Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Thank you. Finally, you have a plan, I understand, to allow operators potentially to raise fares following capacity improvements, which ought to make the punctuality and the number of cancellations improve as well, of course. The problem with improving capacity is that obviously really helps the passengers who are travelling at peak hours, which is when the capacity is often insufficient, it does not really help the passengers who are travelling off-peak at all because they usually have sufficient capacity anyway on their trains. Will the increased fares, therefore, only apply during peak hours once the increase in capacity is in place, or will they also apply to the off-peak passengers who will not gain the benefit?
  (Mr Grant) What we have said to the train operating companies is if they have got ideas to increase fares once the upgrade, if you like, has been delivered then we are prepared to listen to them. There are not any proposals on the table at the moment. I would expect that train operating companies would be dealing with off-peak very differently from peak.

  Mr Rendel: Thank you.

Mr Williams

  41. Mr Grant, may I tell you before I start that I was at one time a sponsored member of the TSSA, so you are aware of that. You are the Strategic Rail Authority but that title is a bit of a joke, is it not? You have no responsibility for safety, that belongs to somebody else. You are not passing any views on structure and architecture, that seems to be outside your remit. What on earth are you responsible for?
  (Mr Grant) Perhaps I can address—

  42. I hope it is more than "perhaps", I hope you can tell me with great conviction.
  (Mr Grant) I can tell you with great conviction what we have achieved so far in the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority.

  43. I have asked what you are responsible for.
  (Mr Grant) We are responsible for franchise replacement. We are responsible for producing a Strategic Plan. We have wide funding powers under the new Bill. We have power to direct Railtrack, again under the new Bill, and we have stronger enforcement powers going forward.

  44. But you are producing a Strategic Plan which cannot take account of structure.
  (Mr Grant) Which cannot take account of strategy?

  45. You said yourself that architecture is outside your current remit. You are due to report on things other than the architecture of the system some time in the future. Who is going to be thinking about the structure in the meantime?
  (Mr Grant) We are here to try to make the structure work better. I do not think we are in a position to change the structure.

  46. Are you allowed to think about the structure, to make it better? To make it better do you not have to think about it and consider whether it is the best structure?
  (Mr Grant) We certainly do have to go through the procedures. If the working groups that are in place at the moment come up with the conclusion that the difficulties are too great then, of course, that will be reported in those discussions. We have a steering group over the five working groups and if the steering group and the working groups conclude that it is a problem with structure, the problem of making the structure work better, then that is what we will report.

  47. So you do have views on structure. Do you think the present structure is ideal? If you were starting from now, is it the structure that you would recommend to ministers?
  (Mr Grant) Clearly we are not starting from now.

  48. I know you are not. You said you are allowed to have views and I assumed, therefore, you were allowed to express them.
  (Mr Grant) There are a number of things in the current structure which we want to make better. I think it is not for the SRA at this particular time to opine on the structure, it is our job to try to make it work better.

  49. Most people would not see it that way. If the structure is at the heart of what is wrong then you should have a view on it. You say there are various things wrong with the structure, so obviously you have identified things that are wrong, now in order of priority give me three.
  (Mr Grant) We have identified that we need to look at performance. We need to look at the possession regime.

  50. At?
  (Mr Grant) The possession regime. These are the working groups. We need to look at the scale of the agenda: is the industry up to delivering.

  51. Sorry. You have said that these are the working groups you have referred to and you have said that architecture is outside the work that they are doing.
  (Mr Grant) It is outside but—

  52. In that case, how can you have a strategic view on it?
  (Mr Grant) As part of that process they will look at the structure and if they feel the structure is not going to work properly then they are allowed to report that. What they have been asked to do is to look at the existing structure to try to make it work better.

  53. Over what period? It might be cheaper to alter the structure, it might be quicker to alter the structure. Are you not allowed to comment on that? Do you not consider that as an option on which you might, as the Strategic Authority, make some recommendations to ministers?
  (Mr Grant) I think altering the structure would take some time, it would cause a hiatus.

  54. The other things you are not in a rush over, are you? How long is it before you produce your report?
  (Mr Grant) Before we produce the Strategic Plan?

  55. Yes.
  (Mr Grant) January.

  56. Will these committees report in that time?
  (Mr Grant) They will report. They will not report on conclusions, they will report on the problems they have encountered, the parties who may be in a position to put them right and the direction of the solution. That direction of the solution may be that they report the structure is not right.

  57. One suggestion that has been put forward to address the problem of the rails—and I am not an expert on engineering, I am an economist by training, in other words virtually unemployable as anything other than a Member of Parliament—is that there is an engineering incompatibility between the designs of the trains and the freight rolling stock that is being used now in relation to speed, its size and so on, and the engineering quality of rail. Is that something you look at, the rails themselves?
  (Mr Grant) I am not an expert on that either, but what I do see throughout the world is trains that run fast, trains that are heavy, and apparently on the gauge corner cracking point, which may be a new phenomenon, that is not a problem everywhere. I think it is only right that we should expect a railway system to be able to carry fast trains, to be able to carry heavy trains, because it is part of that design.

  58. But you feel it is a problem here?
  (Mr Grant) Sorry?

  59. You say it is not a problem everywhere but you feel it is here?
  (Mr Grant) We are told by Railtrack that gauge corner cracking, which is the current problem, is a new phenomenon. There is apparently no problem in France, there may be a problem in Germany. If you look at the world's railways and those railways that are run best, they do not seem to have the same problem. Whether it is a new phenomenon or not, I do not know. I would expect that we should be in a position that the rail and wheel interface is one that is compatible and can carry trains at speed and trains which are heavy.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 18 July 2001