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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 546 - 559)




  546. Good afternoon, gentlemen. We are very glad to see you. I am sorry to have kept you waiting a few moments. Can I ask you firstly to identify yourselves, for the record?
  (Sir Philip Beck) I am Sir Philip Beck, Chairman of Railtrack. This is Steve Marshall, our Chief Executive; and Richard Middleton, our Technical Director.

  547. Mr Middleton is well-known to us. Did you have any remarks you wish to make as an opening gambit?

  (Sir Philip Beck) I will be brief; just very briefly on the management changes which Railtrack announced yesterday. These senior appointments are intended to strengthen and will strengthen the role of engineering at the Board level and emphasise the company's customer focus. Richard Middleton you know already; he is a Chartered Engineer with 24 years' experience in the railway industry, and has become Technical Director. The company's engineering strength at the top has been further increased with the appointment of Andrew McNaughton, who is a Chartered Engineer with 27 years' experience; he will be Chief Engineer. Jonson Cox, who is not with us today, is Railtrack's Chief Operating Officer and is currently responsible for front-line operations and will assume Board responsibility for commercial and franchising activity.

  548. And you are going to tell us Mr Cox's years in the railway industry; how long has Mr Cox been in the railway industry?
  (Sir Philip Beck) He has been in the railway industry for only the last two months; before that he was with a major water utility. These appointments are intended to signal clearly the priority of the Board and the Chief Executive to give engineering in our business a greater focus and strength as well as our relations with our customers. We know that it has been a very difficult time for our customers and we very much regret that they are still suffering delays to their services, and I want to assure them that we are putting every effort into delivering the national recovery programme and getting the service back to normal as quickly as possible. We are focusing on dealing with this crisis; we need to ensure that we have a framework in place to provide the long-term improvements and the investments in the network. The building blocks of this clearly are the Government's ten-year plan and the Regulator's review, and that is what originally we were coming here to discuss today, along with other matters that the Committee may wish to raise. Our Chief Executive is probably best equipped to lead our part in these discussions, Madam.

  549. Welcome, Mr Marshall.
  (Mr Marshall) Thank you very much. Good afternoon.

  Chairman: It is nice to meet you.

Mr Donohoe

  550. Can you tell me, in your own view, what the first priority should be, as far as you are concerned, over the next few weeks?
  (Mr Marshall) The number one priority over the next few weeks is clearly to get the recovery programme, which is well under way already with a lot of work to do, executed and done; and that is going to take us through in reality substantially to Christmas, we will have the network a fair way back to normal, and by the time we get into January, the middle of January perhaps, the third week, we will have it substantially back to normal. That is our number one priority, by a long way.

  551. So you expect them to be able to deliver all the Christmas mail, do you?
  (Mr Marshall) We know there are difficulties and the network will not be back to normal by Christmas, and that is a fact and there is no point in not recognising that, but our priority is to do everything we can.

  552. So we are going to have chaos at Christmas, are we, as far as the postal service is concerned?
  (Mr Marshall) We would certainly hope it is not chaos at Christmas, but again we have to be frank and say that the network will not be back to normal by Christmas, there will actually be a lot of work over the Christmas period, because that is an acceptable time to get some of the possessions, and therefore it does take us into January before we are going to be substantially there. The programme then does go on after that, because we have some points and switches and crossings to do that will take us later on into the year; but by the time we get into January our firm intent is to have the network substantially back to normal.

  553. Can you just tell me—I think this one is for you, Sir Philip—if you think it has gone far enough, that, your resignation and the resignation of your Chief Executive, do you not think in the eyes of the public, the perception that they hold is that the whole Board should have gone?
  (Sir Philip Beck) No, I do not. We have an experienced Board, with engineers, railwaymen, businessmen and people with public utility experience, and I think that is the sort of balanced Board that Railtrack needs.

  554. But do the public believe that?
  (Sir Philip Beck) I am afraid I cannot answer that. I would not presume to speak for the public, but I think that what they would expect, what I would expect them to expect, is that there is, what I have just said, an experienced team of engineers and railwaymen.


  555. Perhaps we could ask you, therefore, considering the changes that you have outlined this afternoon, has the number of engineering years increased at Board level or decreased at Board level?
  (Sir Philip Beck) The number of engineering years at Board level is the same as before.

  556. Oh; you do not think that possibly that might be a difficulty with the general public, you might feel that you should have a rather more engineering-based structure?
  (Sir Philip Beck) Yes, I do, and that will come through. The Board meets monthly, as most public companies do, as you would know; however, the company is run on a day-to-day basis by the Group Executive Committee on which there are significant numbers of other engineers, and, perhaps, Steve, you could comment.
  (Mr Marshall) Yes; if I could pick up on that. The Group Committee runs the company on a day-to-day basis. As part of these arrangements, we have put Andrew McNaughton, who reports to Richard, as a voice on engineering, as our Chief Engineer, he joins the Group Committee straightaway, and what we are going to do is move very quickly to build the quality of that engineering resource where that has depreciated.

  557. You have given us an organigram, which is very clearly set out, and it does not quite give me the confidence that perhaps I should have, given what you have just said?
  (Mr Marshall) The organigram, I suspect, Madam Chair, is simply my direct reports in the organisation, so the engineering side that I think you are querying on the organigram has Richard Middleton, reporting to Richard is the Chief Engineer, who also, in fact, is joining the day-to-day decision-making committee that runs the company.

  558. I am going to bring in Mr Donohoe again in a minute, but, I am sorry, I just want to clear this up: Mr Middleton?
  (Mr Middleton) Perhaps I can just add, although, yes, I am a Chartered Engineer, in my previous role I did not have responsibility for engineering.

  559. No, we gathered that, Mr Middleton; if you remember, we were interested.
  (Mr Middleton) In this role I have total responsibility for engineering, and that means none of my other responsibilities that I had as Commercial Director apply to me, so I can give my entire attention to focusing on engineering within the company, putting in place the right leadership and getting the right conpetences throughout the whole organisation.

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