Commons Gate

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

Transport Committee 23 Jan 2008

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Evidence given by:
3.45 Network Rail Ian McAllister - Chairman Iain Coucher - Chief Executive Paul Plummer, Director Planning and Regulation
4:30 Office of Rail Regulation Chris Bolt, Chairman Bill Emery, Chief Executive.

Q242 Mr. Eric Martlew: To follow on from that, it appears that really you are saying it [high speed rail from London to the North] is not in the White Paper but you are going to do it anyway because it is necessary. Is that the case?

Mr Coucher: I think it is incumbent on the delivery side of the rail industry that it should have a clear view about where it would go, what markets it should serve and the package that passengers want. We should make sure it is designed to meet the needs of passengers and freight users. We should have a clear view about what that should look like for the inevitable programme of consideration by the Government. Yes, we would like to get on and do that sooner rather than later.

Q243 Mr. Eric Martlew: You have been very diplomatic about the White Paper. What you are really saying is that it should be in it and it is not. I would not disagree with that. Perhaps we should try to persuade Government more. You actually think there will be a need to build another line from London to the north?

Mr Coucher: Yes.

Q244 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can I turn to the issue of rolling stock? Occasionally it is rumoured that Network Rail are not very happy with the present set-up with the ROSCOs and that you would like to be involved in the ownership of rolling stock. Is that the case or not?

Mr Coucher: What we have said, to be precise, is that we need to be involved in the design of rolling stock. The rolling stock has to go on to the infrastructure and we must make sure that we have designed the trains to meet the design of the infrastructure. If you get it wrong, it can be very expensive. We would like to be involved in the specification particularly of the bogeys and the shape and configuration. We have no desire to own trains. We have no desire to compete with the ROSCOs. We have no desire to run trains.

Q245 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am not sure of the timing, and it could have been Railtrack, but this did this happen when Virgin bought the Pendolino?

Mr Coucher: Yes, there were issues when the rolling stock was bought by Virgin and the degree to which it fitted on to the railway, and similarly there were problems when they bought the train set-up on the South-East network when there was a presumption about the capability of the infrastructure, but that is all behind us now. We have changed our processes.


Q272 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that point, a seven day a week railway is fine but basically we have a five and a half day railway at the present time. Would we not be better in the medium term to aim for a six and a half day week with Sunday mornings being different? If you are going to do it seven days a week, it is going to be very expensive. You are going to get overruns and angry passengers. Is it not a more sensible option to be going for six and a half days for the next five or seven years?

Mr Coucher: We truly run a seven day a week railway. On a normal day we run 22,000 trains; in a Saturday we run about 18,000 trains; on a Sunday we run about 14,000 trains. We do run it seven days a week already. What we need to do is make sure for those areas where we have taken closures to do work that we find through routes or alternative ways of doing things. If I can return to Rugby as a very good example of this, one thing that we have done now in the re-engineering of Rugby means that we can now do work on the south side of the station whilst we have trains going up and down on the north side of the station. That was never possible before. That is one of the things we have done. It does give us the flexibility to both work and run trains. That is the future.


Q311 Mr. Eric Martlew: This question may have been asked while I was outside the room. What was the role that you played during the problems over Christmas?

Mr Bolt: In terms of the operational issues that have been described at great length earlier this afternoon, none, and nor should we. We hold Network Rail to account for delivering the overall outputs and in the next five years there will be the high level outputs specified by ministers and setting the framework within which that is done. We are not here to second-guess management and micromanage their activities. As soon as it was clear that there was a significant failing in Network Rail to deliver proper services to passengers which raised questions about the underlying management of the capital programme as a whole, and specifically the West Coast programme, that was when we said we would have an investigation into those issues to see whether the lessons which, for example, had come out of the Portsmouth investigation last year had not been as well reflected in Network Rail's actions as we believed or whether there were new issues and that was calling into question other aspects of their management of capital projects.

Q312 Mr. Eric Martlew: Thank you for that. Both Virgin, when they came last time, and Network Rail today said they came to you to get an extension to the work period. Did you have to give permission in the first instance?

Mr Bolt: No.

Q313 Mr. Eric Martlew: Did you give permission for an extra day?

Mr Bolt: What we said was that we would not take enforcement action by issuing a provisional order to prevent Network Rail taking that extra day at short notice.

Q314 Mr. Eric Martlew: Virgin came to you to stop it, did they not?

Mr Bolt: They asked us to stop it as being a licence breach and we decided that was not appropriate given our overall statutory duties. We were not in any sense approving the plan or saying that an extra day was enough. It was clearly Network Rail's responsibility to deliver the works in the time available. As I say, we now need to say are there some more fundamental issues around the way Network Rail plans that sort of project. We will never get involved, nor should we, in the detailed planning and approval of individual packages of work.

Q315 Mr. Eric Martlew: But you gave them the extra day?

Mr Bolt: We said that there was not a clear case for that being a licence breach which required the issue of a provisional order under the terms of the Railways Act.

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 here

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