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

Examination of Witness (Questions 540 - 545)



  540. Lord Berkeley, what do you say to those people who argue that these massive amounts of public money, £14.7 billion over the next 10 years, should be used to enhance the railway and not be used to buy preferential shares?
  (Lord Berkeley) I believe that it should be used to enhance the railway, but having enhanced the railway one is increasing the value of Railtrack's asset at no cost to Railtrack. So I am not suggesting that the shares should be bought, I am suggesting that the shares should be given, allocated, if you like, as a result of the investment in the railways made by the Government. It is not one or the other, it is a consequence of investing in the railways, through Railtrack, that the Government should have equity, or some other share.


  541. Can I ask you just one other option, before we let you go. What do you think of the idea of Railtrack taking back in-house all the maintenance?
  (Lord Berkeley) Madam Chairman, I think Railtrack has to take a great deal more responsibility for managing the maintenance. Certainly, it could take it all back in-house, but, as a halfway stage, there has to be a team of engineers, led by a chief engineer, as I would call it, and maintenance people within Railtrack who have the experience and knowledge and the responsibility of taking decisions about how, when and if track is maintained.

  542. Yes, but you are suggesting that that would still leave them with the situation of employing other people actually to do the work; many of us would be astonished that they do not have a team of trained engineers capable of evaluating the work done by those companies that are working to them as contractors. But what you are suggesting is simply that that should be created, not that there should be a fundamental shift?
  (Lord Berkeley) I think there is benefit in having them in, because British Rail had them in, in the old days, and in some ways it worked very well. I think the downside of that is that when you have got half a dozen contractors, each coming up with different ideas, you may lose out on the ideas bit of it. If there were separate mini-Railtracks, you could do it that way again; but I think it is good having new ideas.

  543. Have you noticed any startling ideas from the contractors since this particular organisation has existed?
  (Lord Berkeley) I have, one or two, actually, yes; one of them is actually starting to look at this idea of maintaining one track safely while trains run on the other, which was stopped, I believe, a few years ago because too many people got killed because they did not have the right safety cases. Now if it can be done safely, operationally, that is very, very important. I know one contractor who has started looking at it. It has not had high publicity, but these new ideas will keep the network running. Now I would expect Railtrack to do that, but apparently not.

  544. You have been very helpful, My Lord. The only final thing is, what kind of measures are you expecting, as a group, that the shadow Strategic Rail Authority should include in its strategic plan, particularly on rail freight?
  (Lord Berkeley) I am looking forward with eager anticipation to the publication of this strategic plan.

  545. Yes, but I was not actually enquiring into your state of mind, which I think I could guess at.
  (Lord Berkeley) I want them to support or come out with the next detail of the kind of network they would like to see created for freight, it may not be separate from passengers, but the network for freight, gauge, train length, weight, speeds, etc, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I would like them to come up with a terminal strategy, because in some parts of the country there is a serious shortage of terminals, and "no terminals, no trains", fairly obviously. And I would like them to continue to ensure that freight and passengers co-exist happily, creatively, as we all aim to increase by 50 or 80 per cent in the next 10 years. It is quite a challenge, Madam Chairman, but I am hoping they will, and if they do not I shall say so.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, My Lord, we are very grateful to you, as always, for your evidence.

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