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


Memorandum by Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority and Executive (RES 10)

EUROSTAR PASSENGER SERVICES BETWEEN BRITAIN AND CONTINENTAL EUROPE

  1. The Committee may be aware that Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 placed a duty upon the British Railways Board (BRB) to prepare by 31 December 1989 a plan stating measures which the Board proposed to take or which it considered ought to be taken by any person in the United Kingdom or France with the aim of securing the provision or improvement of international through rail services serving various parts of the United Kingdom.

  2. This duty under Section 40 of the 1987 Act to prepare a plan was discharged in December 1989 by the publication of the document International Rail Services for the United Kingdom. The present Strathclyde Passenger Authority is the successor of Strathclyde Regional Council, which was a consultee in the preparation of the BRB's plan. The then Chairman of the Board, Sir Robert Reid, acknowledged in the foreword to the document that the objective of the consultation was achieved "thanks to the generous amount of time given to discussion by those involved."

  3. Effectively, therefore, the discharge of the BRB's Section 40 obligation depended on the goodwill and active co-operation of a wide range of business and public authority consultees, all of whom invested significant resources in the statutory processes established by the Channel Tunnel Act on the premise that the benefits of international through services should and would extend beyond London and the south east of England.

  4. The BRB's 1989 document International Rail Services for the United Kingdom stated at page 9:

    In addition, a number of direct through day services is proposed from beyond London to Paris and Brussels. The key markets for those services are the West Midlands, the North West, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland.

  It added at page 10:

    It is also intended that a limited number of night trains will operate from beyond London to mainland Europe. Current studies indicate that there is demand for two night services to and from Scotland and one to and from the West of England and South Wales. On mainland Europe these trains will divide so that both Paris and Brussels are served, the Brussels train continuing to Cologne or Amsterdam.

  5. Thus the 1989 plan recognised the need for through international passenger services extending to Scotland as well as to the main population centres in England. While the BRB caveated the proposals by reference to the duty imposed by Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act to run its international services on a fully-commercial basis, Sir Robert Reid stated in his foreword: "I have no reason to doubt that the investment will prove to be viable."

  6. The 1989 plan remains the only statutory statement of intent arising from Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which in turn reflected Parliament's concern to ensure that the whole of the UK benefited from the creation of a fixed rail link with continental Europe. On the strength of this document, not only was the investment in Regional Eurostar and Nightstar rolling stock authorised, but substantial infrastructure work was also undertaken to enable these trains to reach their intended destinations and to provide appropriate servicing and passenger facilities. For example, platform gauging works were undertaken at a number of stations within the SPT area to accommodate the passage of Eurostar trains, while considerable investment took place at Polmadie depot in Glasgow to enable these trains to be serviced between journeys and to be stabled in accordance with the security requirements for international services. In addition, a dedicated passenger lounge was built at Glasgow Central station to provide the necessary segregation of international and domestic traffic.

  7. Besides providing the framework for the railways' investment and operational planning for the introduction of international through passenger services, the BRB's 1989 document also remained the basis for subsequent public policy statements about such services. For example, in its 1993 response to the Scottish Affairs Committee's report on the future of Scotland's transport links with Europe, the then government took as given the proposals for Scottish services contained in International Rail Services for the United Kingdom, despite the technical delays which had arisen in their implementation. Paragraph xii of the same response document (Cm 2335) commented positively on the prospects for the North of London daytime services.

  8. The section of the Channel Tunnel Act which require BRB to prepare a plan for international through services serving various parts of the United Kingdom also placed the Board under a continuing duty to keep the plan under review and from time to time revise it an to cause any revisions to be published. Although the BRB's former European Passenger Services subsidiary has been divested, this situation was clearly anticipated by the Channel Tunnel Act, which extended the Section 40 planning obligation to include "measures which the Board consider ought to be taken by any person in the United Kingdom or France".

  9. This important statutory role remains with the Board, despite railway privatisation. However, the BRB appears not to have taken any steps to review its 1989 document nor to publish a revision. Strathclyde Passenger Transport accordingly concludes that the 1989 plan remains extant and provides the statutory basis, in terms of the Channel Tunnel Act, for the continuing expectation that through international passenger rail services will be provided between Scotland and continental Europe.

  10. The Passenger Transport Authority and its Executive have therefore been concerned at the various press and parliamentary statements that have recently been made about the future of the North of London services, and in particular suggestions that the publicly-financed rolling stock intended for this purpose might be used in other ways. The chair of the Authority, Councillor Charles Gordon, has written on several occasions to the Deputy Prime Minister's office on this matter, seeking clarification of the government's intentions. After being advised that the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) consortium, rather than the government itself or the BRB, would carry out a further review of intentional through services, Councillor Gordon wrote to Mr Prescott again on 30 November 1998, reminding him of the requirements of the Channel Tunnel Act, and pointing out the inappropriateness of permitting public policy functions to be exercised by a commercial consortium, one of whose members had a vested financial interest in a particular outcome.

  11. The letter to the Deputy Prime Minister went on to state that the adoption of any revised proposal for Section 40 services which had the effect of short-circuiting the established statutory process might necessitate the Authority's considering a judicial review, and that, because of the interest of all the representative local authority associations in this matter, Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority might well be joined by others in such an action. The letter also intimated that the Authority would in addition consider an action of specific implement against the British Railways Board requiring it to fulfil its duties under Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 by carrying out its own review of international through services, consulting thereon with the bodies who have a legitimate expectation to be consulted, and publishing the results of such review.

  12. This letter to the Deputy Prime Minister is of course of recent date, and no reply has yet been received.

  13. In drawing these matters to the Committee's attention, Strathclyde Passenger Transport is particularly concerned by suggestions that Parliament's original intentions in including the provisions of Section 40 within the Channel Tunnel Act might be frustrated by separate considerations arising primarily from the nature of the commercial arrangements that have been made to safeguard the building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. SPT would remind the Committee that London and the south east of England have to date been the primary beneficiaries of the improved links with continental Europe made possible by the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the introduction of Eurostar passenger services, and that the greatest proportionate benefit from the completion of the CTRL will again accrue to the most prosperous region of the United Kingdom.

  14. Moreover, because of the original intention that Channel Tunnel services should be provided without public subsidy, and in view of the way in which a test of narrow commercial viability will apparently continue to be applied to any proposals to provide through European passenger services to or from other parts of Britain, it is important to remind the Committee of the extent of financial support which has been so far provided by taxpayers throughout the UK for Channel Tunnel rail services and which will be required for the further enhancement of London's rail links with the Tunnel. These include the transfer of publicly-funded European Passenger Services assets valued at £3 billion to London and Continental Railways; the writing-off of £1.3 billion of Eurostar debt; and a taxpayer contribution of £1.8 billion to the estimated £3 billion cost of the high speed rail link. This public sector contribution of over £6 billion is around three times the total proceeds received by the Treasury from the sale of Railtrack.

  15. The scale of the past and proposed subsidy to Eurostar's London services and the CTRL provides the public policy context for appraisal of the reasonable requirements of other parts of the United Kingdom for the enhanced direct access to continental Europe that is made possible by the Channel Tunnel. So far, however, there is no evidence that either the government or the successful consortium intends to assess the case for services beyond London against the same criteria that have apparently been brought to bear in justifying the level of public support required for enhanced London Eurostar services. Instead, there is strong and reasonable suspicion in Scotland and elsewhere that the Regional Eurostar trainsets that have been built at UK taxpayers' expense and as the outcome of the Section 40 processes may be "high-jacked" to meet the commercial aspirations of one consortium member for surface connections from Heathrow Airport. This British Airways proposition appears to derive more from competition in the international aviation industry than from any consideration of the need to achieve an equitable regional balance in UK transport strategy.

  16. As already indicated, the Channel Tunnel Act made specific provision for the formulation of plans for international through services serving various parts of the UK, and also for these plans to be kept under review. This duty was entrusted to the British Railways Board. As the Committee will be aware, the government now envisages that the Board's existing statutory powers should be more actively used pending the establishing of the Strategic Rail Authority.

  17. Given the significant commitment of public funds entailed in existing and proposed London-based Channel Tunnel passenger rail operations, the strategic importance of through international passenger services to other parts of Britain, the inadequacy of direct air lines between Scotland and the near continent, and the potential for enhancement of long-distance rail services now provided by the West Coast Main Line upgrade, it is essential that any revision of the existing statutory plans for international through services should be undertaken on a comprehensive and completely transparent basis, and with full consultation with all interested parties.

  18. The mechanism for such a review already exists in the provisions of Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act. As indicated, Strathclyde Passenger Transport considers that any proposals for significant reductions in the services recommended in the BRB's 1989 plan would be open to legal challenge if they did not themselves result from the processes established in that Act. In addition, there would be legitimate public and political criticism, if for reasons of commercial expediency, the transport interests of the south east of England were again to be favoured at the expense of other parts of the United Kingdom in the redefinition of development plans for Channel Tunnel services.

7 December 1998



 
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