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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

MR MICHAEL TAPLIN, MR GEOFFREY CLAYDON AND MR ROBERT TARR

WEDNESDAY 12 JANUARY 2000

  60. Yes.
  (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 being introduced?
  (Mr Taplin) I am afraid I do not know the background there, Chairman.

Mr Olner

  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 networks?
  (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 out?
  (Mr Taplin) Not necessarily because most of the lines we are talking about are suburban lines and probably do not have much freight traffic.

Mr Bennett

  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?

Chairman

  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.

Dr Ladyman

  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.

Dr Ladyman

  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.

Chairman

  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 opened—Midland Metro is a good example, which I know very well—had 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.

Dr Ladyman

  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.

Chairman

  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.


 
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