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

Supplementary memorandum by the Passenger Transport Executive Group (RI 16C)


  1.  PTEG does not see particular problems in the formal Railtrack structure with Central, Zonal, Major Projects Divisions, etc. On paper these arrangements should work but unfortunately, in practice, however Railtrack continues to fail to perform as an effective and efficient organisation. This suggests, possibly, an over-ambitious workload within the Network Management Statement. You will recall that in our evidence we queried the engineering resource available to Railtrack. Alternatively, there may well be a dysfunction between the role of the centre and the role of the regions. In too many instances matters can be agreed at Regional level (or not as the case may be) and then reversed at Central level. This suggests that mutual roles and limits of authority are not clearly defined. We also see a lack of co-ordination in determining priorities. For instance, in Greater Manchester, a number of schemes have been agreed (and where the Passenger Transport Authority has agreed to contribute) only to find sudden costs changes or technical difficulties leading to material levels of slippage. We would strongly recommend that the management and other working arrangements require review, preferably external. This should embrace all stakeholders, including the PTEs.

  2.  It follows from the above that we are not persuaded of the case for further reorganisation of Railtrack pending such a review nor are we persuaded that further fragmentation in the industry would be beneficial. In particular, we would be concerned if Track and Signalling, for example, were separated from major infrastructure since this would increase the "commissioning" risk between two bodies, ie who would take the responsibility and risk for ensuring that the major infrastructure "married up" with Track and Signalling? We have already seen examples of rolling stock not going into commission because of problems with the track, stations or signalling.

  3.  Finally, as PTEG we are all familiar with and support public sector/private sector partnership—a number of us have built or are building Light Rail systems. A guiding principle of such relationships, however, is that risk should lie where it can best be managed. For this reason, amongst others, PTEG (and our PTAs) opposed rail privatisation and the privatisation of Railtrack, in particular. Recent events demonstrate that a private company is not well equipped to underwrite the risk of running and improving a railway which has been declining for decades. For instance, before the private sector takes control of a former railway line converted to Light Rail it is thoroughly refurbished through a Design and Build Contract before it becomes operational. Additionally, the infrastructure generally remains the property of the public sector. For this reason we are puzzled, as professionals, why the Government has so firmly set its face against developing mechanisms which would allow the major public sector grants required to be converted into a growing equity stake in Railtrack with the eventual aim of returning it to the public sector which is the only body capable, in our opinion, of underwriting the risks associated with railway infrastructure.

C J Mulligan


December 2000

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