Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
120. I think it was right as well, but what
I am not clear about is, in the answers that you have given me,
when you keep talking about a local failure, whether that local
failure has implications for the whole of the rail network, and
I think that is what we are anxious to try to ascertain; and you
are sending me out confusing signals?
(Mr Corbett) The process that we have in for managing
the maintenance contractors has been in place now for four years,
and although aspects of it are unsatisfactory, and we are addressing
that with the new contract, that process has actually delivered
improvements in broken rails, in train performance, in track quality,
and a variety of other things. So, in that sense, when you actually
look at the data, it does not look like the system is bust and
it is the system that has actually delivered improvements. Our
initial search round the country suggests that there are not any
other rails in the Hatfield condition, but we are quite right
to check, and it does suggest that therefore the failures were
local. But I think we do have to ask ourselves whether the processes
we have got in place are robust enough to capture these local
failures, because, obviously, in this circumstance, they were
not. But what happens with these failures is, it is sort of multi-factorial,
it requires that everything has to go wrong at once and that is
when you get a disaster; that is what happened at Ladbroke Grove.
121. But did it all go wrong at once, given
that you were notified, you say, in January this year, that there
was a deterioration in this stretch of track; so did it all go
wrong at once?
(Mr Corbett) That is a matter for the inquiry. And
I know, from Ladbroke Grove, that what appeared on the day to
have happened, three months later it all looked different, and
people were talking about a misaligned manganese frog that had
jolted the AWS. And then, right at the end of phase one of the
inquiry, people suddenly realised that the driver reminder appliance
had not been put on by the driver at the previous single yellow,
and that actually the mistake was not made at 109, it was made
at the previous signal; and that was nine months after the crash.
Train crashes are very, very complicated things, and, rather than
two weeks after the crash shooting from the hip and giving premature
answers, and I think I have probably gone too far already, I think
it is better that we let that process go on and learn the lessons
as the facts emerge.
Mrs Gorman: Mr Corbett, I would like to say
that I think that your gesture in offering your resignation was
an honourable one, and there are very few people in the political
world who are prepared to fall on their sword when some mistake
under their responsibility has occurred. And, secondly, I would
like to ask you whether you feel, in the administrative side of
your industry, there just is a plethora of people intervening
at the administrative level on issues of day-to-day management,
that there are just too many chiefs and not enough Indians? And,
if you do think that, do you approve of the appointment of yet
another body, in the Strategic Rail Authority, to start intervening
within the administration of your industry?
Mr Olner: A yes or a no will do.
Chairman: Surprise us, Mr Corbett.
122. I think you can say "pass", if
you want to?
(Mr Corbett) No, I will say what I think. I think
the Strategic Rail Authority is our best chance. I think that
Alastair Morton is a remarkable man, he is a big man, he has managed
complex businesses himself, he has got the wisdom and experience
to help the industry sort itself out underneath him. Two days
after the crash the industry all met at Railtrack House, and it
was one of those meetings where because of the trauma of what
had happened, and there were not any regulators present, everyone
was open with each other; and one person said, "You know,
the real problem we've got is we're putting a quart into a pint
pot," and another person said, "What we should really
do is tear up these contracts and just run the railway properly."
Now you cannot do that, but it is all symptomatic of the problem,
because the industry is overloaded, the growth has surprised everybody,
we have got huge investment coming in, which has never happened
before, we have got a multitude of objectives, and the pot is
beginning to boil over. And after that meeting we then came out
of Railtrack House and basically sort of presented that. But we
do need Alastair Morton as the umbrella under which we can work
that through. And that is what is happening at the moment, as
we speak, these five work streams on the various tensions that
we have identified are being set up, and we can sort it out under
Alastair's leadership and move the whole thing forward.
123. Can I ask one question of Mr Middleton.
You have described the way in which rails appear to be cracking
more, recently, and I know nothing, nothing at all, about railway
lines, so then I will ask my question, which has been put to me
by an old railwayman who asked me to ask it. He tells me that,
once upon a time, railways were laid on wooden sleepers, which
absorbed a great deal of the pressure, and that nowadays the modern
rail lines are laid on concrete, or something much less flexible;
and that, in his view, could be a contributing factor. And it
may be a simplistic question but I would like to know what you
(Mr Middleton) I think modern railway track needs
to be very heavy and very resilient under very high-speed and
very heavy loads, and heavy track with concrete sleepers is the
modern standard. When I was first a permanent way engineer, there
used to be a school of thought that thought that new-fangled concrete
sleepers were not the right thing, and there was great attachment
to the old wooden sleepers that the railways used to use. My own
personal view is that the modern design of concrete sleeper is
the most appropriate design for a high-speed railway.
124. I just want to raise a question on the
issue of training, because you did say earlier that 20,000 people
employed on maintenance, large companies; and in a report, the
conclusions of one of our reports, in 1998-99, we do recommend
that Railtrack also should tighten its procedures for selecting
and training its contractors. Did you act upon that, Mr Corbett?
(Mr Corbett) The procedures that are in place for
the letting of the new maintenance contracts are tighter than
they were, yes.
125. When did that procedure change?
(Mr Corbett) That would have changed in 1999, last
126. Following this recommendation that the
(Mr Corbett) Yes.
127. I think it would be interesting to know
the schedule, because, of course, a lot of people have still not
signed the new maintenance contracts, have they?
(Mr Corbett) No; that is correct.
128. Some of them are being negotiated still,
and there is quite a small number that will have changed since
(Mr Corbett) That is correct.
129. One of the impressions that I gather, Mr
Corbett, is that a lot of the problems with Railtrack is the lack
of proper training. Now how do you measure the companies, 20,000
people, that they are getting proper training; has Railtrack an
input into that?
(Mr Corbett) There are 20,000 people in the maintenance
companies. Railtrack employs 11,000 people. In Railtrack we have
our own training systems, we have training schools for the signals,
and we have a series of courses for everybody else. For the maintenance
contractors; what do they do for training?
(Mr Leah) Generally, of course, they are responsible
for their own training, let us be clear on that one, to the standards,
of course, that are laid down by the institutions, and to meet
the standards laid down by Railtrack. A lot of discussion does
take place with the personnel directors of each of those companies
with ourselves, and we use the Industry Liaison Group to do that.
It is an issue which, as an organisation, and organisations, we
need to address more, and we are on the case with it, because
there is a turnover of staff in the contractors' organisations;
it is how those staff get properly trained which has to be addressed,
and it is on the radar screen. I believe a lot more still has
to be done, to be honest.
130. Was that the situation then before Hatfield?
(Mr Leah) The Hatfield contract was the old RT1A contract,
so therefore it was not, Madam Chairman, one of the new contracts
and did not have the opportunity to take on board some of the
clauses there which help the training side. Balfour Beatty though
have been very responsive with us as regards the training of their
people, and they are audited for their competencies, both from
the zonal organisation and from railway safety. But, as I said
previously, I believe a lot more still has to be done; and it
is one of the issues of this matrix organisation, that we are
responsible for our own training, they are responsible for their
own training, but they must meet a standard.
131. Yes, but you are responsible for the business.
(Mr Leah) Exactly so, yes.
132. And if they have poor workmanship then
they are not responsible for the accidents, it is Railtrack. And
so it is in your interest to make sure that their training, their
personnel, is up to the level that is needed to ensure safety?
(Mr Corbett) It is a good point. I think the competency
of the front line is a big issue.
133. This is the case, I feel, and the thread
of this is that I consider there has been a lot of neglect on
training. Can I put it to you, is there any conflict between providing
a safe railway and one which is punctual and reliable; where does
the training come in? Is it because they want to have trains fast
and they are punctual and they arrive alright, on time, or is
it because of the fact that, well, safety is important: where
do we stand on this?
(Mr Corbett) The fundamental priority is running a
134. You have said that before; when you come
before us, Mr Corbett, every time you tell us that.
(Mr Corbett) Yes, that is right.
135. But over three years we have had three
(Mr Corbett) Yes, we have had three serious accidents,
and that is a huge regret. But the safety record of the privatised
railway actually is better than that of BR; and so, although there
have been three awful accidents, it has not actually, when you
look at the statistics, got worse. But the management challenge,
as I said earlier, is about balancing all these different objectives,
and we have to be able to balance it and do it safely.
136. Have four of your track workers been killed
in the last 12 months?
(Mr Corbett) We had a period of 15 months, I believe,
when there was not a track worker fatality, but I think we have
137. In the last 12 months, have four track
workers been killed?
(Mr Corbett) It is either three or four.
(Mr Leah) It is four, I think. We had one at Vauxhall,
about five weeks ago; we had one at Bradford around three weeks
138. Four people have been killed?
(Mr Leah) Yes.
139. The theory is made, Mr Corbett, about the
balancing of the various parts of the business; for how long have
you held that theory?
(Mr Corbett) For quite a while, because that is the
nature of the job.