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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)




  60. But the vandalism is because there are so many of your contractors leaving things alongside the line. We have had this debate before, Mr Corbett. It is not just a question of sending things round the schools, is it? It is a question of monitoring and supervising your own track and own establishments. What are you doing about that?
  (Mr Corbett) There is a huge programme in place for ensuring that the contractors are safe and that they do not leave stuff by the track. There is a code of practice, a whole lot of standards. We measure on a monthly basis possession irregularities, we measure corrective action reports which are a result of our audits of contractors. Although one can never be happy with progress, there is a lot going on.

Mr Donohoe

  61. Are you saying month-on-month there is a change to the levels that are counted towards vandalism and that that is a downward trend?
  (Mr Corbett) No, possession irregularities and corrective action reports have got worse in the last year. I have the figures in front of me and vandalism is increasing.

  62. Do you not think that it is now time for you to employ more staff to overturn that situation and drive it down the other way?
  (Mr Corbett) We are employing more staff and we have a bigger programme than we have ever had before but it is an endemic problem. We are spending more on fencing than we spent before. We will quantify the programme for you and come up with the details.

  Chairman: We would like a little note from you on that basis. Mr Bennett?

Mr Bennett

  63. You have been praying in aid the extra passengers as an excuse for poor maintenance. Have you looked at the lines around Greater Manchester? There are quite a few of those where you have not had any extra trains running on them and yet the number of broken rails and other problems seem to have increased. Can you explain that?
  (Mr Corbett) There have been clusters around the country where suddenly based on the age of the rail and the relationship to track volume and in certain circumstances, yes, where maintenance has not been up to scratch, there have been clusters of broken rails. We have put in place remedial action and the number of broken rails is now coming down.

  64. So it is your fault rather than the amount of train?
  (Mr Middleton) Can I deal with that particular point. Around Manchester it is a sad fact that in the last days of British Rail many parts, particularly of the rural network, were subject to what British Rail called a "maintenance holiday" and they stopped doing track work. If you look at the deterioration of track quality in the early and mid-1990s when rail was still in the public sector, it dropped off dramatically and it has taken us the last three years to claw it back to within sight of the levels it was. That poor track quality around Manchester did give rise to a number of broken rails above the national average that we are now taking steps to correct.

  65. What good news can you give to my constituents who use both the local services in and out of Manchester and travel down to London?
  (Mr Corbett) There is huge investment that is going into Manchester. Manchester North, which was completed last year, the big re-signalling there. Manchester South, which will be ready for early 2002, the West Coast Main Line. And the £44 million upgrade to Manchester Station which we hope will be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. On the subject of broken rails, I think it is best if our Zone Director, Mike Cameron, writes to you and gives you the facts.

  66. As far as West Coast Main Line, is that deadline of May 2002 going to be met?
  (Mr Corbett) Yes. There will be trains running at 125 miles an hour up the West Coast Main Line in 2002. I hope that Mr Green, who is on next, will be able to confirm that.

  67. Is that going to be paid for by closing the service over Christmas this year?
  (Mr Corbett) No, it is not. It is a question of fact that you can only work on the railway when there are no trains running on it and most of the possessions are in the middle of the night. We are taking advantage of holiday periods and everything to do some big blockades because obviously we want to get on with the work as quickly as we can.

  68. So you are actually penalising the elderly and the young who do not have access to alternative means of travel over Christmas by closing the service?
  (Mr Corbett) No, we are not. There will be the usual service until the end of 23 December. On Christmas Day there will not be a service and Christmas Eve this year is a Sunday.

  69. Wait a minute, Christmas Eve is a Sunday, can you tell us is there going to be a service or not on the Sunday?
  (Mr Corbett) I do not think there is going to be a service on Christmas Eve.
  (Mr Middleton) The main line between Euston and Watford closes between 2200 and 0600 on 27 December, 2 January and all day on Christmas Eve. Because that is a Sunday this year we do expect fewer than usual people to be travelling.

  70. How is that affecting the Post Office?
  (Mr Middleton) Because we have to test the signalling and when you test the signalling you cannot have trains running on the track because that would interfere with the tests, on 27 and 28 December there will be no access for postal trains to and from Willesden. We are trying to find a way where they can get some limited service in and out but we have not found a way of doing that yet. The postal trains will be affected for those two days.

  71. What you are really telling me is do not travel over Christmas and do not post any letters, is that right?
  (Mr Middleton) The postal service up to Christmas will be fine. There will be a problem we have not yet solved on 27 and 28 December. The real issue here is that we are modernising the West Coast Main Line. We have actually got to do a phenomenal amount of work to ensure that when the new year comes in and the commuter service starts up again, because people have got to get to work, that railway will be operating properly with the signalling in place. I am afraid it is inevitable that there is going to be some disruption while this work is carried out, we have never said there would not be.

  Chairman: But, of course, you are going to take it out on people who want to go home after Christmas.

Dr Ladyman

  72. Just briefly to give you an opportunity to comment on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. All you have said about it so far is that it is a significant part of the investment that you put in your evidence to us. Is it distorting the level of investment you are able to make elsewhere in the country?
  (Mr Corbett) No, I do not think so. Excluding the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the investment this year on the rest of the network is £2 billion which is over twice anything ever done by BR. It is a huge increase on the levels of four years ago. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Phase One is around 35 per cent complete and is on budget and on schedule. The Deputy Prime Minister was present at the opening of the tunnel under the North Downs a month ago which is the fourth longest railway tunnel in the country.

  73. What are the dependencies that you are looking at in relation to whatever decisions you have to make about Phase Two?
  (Mr Corbett) Phase Two we want to press on with and make the commitment. We have an option over Phase Two and this autumn we will be looking at it very hard but obviously our financial position will be an issue.

  74. When you are allocating your capital investment around the country do you make decisions on a regional basis or do you make them on a needs basis? When I am thinking about Kent, I am an MP for Kent, one of the problems that we had when they were building roads to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was that those roads were no use whatsoever to the people who lived in Kent but Government pointed at them and said "look at all the road building we are doing in Kent". Is there any danger that the investment you are making on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in Kent will factor in your decisions about further rail investment elsewhere in Kent?
  (Mr Corbett) No, there is no danger at all. The two are treated completely differently. The proposals for expenditure on the network in Kent will come up through the Southern Zone. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link has a totally different reporting line.
  (Mr Smith) We have a route based strategy to developing the network. Forty-five routes are defined. We develop overall traffic forecasts of passenger and freight and then we look at the implications of those forecasts on an individual route basis. We feed into the analysis consultation with customers, their requirements and assessments of current levels of traffic and overcrowding. We do have a fairly rigorous process which is set out in an Annual Network Management Statement of route based plans for developing the network.

  Dr Ladyman: Can I just pick up on that then?

  Chairman: I do not want to spend too much time on this, Stephen.

Dr Ladyman

  75. Just very briefly. How are coastal decisions then taken because clearly by definition there are more people inland than there at the coast because beyond the coast there is only water? How does that distort things when you are factoring in where to make route based investments?
  (Mr Corbett) The renewal and maintenance programmes are based on delivering the outputs, track quality, broken rails, numbers of trains, train performance. That is the framework for that investment. The upgrades are a rather different matter. The big upgrade that is being discussed at the moment is the London to Brighton upgrade. In Kent commuter services will be running on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the journey times to the Medway Towns will be halved as a result of that.

Mr Olner

  76. Can I briefly bring you back to broken rails. According to EWS, railways on the continent last three to six times longer than ours. What are we doing to get up to their standards?
  (Mr Corbett) That is a very good question. Between 1970 and 1990 Germany, France, Spain and Italy all invested twice as—


  77. Mr Corbett, please forgive me but you keep going back to British Rail. The reason you exist—the only reason you exist—is that this House accepted that because the investment had not gone into British Rail it was essential to create Railtrack. Can we agree that?
  (Mr Corbett) Yes, I am sorry, I was attempting to answer Mr Olner's question.

  78. We are on to rails. We are not going back to 1970.
  (Mr Corbett) The answer I was going to give Mr Olner was that the level of investment in the continental railways over the previous 30 years has been twice the level of investment in the UK railways and that is one reason why their networks are, quite frankly, better than ours. There are a series of other more complicated reasons to do with the UIC 60 track, to do with the weight of the trains on the continent and so on.

Mr Olner

  79. I understand that, but can we be assured that the way you are maintaining the tracks now is you are maintaining them to the best international best practice and they will last longer in future?
  (Mr Corbett) We have got to improve, we know that.

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