Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)

WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1998

COUNCILLOR S STACEY and MR K MEDLOCK

Chairman

  20.  "Next" being 1 January 1999.
  (Councillor Stacey)  Yes.

Mr Donohoe

  21.  Do you not believe that the regional Eurostar trains which have already been ordered were ordered for political purposes and that in fact that is where the demand is and that the whole question of Eurostar is not for anything else other than the benefit of London and below London?
  (Mr Medlock)  I should very much like to come in, if I may, to point out that what is happening across Europe is that the major cities of Europe are being linked by high-speed rail. What we in the regions are concerned about is that the only link coming into this country must not stop at London. There is a case for making sure that there are more cities than London linked into that network. We have been asked why we want to go beyond London. At the present time Eurostar is only active in the market of London and part of the south east. It is not attracting traffic north of that region yet something like 40 per cent of the business which British Rail predicted would be generated by Eurostar was going to come from north of London. That market has never been tested. In looking at this, when the Consortium talk about the trial service quite frankly it was the biggest secret in the north west because nobody knew anything at all about it. It was never marketed. They talk about it being fast but it was very slow. It was not a practical proposition. We, from the North West Channel Tunnel Group, tried to petition British Rail to test it out by putting a coach on to a West Coast Main Line train coming into Euston and then providing a bus for the dedicated passengers who would be already prebooked on to Waterloo and test it that way. They were not prepared to do it. The reason they said was they could not guarantee how long it would take them to cross from Euston to Waterloo. I did not think that was a very good reason. We want it to go forward into the north west. There is also a tendency to think about this railway simply taking people out of the regions into Europe. That is not our mission. Equally we want to bring people from Europe into our regions. We have an extremely well organised tourist export market. I regret to say we do not have one quite as good in the import field. When these trials were done and we talked to the British Tourist Authority in Paris they did not know anything about it. How can you expect to regard this as a test? Let me say this again on behalf of the north west. We have three of the major national parks, the Peak District, the Lake District and Snowdonia. It is easier for people now to travel from Kent to Nice than it is to travel into the Lake District. That is not a very good situation when something like 40 per cent of visitors to the Lake District and the tourist area of the north west are coming from overseas. That business is at risk. We believe it is a developing market. We argue that perhaps only ten per cent of the passengers from Manchester for instance will be business travellers. There will be some people who would use it but it would be the leisure market, it would be the organised tourist business and it is very critical to the economic wellbeing of our region. If I might say so, we believe it is equally critical as when we come to consider Phase II of the high-speed rail links, we will not have tapped any of this market north of London yet at that stage somebody will have to make a judgement regarding the financial viability of completing the line to St Pancras. You may make that judgement on a false premise because you have never tested the market north of London. These are very critical issues to us.

Chairman

  22.  What analysis have you done of your leisure markets since that seems to be one of the points you are making?
  (Mr Medlock)  We have not done anything recently or at least I have not been involved in any research but when the North West Channel Group was set up in 1988 it did have some work done and it gave the figures as to what it was thought the inter-regional traffic would generate. They were suggesting something like eight to ten per cent would be businessmen, the rest would be the individual travellers and then there would be the large organised tourist market opportunity.

Mr O'Brien

  23.  I come from the county of Yorkshire, representing a constituency in West Yorkshire. When we were discussing the Channel Tunnel Bill we were making a case then that Leeds and Wakefield should have links and that they should be terminals for the passenger services as they are now for goods services. Since then we have seen air traffic developing services, prices low and Leeds/Bradford airport is one of the connecting airports. Why will regional Eurostar services be more successful now with the connecting services when we have the regional air services which are very well served and can offer easy and cheap transport both to Brussels and to Paris and to other European cities? Why do you think Eurostar would now be beneficial?
  (Councillor Stacey)  There are two issues. There are some parts of the market where it would not be in competition with the aeroplane at all. There is existing leisure travel by car, by coach and so on where actually it would offer an improved service, a faster service certainly than coaches, more environmentally friendly method of transport than by the motor car. It would actually give an improved service to a lot of people in your region over and above what they have now. There are always going to be people who are going to pay a little more to use the air service, be able to pay a little more to use the air service or to pay for that speed. But there are lots of other people who do not currently fly, perhaps do not even make the journey at all. The regional Eurostar trains will actually, as well as changing the way existing travellers travel, open up possibilities of travel which do not currently exist. We only have to go back several years now to when perhaps the package holiday market to Spain or wherever first opened. Prior to that the idea of ordinary working people travelling that sort of distance, that sort of destination, just was not thought of. We are not saying this is going to be the new package holiday, but it is that same sort of change in concept for some people in creating the journey opportunities by a method which they can afford, is comfortable and environmentally friendly. It is not the competition with the air services for all but a very few.

  24.  If we accept your philosophy on that, that there is a benefit there for people in Leeds and Harrogate and Wakefield to use Eurostar, one of the disabilities we have is in London. Coming down the East Coast Main Line to get onto the fast track, unless something is done quickly, then there is no benefit for our people because there would be the inconvenience of transferring from one train to the other. Eurostar could not actually get through. How do you see the changes then? If there have to be changes how do you see the changes?
  (Councillor Stacey)  In the short term the longest of the services for getting round London would be able to get round London but it would have to go round the west side of London.

  25.  But we could not contact the fast track, could we?
  (Councillor Stacey)  Yes, it would then be able to link up to the existing slow track and then to the first stage of the high-speed link. That will be possible but of course the greatest benefit will come with the completion of the high-speed link when it will have much easier access and provide even greater benefits. We think one of the crucial things, rather than waiting for the high-speed link to open and then everyone saying right, now we will have a look to see whether things are feasible, is to start growing that market now. The Belgians did not wait until the high-speed link to Brussels was open before running trains into Brussels. We did not wait until the high-speed link to London was open before running trains into London. In exactly the same way, why should we wait until the high-speed link is completed with its connections to the East Coast and West Coast Main Lines before running regional services.

  26.  If my constituents have to go round London to pick up the link that is going to add extra time and that defeats the object.
  (Councillor Stacey)  They will still be on the same train. This is the point. The benefit comes from not having to change stations in London, to lug your luggage on the Underground or by taxi or whatever and not having to allow for ... I must say one of the things I thought was disingenuous in the Inter-Capital and Regional Rail study was the comparison between journey times—they used Birmingham as it happens—from Birmingham and Paris of existing services and the through service. The actual time benefit they gave for the through service was actually quite small. What they did not appear to allow for was that if I want to catch a train out of south London I have to assume that Virgin is going to get me into London half an hour late in the first place.

Chairman

  27.  How cruel, Mr Stacey.
  (Councillor Stacey)  All right, an hour late; sorry. Then I do not know how long to allow to get across by Tube and lug my luggage up and down and so on. A through service would mean you did not have to worry about that. You put your bags on the train wherever you pick it up and you get them off again in Paris. No more worries. No time disbenefits of getting from one station into London, whatever.

Mr Stringer

  28.  Most of us are sympathetic to the view that we should like to see more inward tourism from the continent. What fare structure are you basing your analysis on that people will get on to a train? Are you saying that the train is going to be cheaper than aeroplanes? Are you saying it is going to be cheaper than coaches?
  (Councillor Stacey)  Cheaper than aeroplanes: certainly.

  29.  At what level? European air fares are very inexpensive.
  (Councillor Stacey)  They are if you happen to be standing by the travel agent at the time when the spare seat comes through. We all see lots of special offer air fares. Cheaper than the basic air fare. As regards the coach, probably more expensive than the coach because it is faster and more comfortable in competition. That is an issue which you really have to ask operators or potential operators. That is the way we see it happening and that is one of the problems with Inter-Capital and Regional Rail. If their management agreement is based on turnover then selling cheap seats is not necessarily in their interest. That is going back to the issue of why we think the report has come out the wrong way. We think that there is this opportunity there to get people in by a pricing structure which encourages tourism and it is inward tourism we particularly want to encourage but we want to create journey opportunities as well for the residents of the regions.

  30.  Do you accept that there is virtually no market for the business traveller coming into the north west or to Yorkshire on Eurostar?
  (Councillor Stacey)  The issue of the business traveller. There will be some business travel where the ability to hold conferences, meetings and so on on the train rather than trying to sit in an airport lounge and do it will be beneficial. There is also the issue of sustainable business travel. In the future there may be premiums to pay for unsustainable forms of transport, which were excluded from Kyoto agreement and so on and were in the "too difficult" pile for now. We may have to look at that in the future. The whole issue of the almost exponential growth in the contribution of air to greenhouse gases is a matter for the future. Certainly from the Milton Keynes, Peterborough region, yes, we believe there will be the ability to attract business travellers because of the time saving in not having to get to Heathrow or Stansted or wherever it is you are going. Certainly when phase two of the high-speed link opens the line will move further up the country and perhaps include Birmingham, certainly Rugby, places like that, perhaps Doncaster as the journey time comes down. We would not be looking at moving vast numbers at current price structures and speeds from business aeroplanes, no.
  (Mr Medlock)  We were extremely disappointed when the night service was done away with from Glasgow coming down the West Coast main line. We believe that would have had a business interest because many people could have boarded in places like Manchester, Preston. Down the line they could have had their meal, could have slept and they could have been ready for business first thing the following morning in Paris. We were disappointed that this service was not proceeded with. The second point I want to make in respect of air traffic is that the EU were telling us that the airways are becoming so crowded that we cannot afford to use up all this air space on what are virtually domestic flights. We are part of Europe so flying from Manchester, flying from Birmingham, flying from Glasgow, becomes a domestic market and as these air slots are not expandable they need to be reserved for intercontinental traffic. It is in everyone's interests to make sure that we do not limit the ability to develop intercontinent traffic and therefore that is one of the reasons why we should be using rail for these services.

Chairman:  We do not want to follow down that line just at the moment.

Mr Stringer

  31.  I am disappointed with the answers really because you have done no analysis on the inwardbound leisure market. What you seem to be saying is that there is a very limited business market, just south of the Midlands, but that you would be relying on people in what is essentially a low cost market to choose the train because they could not be bothered getting on a low cost aeroplane. It seems to me that the sort of people you are looking to get on the train simply do not exist. They are either looking for low cost trips, in which case they will go by coach, or they will find the cheapest plane and they would not go on what is likely to be an expensive route. I should like you to comment on that and say, so we are clear what we are talking about, what you would estimate the fare to be on Eurostar from Paris to Leeds or from Paris to Manchester.
  (Councillor Stacey)  What you are suggesting does not explain the rapid growth of the high speed rail network in the rest of Europe because there it is competing at distances which perhaps it should not with aircraft for business and very successfully. It is actually seen as travel grows, which it does, and we all know that any new transport system actually encourages additional travel. I am not just talking about the M25. It will actually encourage the growth of the travel market as a whole. This is happening across mainland Europe. With the original high speed service in Europe, if you think of Paris-Lyons, there was a time benefit over air. It was actually set up to compete with air, did so successfully but that was on the basis of time benefit. Now that network has grown and people are making much longer journeys by rail where they can do so more cheaply than mainstream air. You are always going to be able to get the odd cheap package but in terms of mainstream air travel then it is competitive on price. We actually think that that issue plus—and I understand the Consortium's paper also talks about this—20 per cent of the existing Eurostar services market being new travel market, from new travel opportunities not just abstraction from air and ferry, so that has proved it has happened here as well, we think that is enough to sustain the starting of the services now. As to what exact fares should be charged, you have Virgin Trains on next.

Chairman

  32.  We know what we are going to ask other witnesses.
  (Councillor Stacey)  We do not necessarily have the technical models available in detail to say whether it should be £66 or £73 I am afraid. If you are looking for an order of magnitude, that is the sort of thing I should have thought.

Mr Forsythe

  33.  Do you not think a direct service from and to Heathrow would be attractive to some people outside London?
  (Councillor Stacey)  It will be attractive to some people who can get to Heathrow. I do have to say that for many people getting to Heathrow is a great effort in itself and the way of getting there, if you are coming from somewhere in the regions, is either by road, whether it is by car—and that of course is how Heathrow airport makes a lot of its money, by charging people for parking cars when they get the plane—or by coach which is long, slow and difficult quite often, or indeed flying there. I do not think people fly there to get onward air journeys. I do not think anyone really is going to fly to Heathrow to then get the train. The other problem with it——

Chairman

  34.  Large numbers of people fly to Charles de Gaulle in order to get the three railways systems which are directly based within the main terminal. Why should this kind of service if it were offered at Heathrow be any different?
  (Councillor Stacey)  If you are flying to Charles de Gaulle to get a train perhaps on to Lyons, by flying you have made your decision. We come back to time savings and resource availability and so on. You have made your large bit of your journey first and then you make your small connection afterwards, exactly the same as if you were going to get on the RER at Charles de Gaulle to go into the centre of Paris. I am not sure that you would make a short plane journey to take a long train journey.

Mr Forsythe

  35.  It is said that there are difficulties as far as security is concerned, for instance immigration and passport services and so forth which would have to be looked after if we were coming down from Glasgow or Manchester of Birmingham or whatever on the Eurostar. Are you quite happy that all of those things would be in place in whatever station if someone went along to catch the Eurostar?
  (Councillor Stacey)  There are a couple of issues to do with security. One of them is hopefully that thanks to the Good Friday agreement some of the security concerns are partially relaxed.

  36.  I am not referring to that. I am referring to passport control, immigration, which you normally have to go through and if you are going to go through it at different points on the line then you would have to ensure that people are not getting on, say in Glasgow, and getting off again. That sort of thing. I am not suggesting they would get off. In order to get from part of the United Kingdom to another part of Europe you have to have your passport, go through immigration. That all has to be done wherever you board the train.
  (Councillor Stacey)  Yes, it will have to be done and it was always envisaged that would have to be done. When using the train you can do it two ways. The French tend to do it on the train. In Britain we tend to do it at Waterloo but we also do it at Ashford and we will have to do it at Stratford and Ebbsfleet. The system has to be there to work wherever someone is getting on. There was provision originally for it to be done on-train with special coaches and so on.

  37.  Do you think those things are in place?
  (Councillor Stacey)  They must be in place at Ashford. Ask the people who operate the trains. How do they deal with it at Ashford, how are they going to deal with it at the new stations on the high-speed link.

  38.  I understand that but you are suggesting, you are here putting a case. I am meeting your suggestions that it would be a great benefit for your particular part of the country if you had a direct link into the high-speed link. What provision has been made or looked at for those circumstances?
  (Councillor Stacey)  The provision would be the same as for the existing service at Ashford as I understand it. It would be no different.

  39.  You have not looked at it.
  (Councillor Stacey)  We have not seen that there is a need to look at it because it is being successfully operated at Ashford.

Mr Forsythe:  With all due respect, that is not operating from the other parts you are making a case for.


 
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