Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 2000
(Mr Taplin) There are certainly some places in the
world where the ability to get funding is not as rigorous as it
is in the UK and therefore light rail schemes have been built
as an act of faith. I can think of Valencia in Spain, for instance,
where I heard the Director say it was built because it was a good
idea and, happily, it has been successful, but they did not have
to go through the hoops which British promoters would have to
go through to get the funding for that situation.
61. Has that prevented cheaper schemes from
(Mr Taplin) I am afraid I do not know the background
62. In answer to one of the questions that Madam
Chairman posed you said about motorists being attracted to light
rail systems and what have you, but if you look at what Croydon
were saying about the Croydon Tramlink, the local authority really
wanted it in order to put Croydon back on the map. It was nothing
to do with the motorists, was it?
(Mr Taplin) I believe it certainly was, Chairman.
In the original days of the justification of Tramlink the figures
that were produced showed that very significant numbers of motorists
would switch from using their cars to using Tramlink to reach
the centre of Croydon and that was one of the main selling points
of the scheme. It may well indeed put Croydon on the map because
all good cities have light rail systems.
63. Surely the Croydon Tramlink only went ahead
because there was a very good financial case that they would make
money out of it fairly quickly.
(Mr Taplin) It went ahead in terms of the scheme because
the local authority and the promoters, London Transport, believed
it would be beneficial for the overall traffic situation in Croydon.
They then had to sell that to the private sector and they had
to raise half the money and the private sector took account of
the financial benefit of the system as well.
64. Could I ask whether your Association welcomes
the prospect of the Strategic Rail Authority being able to fund
the integration of light rapid transport systems with heavy rail
(Mr Taplin) There are increasing examples of shared
track and clearly the SRA may well have a role in making sure
that the whole service is integrated and in funding a complete
corridor of service. What we do not want to happen is that the
funding that the Government gives to the SRA as one big pot becomes
the funding for light rail schemes and therefore the heavy rail
takes over and very little is left for light rail.
65. Can you not see a problem in the fact that
most heavy rail users now see a conflict between passenger and
freight anywhere where there is under-capacity provided by Railtrack?
Is it not true that the light rapid system is going to be squeezed
(Mr Taplin) Not necessarily because most of the lines
we are talking about are suburban lines and probably do not have
much freight traffic.
66. Do you really think you can justify shared
track on the basis of safety?
(Mr Taplin) Yes, that has been accepted by the Health
and Safety Executive and the Railway Inspectorate. The extension
of the Tyne & Wear Metro to Sunderland has already been authorised
and will be carried out and, of course, it works overseas in places
like Saarbrücken and Karlsruhe and Zwickau.
67. So you think it really is a viable thing
as far as both freight and passenger services are concerned?
(Mr Taplin) Yes I do. If you take an example in London
which is not dissimilar, the Bakerloo Line has been running on
the heavy rail lines to Watford since 1930-something without problems.
68. If you take a constituency like mine, there
are a considerable number of limestone trains coming down from
the Pennines which pass what would be commuter services and which
could be light trams. Would it not be a pretty horrific accident
if you got a heavy limestone freight train hitting a light tram?
(Mr Taplin) All accidents can be horrific, Chairman.
Indeed, we already have the situation on the current rail network
where if a limestone train met up with a diesel pacer unit there
would be an horrific accident. I do not believe that the relative
construction types of the rolling stock is the issue. It is a
matter of having the safety systems in place to make sure that
that does not happen.
69. Do you think freight could be used on tramways?
(Mr Taplin) Yes. It has been in the past. It was not
economically sensible in a free economy, it happened more in Eastern
Europe under the Communist regimes. Interestingly, the recent
decision to build a Mercedes motorcar factory in Dresden has meant
they are now proposing to use the local tramway system to move
parts into that factory.
Mr Bennett: Could you give us a for instance
in the UK where that might be possible?
70. That is an interesting example, but is that
subsidised either by the Lander or by the German government?
(Mr Taplin) I do not know the details on that. I suspect
it is subsidised by Daimler-Benz.
Chairman: Is it? My experience of Daimler-Benz
is that they are not bad at managing to get subsidies from various
people and considering they are a very wealthy company, they are
astonishingly good at it. We will not hold you to that.
71. I would like to take you back to the economics
of these systems for a moment. I should tell you to start off
with that I am relatively new to this Committee and I have not
yet had time to study all the written evidence in detail. If you
have not done it already in your written evidence, would you be
able to put together some sort of economic model to help us understand
how these types of systems are costed over 15 years and where
the payback comes? Would you be able to build that in with the
sort of questions we were asking the previous witnesses about
population density and how you would make an assessment of what
the pay off and viability would be?
(Mr Tarr) I think we could certainly try and sketch
out an illustrative model. I think probably the most important
thing is not really how the economics actually work but where
there are problems with the economics working at the moment, for
instance the various hurdles that promoters of schemes have to
jump over in order to satisfy the Government that a scheme is
viable and that it will actually attract government assistance.
Some of those almost certainly are done regardless of what makes
a sensible economic model in terms of what you are thinking of.
72. So you are acknowledging in that answer
that subsidies are essential to these schemes, that none of these
schemes would stand on its own legs as a purely private investment?
(Mr Tarr) It is not as easy as that. It is the case
with a light rail scheme that you are creating an infrastructure
from scratch. When you are looking at some of the apparent alternatives,
for instance things like guided buses, what they are actually
doing is using existing infrastructure which has been paid for
by somebody else and the promoter of the guided bus scheme is
not actually having either to build that infrastructure or to
fund it, they actually just use the infrastructure, i.e. the roads,
which are provided for them without them having to meet the initial
capital costs. Okay, they might have to pay for sections of those
roads to be upgraded into guided busways, but the reality in the
UK so far is that the actual amount of guided busways in any particular
route has been nominal.
73. Would it not follow from that then if somebody
is building an infrastructure to carry a light railway system,
in a sense it is like he is building another road? It is like
we are dealing with a congestion problem by building a second
road, it just happens to be a second road that is going to carry
a railway train rather than a car. If all we do in doing that
is allow the old road to continue to be used in the same way,
then what will happen is you will suck new motorists in to fill
up the old road.
(Mr Tarr) There is a number of issues here, is there
not? Certainly there is the question of who pays for the infrastructure.
Basic transport infrastructure for an area is an interesting question
in itself, should it be the public who provide that or should
it be the actual operator of the system who then recharges the
people using it? There are various ways you can do that. The question
is whether or not if you build a light rail scheme all that happens
is that you transfer people off the roads on to the light rail
scheme and then you fill up the roads with more people, and that
may happen. That is a question of social policy, government policy,
as to whether or not you want to fill up the roads again. All
the signs are that actually the growth of road traffic looks as
if it is going to continue in almost an inexorable rise. It seems,
from what one has read recently, as if the Commission for Integrated
Transport has actually persuaded the Government that turning the
tide back again is not possible. The best you can do is actually
reduce the rate of increase. I think we would say that actually
things do not need to be that gloomy. You can take a decision
and you can say, "We have so much capacity for moving people."
People have, it seems, an ever increasing propensity to travel,
by whatever mode they use. If you are building a light rail system
which increases the capacity for travel on a particular corridor
and people transfer from the roads to do it you have two choices
basically, by introducing various traffic restraints you can reduce
the level of traffic on the road, take advantage of that shift,
if you like, or you can say, "Let us accept we have more
capacity and we can allow there to be more traffic." The
current accepted wisdom is that as part of building a light rail
scheme you would actually introduce traffic restraint in order
to reduce the amount of road traffic. You do not have to do that
because that is a social policy decision as to whether or not
you do that.
74. This is a very interesting argument but
it does not help us inasmuch as you were asked about the models
concerned. The real truth is that the Committee would be interested
to know whether anyone has done a series of simple equations that
says, "This is what has to go in upfront, this is what is
actually needed and this is the positive result." Has anyone
done that? Obviously the individual companies will have done it
in relation to their own interests. Has there been any fairly
independent assessment of those sorts of models?
(Mr Tarr) I am not quite sure there has on the lines
you are thinking of.
75. Without putting words into people's mouths
this is an expensive way of doing things. We just want to have
some vague indication, can it be justified?
(Mr Tarr) Every scheme which has been built has been
justified. It has been justified in the most amazing detail. If
you take the last few light rail schemes which have been built,
in order to get Government support and Government funding they
have had to go through all of the rigours of the most extreme
analysis of the possibilities for solving the transport problems
of that particular area. Basically any light rail scheme which
has been built in the last eight years has had to demonstrate,
as part of its justification process, that there was not a better
and more cost effective alternative. Every scheme that has recently
openedMidland Metro is a good example, which I know very
wellhad to demonstrate, before the Government of the day
would ever give approval to it, that, for instance, a guided or
unguided bus way was not a more cost effective alternative. Huge
amounts of money, I may say, were spent on employing consultants
in order to demonstrate that to the Government. The Government
were satisfied eventually. Mr Coates, I believe it was, was the
gentlemen who had to be satisfied.
76. Is what you are saying, then, that these
types of systems can only be justified when for physical reasons
or because of the design of a particular city the transport problems
of that city can only be solved by constructing one of these systems?
You cannot justify these systems on the basis of saying, "This
is the most cost effective way of sorting this problem"?
You are saying, "Physically it is the only solution to the
problem and there is not a model that says you get more bang for
your buck by spending £5 million on a kilometre of roads
than spending £5 million building a light railway system"?
(Mr Tarr) The systems which have been built have demonstrated
that you get more bangs for your buck by building the light rail
system, they had to demonstrate that.
77. There are these models?
(Mr Tarr) It is a Section 56 appraisal process, that
is what it is.
78. Can you tell us if there is anyway in which
promoters ought to be helped to obtain early government support?
(Mr Tarr) The biggest problem which promoters and
private sector partners have faced with light rail schemes is
actually the Government sitting on the fence until the absolute
last moment. I think that actually the Government could, as I
perceive it, solve that problem just by determining to do so.
79. I ask you again, what method would you use
of supporting a promoter at an earlier point of a particular scheme?
(Mr Tarr) I hope it will be the case that the local
transport plans process will actually provide a mechanism for
the Government to do this.