Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 5 JULY 2000
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.
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?
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
(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
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.
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
73. What are the dependencies that you are looking
at in relation to whatever decisions you have to make about Phase
(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
(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
Dr Ladyman: Can I just pick up on that then?
Chairman: I do not want to spend too much time
on this, Stephen.
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.
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
77. Mr Corbett, please forgive me but you keep
going back to British Rail. The reason you existthe only
reason you existis 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
(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.
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.