later on.

Q208 Chairman: In other words, what has happened is that the money has gone into the infrastructure and even with all the inconvenience it is the investment in the system that has been a catch up on many, many years of underinvestment?

Mr Gibb: I do very honestly believe that from my 25 years of experience. I do believe the railway infrastructure is in a much better condition now than it was 25 years ago.

Q209 Mr. Eric Martlew: On a seven day week railway, in reality, on the west coast main line we have had a five day week railway. Would it not be sensible to be going for a six and a half day railway where Saturday nights and Sunday mornings were for maintenance?

Mr Gibb: It will be. There is undoubtedly a huge, pent up demand for travel on Saturdays and Sundays. Our plan currently is that in a year's time we will step up the weekend service and provide a much letter service. In two years' time, I hope to see a true six and a half day railway on the west coast main line serving places like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Crewe and north of there. It was said earlier that this would come at a cost and it will but I believe that the demand from customers is there easily to meet that cost and I think we will see an explosion of demand at weekends. If you travel, as I did a few weeks ago, on a train in Germany at 8.30 on a Sunday morning, it was a 16 carriage train; it was completely full of people. They were not paying some discounted fare either. They were paying reasonably high levels of train fares. I was very impressed at how full that train was at that time on a Sunday morning.

Mr Collins: Can I add a word of caution? The point you make is a very good one. I think there is a huge challenge for Network Rail and us as an industry. We are operating a railway that is absolutely full. There is no slack in the system. To try and step it up to a seven day a week railway is a huge challenge. One of the key questions we are asking Network Rail is we need to be convinced that we can deliver that seven day week. The plan for next year is six and a half days, as you have suggested, but even that is a huge step up in access to the railway and we have to be cautious that it is capable of being delivered reliably because, going back to the passengers, unreliability is number one on their list and we cannot raise an expectation that they can travel on weekends and then dash it. We have to be very cautious in what we do.

Mr Gibb: In practical terms, going back to the lengthening, if we are running an excellent service on a Sunday more people will go away for the weekend. When will they go away for a weekend? On a Friday evening. We are full at the moment on a Friday evening. If you catch one of our trains at round about 18.30 on a Friday evening, they are all full with standard class, first class and people standing down the aisles. By making an excellent weekend service available, we are going to make the Friday overcrowding even worse.


Q218 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can I congratulate Virgin on the fare structure that I have recently come across? It does explain it but it seems to have been a long time coming, explaining to the passengers how they could get cheap fares and what the cheap fares were. Is that something that you have just brought in or do you just put them out on the shelves?

Mr Collins: The first thing we actively planned last year was to simplify the website so you get the cheapest fare first.

Q219 Mr. Eric Martlew: You used to have a system where you did not?

Mr Collins: The NRail system and our system was that somebody went in for a journey and was presented with the price of that journey. Now it starts with the cheapest fare, so the passengers work their way through the system to find the ticket they want. We are going to further simplify the ticket types in terms of the restrictions and that is something we are working on at the moment.

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.

The full transcript may be read at

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB