Examination of witnesses (Question Numbers
TUESDAY 1 MAY
1. Can I warmly greet you this afternoon. Thank
you for coming. You can imagine that what happens in the railway
industry is of enormous importance to every one of us. We were
are very pleased to hear from you this afternoon. Can I ask you
if you can, first of all, identify yourselves?
(Sir Alastair Morton) Alastair Morton,
Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority.
(Mr Grant) Mike Grant, Chief Executive of the Strategic
2. Do you wish to say anything, Sir Alastair,
to start off?
(Sir Alastair Morton) No, I am happy to try and answer
3. Sir Alastair, what is your reply to the criticism
that the SRA has no strategy and not a great deal of authority?
(Sir Alastair Morton) Starting with the easy one,
our authority is derived from ministers and from an Act of Parliament.
I think we are quite authoritative within the limits of that definition.
I do not think it is the place of a specialised agency of government
to try and rewrite legislation after the event or contradict ministers
exercising their office. Strategy: it is remarkable, in my view,
how many people say, "We want to know what we have to do",
and when you probe, in the overwhelming majority of cases, what
they want is to be told which physical assets are going to be
placed into the ground, where, at what time to come in the future,
and preferably, at what cost. That is what they mean by strategy.
Strategy for a national railway is much more than that, it is
the combination of human resources, financial resources, management
determination, availability, lots of things. It does not suddenly
arrive because somebody sitting somewhere says something. It emerges
from the combined wills and intentions of a huge number of parties.
We all agree this is a very fragmented industry. I believe, and
I am open to be criticised or corrected on this, that the strategy
for railways is emerging as ideas settle down about what our problems
are, what our resources are and what our priorities should be.
4. Forgive me, you were in existence in shadow
form for two years and you now come up with what you call an agenda,
although it is effectively a plan, and you come to us today and
say that these ideas are emerging. Do you not think it is a trifle
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think the rail industry has
been the subject of quite a lot of set backs, and some of them
are of a nature that do disturb a strategic plan that might be
emerging. I can give you the best example, which is that in many
senses the entire industry rests like an inverted cone, a pyramid
on the back of Railtrack and you have a very damaged and sick
base in that case. The changes to Railtrack's fortunes that were
caused by events around Hatfield, at Hatfield, after Hatfield,
and so on, were very substantial indeed. Any strategy that had
been built around Railtrack, and there were strategic ideas, had
to be eliminated or drastically modified. That is what I mean
5. Let me ask you something else, because of
a lack of clarity and urgency about what is happening within the
SRA, have either you or Mr Grant thought of stepping down?
(Sir Alastair Morton) No.
6. Mr Grant?
(Mr Grant) No.
7. You are quite comfortable with your timetable,
with your output and with the results of the work you have done
(Sir Alastair Morton) It is not in my nature to be
comfortable about any of those.
8. Are you uncomfortable in a way which is likely
to translate itself into some form of action?
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think there is a lot of action.
I will give you an example, has anyone written to you or brought
to your attention or have you noticed, without that happening,
that we have published a strategy for the West Midlands.
9. I do not think you were kind enough to send
me that, you are usually very kind and send me copies.
(Sir Alastair Morton) I went all the way to Birmingham,
which was no sweat at all, the train was on time.
10. I am happy to know you were on the train.
(Sir Alastair Morton) I set it out with some care
but because it did not create the set standard of dispute, "Blair
Row Erupts", or any of those, it did not get reported. What
I said was there has been work going on for at least two years
that I am aware of, because that is how long I have been round,
on matters to do with rail capacity and priorities in the West
Midlands, that is to and from there. As a result of that studythe
latter part of which was done by Railtrack, very well, actuallythe
following has emerged, and this is what we propose to do, this
is our strategy for the West Midlands in two phases. The near
term phase, in the next few years, is to increase the number of
seats available to people at Birmingham stations, the city centre
stations, main line stations, by at least one hundred per cent.
Phase two, the further away part, is to create the additional
capacity on the main line through Birmingham, which is Coventry
to Wolverhampton, involving the development of a station under
New Street or next to New Street, under in effect. I said, carefully,
that it would be necessary to demonstrate every step along the
way, with each part of these two phases, that there was value
for money to be had from doing them at the time they might be
suggested to be done. I expect them to be done. That is a high
level strategy, it is not a defined project with a budget, funded,
signed into contracts, it is a strategy. This is the direction
we are going, folks, this is what we are going to support and
we are going to set about organising people to work on it.
11. You have a defined timetable to produce
that kind of strategy for every part of the United Kingdom. You
can also give me a very clear statement of your strategy in relation
to, for example, the franchising.
(Sir Alastair Morton) I did not say that. I said it
is emerging, these are strategies and there is one that will be
coming out very shortly indeed for freight, another part of the
strategy. We said that we are going to publish a strategic plan
next November. To be publishable it probably has to be approved
by ministers, because under law it has to be, before we can publish
it in October. Between now and October the fruits of work done
and the case for the West Midlands over more than two years will
be rolling forward.
12. That is one area and you have one strategic
plan for that particular area. You are assuming that the timetable
for the overall strategy will now be the autumn.
(Sir Alastair Morton) It will now be the autumn, that
is what has been said in public several times, yes.
13. Will Railtrack itself meet the 21st May
deadline it set itself to have most services back to normal?
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think the answerRailtrack
really ought to answer the questionI would expect the answer
to be that a large majority of the services are now operating
according to the timetable as was before Hatfield. What percentage
punctuality and what percentage of the trains will be running
I cannot give you a forecast because I do not know, it would be
a forecast. The level of punctuality before Hatfield was down
on a year earlier. Whether they will be as punctual as just before
Hatfield I think is unlikely to be the case, particularly on the
mainlines, the high-speed InterCity lines, however they may be
up to the same level of punctuality on most of the commuter lines
in London and quite a number of the regional lines. There is going
to be a mixed story. The number of trains running to that timetable
may be as high as the 98 per cent or 99 per cent, as it was before
Hatfield, although I rather doubt it. They will be operating the
timetable as back to normal, in that sense, but they will not
be matching pre-Hatfield performance.
14. When do you see that happening?
(Mr Grant) I can give you some feel for it, last week,
which is from 8th October to April 20th, the InterCities were
on a punctuality of about 70 per cent. The worry is going to be
cross-country, the Great Western region and probably the Great
Eastern are probably going to have difficulties on 21st May. As
far as London is concerned, this is compared to three months prior
to Hatfield, London is 85.5, three months pre-Hatfield it was
86; the regionals last week were 84.5 and three months pre-Hatfield
it was 86.7. Overall that gives you a picture of 84.5 on 20th
April compared to 86 per cent in the three months pre-Hatfield.
There are going to be two or three, maybe four, areas where 21st
of May will be looking difficult.
15. Picking out your crystal ball, when do you
expect services to be back to the pre-Hatfield levels then?
(Sir Alastair Morton) Crystal balls are cloudy. There
have been so many dates we do not want to add to the confusion.
The problem is on the high-speed lines, let us be clear, the InterCity
lines, that is where the problems rest. The fast lines on the
West Coast Main Line have been reopened, more or less in full,
compared to what they were a few weeks ago. The slow lines are
in trouble. There are particular lines, and in a few cases particular
16. Sir Alastair, it is precisely those lines
which are so important, because those are the ones that not only
raise large amounts of revenue but they are the ones that people
regard as being the core system to many of the rail lines. It
is all very well to say there have been so many dates, and we
are not going to give you one, but is it really satisfactory that
so long after such a major incident we are not able to state when
we are going to be back on what is laughingly called a normal
(Sir Alastair Morton) There are two parts of my answer
to that question. The first is that it is not satisfactory. The
second is that it is not in our power at the SRA to change that.
There is no sense in which we manage the maintenance and the operation
of the railway, therefore the answer to your question, "What
is being done about it and why is more not being done?",
has to come from Railtrack. We are not the managers of Railtrack.
17. No. You may not be in charge of the day-to-day
running, nor should you be, but surely a strategic authority should
have some say in the speed of response? Surely you would ask them,
"When are you going to be back to the levels that you were
at before the last major incident?"
(Sir Alastair Morton) What I have said already, if
I may say so, is that I see no point in saying that once again
and getting another answer. I will believe they are back to normal
when they are back to normal. I do believe they are working at
it. I do not find they have left it alone and have gone off to
do something else. They will finish that task, with the help of
their contractors, just as soon as they can. There is very little,
if anything, that the SRA staff or management can do to speed
18. How is the relationship between yourself
and the Regulator?
(Sir Alastair Morton) That is a completely separate
question. It is fine. He has a job to do and we have a job to
19. Are these different jobs completely?
(Sir Alastair Morton) No, they overlap. I think he
has a job that is essentially to do with Railtrack, essentially
to do with what I call the day job of Railtrack, the operation
and maintenance of the system, which is what we have just been
talking about, and our job is essentially to do with the enhancement
and future development of the network, which is not the same thing.
They do overlap.