Examination of witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1998
MR W WHITEHORN
and MR M FURLONG
100. On the Manchester trains you would
be stopping at how many other places on the way through England?
(Mr Furlong) The Manchester services would stop
at Stafford, Crewe, Milton Keynes and Watford.
101. Would you be confident that you could
stop passengers getting off at those places?
(Mr Furlong) Yes; certainly. In terms of the security
aspects, we are looking at on-train security. There will be selected
door opening and there would be trained personnel at each door.
102. Selected door opening is already a
specification on this rolling stock is it?
(Mr Furlong) Yes; it certainly is, yes.
103. You do not mean Stockport instead of
Stafford do you?
(Mr Furlong) Sorry: Stockport. Apologies.
104. Unfortunately for you there are members
from all sorts of counties rushing up and down.
(Mr Furlong) Not Stoke-on-Trent or Leeds.
105. Not Stoke-on-Trent and not Stafford
but Stockport. It is a different place also north of Watford.
(Mr Whitehorn) May I add on the subject of security
and the boarding of trains that we have looked at this extensively
and met with Eurostar UK. There is a general agreement that the
plans we have for the management of security are feasible in every
sense of the word.
(Mr Furlong) Certainly the plans for security
and immigration have been very well developed by Eurostar UK and
we see no problem in taking those over and running them.
106. And meeting the costs of them?
(Mr Furlong) And meeting the necessary costs.
107. In answer to my colleague Mr Stringer's
question about viability from Heathrow, you said there were two
areas where you believed the proposition was not viable. If I
recall correctly you responded at some length about the technical
non-viability. What about the commercial non-viability which you
are alleging? Would you like to expand on that a little bit?
(Mr Furlong) We have looked at the likely catchment
areas for a Heathrow originating service and it certainly has
a local catchment area in the west of London. There is a catchment
area of feeder services both domestically and internationally.
However, from the work we have done, and the indications that
a Heathrow to Paris service would be likely to take in the order
of three hours forty minutes, we do not believe that faced with
an option, customers in any significant numbers will choose between
an option which puts them in Paris in 40 minutes, 50 minutes,
and then half an hour into the centre, an hour and a half journey,
versus a three hour forty minute journey.
108. You offered to operate these services
without extra cost. Could you tell us whether you were in any
way involved in the assessments which were put forward by LCR
(Mr Furlong) For the inter-capital services?
(Mr Furlong) Yes, Virgin in its role as part of
the original London and Continental consortium was involved in
the drawing up of the business plan and looking at the numbers,
along with a number of other companies including National Express,
110. I know all about the others. They are
not here. I am talking to you. Did you put in an assessment of
(Mr Furlong) Independently, no. As part of the
111. You put in some evidence on which the
case was based.
(Mr Furlong) Yes, we put forward a view.
112. When the Deputy Prime Minister said
one of the problems with the service was that there were over-optimistic
assessments, do you agree with that?
(Mr Furlong) It depends very much on the commercial
strategy which is followed.
113. Does that mean yes, you do agree that
they were over-optimistic?
(Mr Furlong) In terms of the numbers; obviously
the Eurostar service has under-performed on the numbers which
were being suggested.
114. So the assessments were wrong.
(Mr Whitehorn) No. The Deputy Prime Minister was
referring partly to the original assessment of traffic for LCR
and Eurostar done prior to its ownership by a private consortium.
Two sets of assessments were done. In the late 1980s the assessment
was that Eurostar by now would be carrying several million passengers
more than it is today. The second assessment was done in 1995-96
when a consortium of companies which formed LCR originally was
looking at the traffic numbers. Those traffic numbers have actually
largely been achieved. One of the problems which LCR had was the
financing proposals rather than the traffic numbers themselves.
115. Surely there is a direct connection
between the money people are prepared to put up and the accuracy
of the assessments which you have put to them?
(Mr Whitehorn) That is absolutely true.
116. Backers have a nasty habit of expecting
you to stick to your business plan.
(Mr Whitehorn) That is absolutely true but there
was a very short space of time and a Channel Tunnel fire did intervene.
That did knock back the growth of the traffic quite significantly.
If you look at the trend line of the traffic, it was pretty much
on track with the original assessments which were done in 1995.
Is that correct?
(Mr Furlong) Yes.
117. You are going to give us anyway some
more evidence and figures, models and these two alternative schemes.
(Mr Furlong) Yes, certainly; that is correct.
118. We would not be correct to have just
the odd reservation about your assessments.
(Mr Whitehorn) In business it is always a good
idea to have reservations about everything.
119. You obviously know Virgin very well.
(Mr Whitehorn) I know our competitors very well
and I certainly have reservations about many of the things they
say, especially the things they say to this Committee. However,
it is very, very important, when we are looking at this, for the
Committee to understand that this is something we would propose
to do at our risk. There would be no public money involved.