Commons Gate

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

Transport Committee 19 Mar 2008

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Evidence given by
2.45 South West Regional Assembly and South West Regional Development Agency Julian Johnson, Chair of the South West Regional Assembly's Regional Transport Board West Midland Regional Rail Forum Chris Haynes, Head of Transportation Strategy, Birmingham City Council Transport for London Geoff Hobbs, Head of Strategy, London Rail, Transport for London The Northern Way Professor David Begg, Chairman of the Transport Compact, Northern Way
3.30 Minister and Officials Tom Harris MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Bob Linnard, Director, Rail Strategy and Stakeholder Relations: uploaded on 26 March 2008

Q760 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Just on the length of the trains, that may be fine at Birmingham, but what about the stations either side where it is going to stop?

Mr Haynes: You will see that in the White Paper it refers to a platform lengthening on pretty well all the lines into Birmingham and it will go to other major cities as well. That is being allowed for and is being currently planned by Network Rail. On the occasional station where you can't lengthen the platform, then they are looking at selective door opening.

Q761 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That means you are not going to be able to introduce these trains until all the platforms have been lengthened?

Mr Haynes: There is platform lengthening happening on the Coventry corridor at the moment to take the longer trains and it is being planned in conjunction with the acquisition of the new rolling stock.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Thank you.


Q806 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On this point, I think earlier you said, Minister, when we were talking about First Great Western, that the action you took took away the legal barrier. Was there any legal reason why you could not take the franchise off them when you took the other action?

Mr Harris: Franchises are, of course, legally watertight documents and there is a legal process if you want to take a franchise off a particular TOC. The advice we had was that in the context of the misreporting of the cancellation data and a breach of the franchise, that did not of itself actually constitute a default of the franchise. However, a default of the remedial plan would and it is when you get to default that you can take away a franchise.

Q807 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The reality is that what you are telling us is that legally you could take the franchise off them, but that has not come out until now, has it?

Mr Harris: I think every time you make a decision about the policing or the monitoring of every franchise you absolutely have to make sure that you are doing it legally, and that is all we are doing.

Q808 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): And you could not at this stage?

Mr Harris: Our advice was that we should move to a remedial plan.

Q809 Chairman: So in fact the answer to the question Mr Stringer asked you earlier on, what do they have to do, is practically murder one in five of their passengers every day before anybody can actually do anything about it?

Mr Harris: I think it is one in ten, Chairman!

Chairman: I see.


Q842 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On rolling stock - and I have just heard what you say - can you give us an explanation of what went wrong with the Pendalino extra carriages?

Mr Harris: I think I know what you are referring to. On reflection, I think it would have been better if the debate between Virgin and the DfT had not been conducted in public. I think that was unfortunate and I think some valid criticism could be levelled at the Department for Transport as far as the public perception is concerned. I wrote to all MPs with a West Coast Main Line interest to clarify exactly what the position was, because it emerged from the media that the story was that the DfT had said no to Pendalino line filling, which is not the case. We did say no to Virgin, to their proposal for what they called the two year extension to the franchise, what I perceived as being a new two year franchise without any competition, and they could not convince the Department, they could not convince me that that process would provide value for money or better value for money than an open contest. I was not prepared for the Department to be blackmailed with the prospect of Pendalino line filling there as the prize. So we now have the situation where we are still committed to Pendalino line filling, and in fact the process started today with an advertisement in the official journal of the European Union for the start of that procurement process and we will have those 106 new carriages in place by the start of the next franchise.

Q843 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Which will be when?

Mr Harris: 2012.

Q844 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): But many of us were led to believe that they would be in service quite a bit sooner than that.

Mr Harris: Virgin's negotiating position was, "We want an extra two years on the franchise and on that basis we'll cooperate with the Pendalino line filling." The first part of that was not acceptable to us. I accept that if the conditions of that proposal had been different and had been acceptable to us, we would have been able to move more quickly.

Q845 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can I stay on the West Coast but come on to another issue? After the problems we had at Rugby, do you sincerely believe that the timetable set for 2008 will be able to be implemented? Do you not believe that there are going to be delays on the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line that will throw that into chaos?

Mr Harris: I think if I were to try and tell you or the rest of the Committee that in light of events at the New Year I have no doubts about the meeting of that timetable you would not believe me, so I am not going to say that.

Q846 Chairman: We believe every word you say, Minister!

Mr Harris: What I would say is that the ORR is conducting its own review of that timetable and it will be taking evidence up until the end of this month. If you do not mind, I am going to reserve my judgment to see what the ORR says because it is privy to a lot more of the detail that is necessary to make that judgment.

Q847 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So what you are saying is that the jury is out until the ORR comes up with -

Mr Harris: Yes. I would not want to speculate on that publicly without the kind of detail that the ORR is privy to.

Q848 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Let us hypothetically presume that it does not come in in December 2008. What are the consequences of that?

Mr Harris: There are quite severe penalties that the DfT would have to meet. In terms of track access charges, I believe the current regime for track access only runs until December this year, so any delay in the upgrade, the finalisation of the upgrade, will have a financial cost to the Department and that is something that -

Q849 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So you will be paying the Train Operators money?

Mr Harris: Essentially.

Mr Linnard: There will also be a cost to Network Rail because it is not just Virgin who operates on West Coast.

Mr Harris: More significantly, I think it would be fairly damaging to Network Rail's reputation, which frankly could do without any more damage to its reputation at the moment. I understand that not all of the Train Operators are entirely happy with the idea of heading to that December 2008 deadline and having more, longer, possessions between now and then in order to achieve that. I think some of the Train Operating Companies undoubtedly would rather see that deadline extended into 2009. I am not going to cast judgment on whether that is the right judgment.

Q850 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Especially if they will be compensated for it!

Mr Harris: That is something I am sure the Committee will take into account.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I will leave it at that.


Q919 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am grateful for the answer you give, because I have a situation where we are just about to start to build a brand new university and there is an old freight line which has not been used for 30 years, and the idea was that you would not be allowed to build on that just because it used to be a railway line, there would be no sense in that. So what you are saying is that there is a flexibility in the Department?

Mr Harris: Yes. What we have said is that the local authorities have to make a judgment locally about whether or not a particular alignment should be preserved, and many local authorities do that, but I do not think, as a matter of policy, it is necessarily a productive policy. As I was trying to say earlier on, Chairman - and I think this is an important point - if you were to re-open a large proportion of those lines, for example, closed under Beeching, unless you have got a massively significant increased number of carriages to run on those lines then they do not create any extra capacity.

Q920 Chairman: All we want to know is whether you have an acceptable programme which says you will look at them. You and I both know, everybody in the House of Commons knows that there is at least one area where a major utility company wants to take over an area which was a closed rail tunnel, which would have a direct effect. I am not asking you to open something that will join up with the Ffestiniog Railway, or the line from Crewe Station to the centre of Crewe. It might be a great benefit, but there is nobody in the works to get on it.

Mr Harris: Where there is a case for preserving a particular line, obviously the DfT will look at that, but I think you are talking about Woodhead Tunnel. Nobody has yet told me what the actual solution of that should be, other than kicking National Grid out of an area where they have every right to lay cables. Now, if at some point in the future - and remember this decision does not have to be taken until 2010 and the Minister of State, Rosie Winterton, is going to have a meeting with National Grid to find out if there would be an option for continuing the maintenance regime in the older disused Victorian tunnels to keep them in their current condition, but if at some point there was a need to run freight trains, for example, through the newer 1950s tunnel at Woodhead, then that is something that could be done, but it would be done at considerable expense and I am not sure it is worth it.

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