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


Examination of witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1998

MR W WHITEHORN and MR M FURLONG

  80.  Are you saying that from Doncaster there is a possible service into London?
  (Mr Furlong)  Into Paris. Yes.

  81.  Where is the bottleneck then? When you get to Doncaster you then have the division to West Yorkshire and to North Yorkshire and up to Scotland and stations beyond. Have you done a study on both sides, both for the West Yorkshire area and for continuing to the north?
  (Mr Furlong)  No. It is our intention to run the East Coast services ultimately from Glasgow via Edinburgh and then down the East Coast and that would certainly be our intention. We only became aware literally this morning that there could potentially be a serious delay on the East Coast.

  82.  So you are not contemplating going into Leeds.
  (Mr Furlong)  No; that was never the agreed route and has not been cleared by Railtrack.

  83.  It has not been cleared by Railtrack.
  (Mr Furlong)  No.

  84.  In the early days they were talking of Leeds, which is the largest city in Yorkshire, population of 4.5 million people.
  (Mr Furlong)  Yes; certainly, yes.

  85.  You are saying there is no connection from that service.
  (Mr Furlong)  There will not be a direct Eurostar service from Leeds.

  86.  Have you made representations for that? You say it is Railtrack which is the organisation which says that is not viable.
  (Mr Furlong)  Currently the relationship is between Eurostar UK and Railtrack. We understand that the route which has been cleared and approved, or certainly the route which was cleared and approved by both organisations, did not involve Leeds. Therefore Leeds would have to be served by a feeder service.

  87.  Have representations been made for Leeds to be included in the system?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  We certainly asked Railtrack about Leeds and Leeds was not in the planning which had been done ever since the 1987 Channel Tunnel Act with regard to a direct service for a regional Eurostar. Therefore no money has been spent on that section of the route at all.

  88.  Was a reason given?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  No, no reason was given, was it?
  (Mr Furlong)  No, not that I am aware.

Chairman:  To upset the people of West Yorkshire may be a highly dangerous situation.

Mr Stringer

  89.  Do you have an order of magnitude or an exact price for a ticket from Paris to Manchester or Paris to Glasgow?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  We have a range of ticket prices.
  (Mr Furlong)  Certainly there would be a number of different classes and as with any travel organisation, airline or railway, it would depend upon the flexibility. From Manchester, for example, we would be looking at a headline fare of around £69 return.

  90.  That would be what used to be called second class, would it?
  (Mr Furlong)  Yes; standard.

  91.  If Virgin were to run the regional services, would they be subsidised by any other part of the Virgin service?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  No; most definitely not. The whole idea here is that we put together a business plan which is stand-alone and in fact we would be paying a commercial rate to Virgin Rail, for example, for provision of some services by it. This would be a new stand-alone business with new management completely separate to the existing operations of Virgin. We have identified individuals who would work on the service as well.

  92.  Do you believe the public should be at all concerned about airlines or companies which run airlines running railways? Do you think there is a potential conflict of interests?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  I do not believe there is a conflict of interests. The whole nature of where transport has to go over the next 15 or 20 years is to a more integrated approach to the way which travel services are offered. One of the inheritances of the last 25 years has been a very disintegrated system generally of transport and our belief is that bus companies, rail companies, airline companies will work together more and more in the future. However, there still needs to be competition, which is a different issue altogether to one type of operator operating another type of business.

  93.  Are you concerned, because I know there was a lot of publicity at the time British Airways won the bid to be in the Eurostar Consortium, that they may benefit by running the train service from creating values in extra slots at Heathrow?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  That is a different issue to the issue of whether or not Heathrow trains would work. May I take the answer in two parts? We believe that Heathrow trains to Paris are not economically or technically viable in the medium term.

Chairman

  94.  Not technically viable.
  (Mr Whitehorn)  Not technically viable either. We believe that post-terminal five, they could be technically viable. We believe there is a great difficulty.

Mr Stringer

  95.  Can you define what you mean by "technical"?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  What I mean by "technical" is that in order to get Heathrow trains to work effectively out of the current tunnel structure and current station structure as has been set up for the Heathrow Express, which is exactly what they would have to use, there will need to be some considerable expenditure. On the other question, which is the question of slots, British Airways obviously, with regard to the way they want to develop their business at Heathrow, want more slots at Heathrow than they currently have. Anything which they can do to get those slots they will do. They will move services from Heathrow airport to say Stansted airport, as they have just done with the Cyprus route, as they did with the Inverness route a year and a half ago, as they have done with regional routes like the Brymon Airways routes down to Plymouth. It is in their gift through the ownership of airlines which they took over such as DanAir and Brymon to do that. However, with regard to the Heathrow service to Paris, I still think that even if they were to operate a Heathrow service to Paris in the future when it became technically viable for them to do so, even after that date they would still operate an airline route to Paris. They may operate it at a lower level of slots but in the overall circumstance of what is happening with the slot distribution at Heathrow, it is not one of the major issues. Certainly from our point of view our concern would only be the substitution of slots for use of train services at Heathrow, if it were in the context of another deal whereby they were having to give up slots, for instance the BA/American deal which we all know about. Out of that context the answer to the question would be different.

Mr Bennett

  96.  If I were cynical I would notice that Virgin trains are short of rolling stock and reliable rolling stock from Manchester to London. Would it not fit in neatly if you could use one of these trains as the first train out of Manchester each morning to London and on to Paris with 99 per cent of the passengers getting off in London, then picking up a new set of passengers in London, taking business away from the existing service?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  It would be fantastic.

  97.  So that is what you are trying to do.
  (Mr Whitehorn)  No; it is not what we are trying to do.

  98.  How many people would you expect on those trains to get off part way through the journey?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  None under the business plan we put together, because we are not allowed to carry domestic passengers on the regional Eurostars.

  99.  You would not be coming along in six months' time, if you started the service, saying you were running into a few difficulties and it would be so much easier if that part of the package were waived?
  (Mr Whitehorn)  We might after three years if we had not made the service work, but after three years we will be replacing the entire fleet of trains on the West Coast Main Line anyway with tilting high-speed 140-mile-per-hour trains which will more than take care of the capacity problem. The simple situation is this. The law does not allow the regional Eurostars if they are to operate to carry domestic passengers. We have not based our business plan, which Mark and the team he has been working with have put together, on the basis of carrying domestic passengers. If this Committee were to think that domestic passengers would be a good idea and the Deputy Prime Minister and DETR and the Immigration Service and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and All thought it was a good idea, then we should be very happy to carry domestic passengers and make use of the scarce resource of train sets in this country because this country has a massive shortage of rolling stock; what you say is absolutely right. This is why I believe it is a crime that these trains are sitting virtually unused. They are only used for the occasional filler service at the moment from the inter-capital service from London to Paris. What you say in principle is something we should be interested in but we are not basing our business plan on it because we believe it is again going to be very difficult within any medium timeframe to persuade Immigration Service and others to carry domestic passengers.


 
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