Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2000
120. Quite a bit more per mile.
(Mr Grant) The solution for London is a major infrastructure
upgrade, which is going to take a considerable amount of time
and a considerable amount of money.
121. Let me ask about that, one of the other
things that the Report says is that the physical capacity of the
network, especially in Greater London, leaves something to be
desired and the ability to accommodate more or a higher capacity
of trains is very limited. You already mentioned about the need
for that investment. Can you give London commuters any confidence
that will be carried out in the short or medium term, or are they
talking about the full ten years of the transport plan?
(Mr Grant) Generally speaking you are looking at a
five to ten year period. If you just look at the current proposal
for Thameslink 2000, scheduled to come on stream in 2006, clearly
that is a major infrastructure upgrade, but it does take time
to put the planning in place and to do the physical works. You
are looking at a five year to ten year period.
122. What hope can you give my constituents
or anybody else in Greater London that things are not going to
continue in the way they have for many years and that something
may happen in five years' time or ten years' time to improve things?
While we are waiting for that we have to continue with this appalling
(Mr Grant) Under the franchise replacement we are
addressing the softer issues, the information and the stations.
We are also looking to see how rolling-stock can be brought on
sooner. As far as capacity is concerned you are looking at a major
infrastructure project which will take some considerable time.
123. Can I move on to the issue of perverse
incentives that are talked about in the Report. One of the things
that annoys certainly London commuters, and I suspect passengers
up and down the country, of course, is that trains are never cancelled
because of the penalties but the delays that then occur cause
enormous disruption to the service. We continually find in the
lines that go through my constituency that by evening rush hour
the delays are quite appalling. Are you doing anything to address
(Mr Grant) We are doing something specifically to
try and address that issue. One of the working groups I was talking
about before is looking at the performance of perverse incentives.
We will be looking with the train operating companies to try and
make sure that the needs of the passengers are addressed. In fact
we have a pilot scheme running on the Midland Mainline to look
at those. Clearly if the perverse incentives mean that passengers
are getting worse deals we should do something about it.
124. Can I ask you something that affects my
local area, I do not know whether it affects others, that is when
a train is running late it simply hops through a number of stations
without stopping in order to make up time. Is that something that
has been reported to you and is there anything you can do to address
(Mr Grant) I do not have the detail of that specific
(Mr Jenner) We have heard it does happen, it should
not happen. We are certainly looking to see whether we can revise
the regime so that the interests of the passenger are put first.
As Mr Grant said, this is what we are trying to do on Midland
125. If I was to draw the conclusion that the
franchise agreement that is currently in place leaves you almost
completely impotent to improve in any meaningful sense passenger
services, would that be an accurate statement to make?
(Mr Grant) We are bound by the contracts that are
in place. As far as franchise replacement is concerned we are
pushing ahead with those deals. We are also looking to do extensions
of the existing franchises to try and improve what the passengers
receive. We have done that on Midland Mainline, for example.
126. Under existing franchise agreements is
there any way you can trigger through incentives, or any other
form, the sort of investments we all know is necessary within
the railway system? For example, my own train operating company,
whenever I put it to them the need for this type of investment
they always say, we need a new franchise agreement and a much
longer timescale before we countenance that sort of investment.
Is that true up and down the country? Do we need a new franchise
agreement before any new investment will take place?
(Mr Grant) Whether you call it a new franchise agreement
for 20 years, but the Midland Mainline proposal, which was a two
year extension, brought considerable benefits for a short extension
to the existing franchise. There are ways of trying to get things
moving where there are franchises in place, without actually going
for the full 20 years.
127. Can I ask you about the issue of overcrowding?
It seems to have been missed out under the current arrangements,
is there anything you can do under current arrangements to address
that, because it is a very serious problem?
(Mr Grant) There are things we can do on overcrowding.
If the train operating company puts a train plan forward where
it requires more funding, we can pay for it on an 80/20 basis.
We have to look at that in the longer term. In some cases we have,
for example, dealt with Thameslink on that basis where they bought
some extra trains and we helped shuffle round a number of trains,
but they are short-term solutions and we are trying to do as many
of those as we can. In the long-term the capacity issue, the overcrowding
issue, is about major infrastructure. I think the Report recognises
128. Can I ask you about incentives? Your own
Report and the consultants that you appointed to investigate these
matters showed that the relationship between incentives and performance
is, "Mainly insignificant". Do you think that the new
incentivised franchise arrangements are going to change that or
effectively what your consultant is telling you is you will remain
impotent in being able to incentivise the train operator companies
(Mr Grant) We think the new arrangements, ie doubling
the incentives, will move in the right direction.
129. Will it make a significant difference?
(Mr Grant) That will come with major investment and
infrastructure. If the alternative to a penalty is a multi billion
pound project, clearly it will not make a difference. It should
sharpen up the train operating companies in terms of the fact
that to date, and the Report says that, as you have just quoted,
penalties seem to have not made a great deal of difference but
by doubling them we certainly hope they will make a difference.
130. I will pass on and certainly leave with
you the findings of your own consultants, which said, "It
is mainly insignificant", that seems to me to mean you would
need to address it much more seriously than the doubling of incentives
before you get any impact. I will leave that and move on. Can
I ask you, this is a question that has been asked by others, we
have seen, and it is reported in the NAO Report, that there has
been a 24 per cent increase in passenger numbers. There has also
been an increase in the number of complaints to above one million
during that time. I wonder what estimate you have made about the
impact on the profitability of the train operating companies and
Railtrack, that increase in numbers, while ignoring the problems
they have had?
(Mr Grant) Is that going forward or?
131. The Report shows the inability to trigger
a major investment by the train operating companies or, indeed,
Railtrack, yet it would appear from the massive increase in passenger
numbers that they must have benefited directly from that. Why
are they not being pressured to invest some of those profits in
the rail network?
(Mr Grant) Going forward the profitability will be
an issue. Under the current franchise agreements the profitability
of the train operating company is not addressed. As I said, in
franchise agreements going forward there will be the opportunity
to claw back profits.
132. Can I ask you about those one million complaints?
There is talk in the Report about mystery shopping and making
use of that to find out the type of service that a passenger is
receiving. In amongst all of those one million complaints there
must be lots and lots of evidence about the problems they face.
Have you done any investigations into the sort of problems and
complaints that are made and tried to address those issues on
behalf of the passengers?
(Mr Grant) The main vehicle for seeking the passengers'
views is the National Passengers' Survey, which is a six monthly
survey, which we have already started, and we will be continuing.
That is the area where we will be looking mainly to get the passengers'
133. Can I ask you about the statistics contained
in the Report and, indeed, the statistics that you produce yourself.
There has always been a lot of comment, I get a lot of feedback
from my constituents saying that those statistics are not accurate,
are you confident that when a train operating company reports
to you, or to whoever they report to, that X number of trains
were under five minutes late that is an accurate estimate of the
number of minutes late those trains were?
(Mr Grant) We are confident.
134. The anecdotal evidence from the passengers
is that the problems are significantly greater than that reported.
(Mr Grant) We are confident those figures are correct.
It is worth saying that as of this year we have launched a new
measurement of performance. The performance measurements previously
related to charters and train companies had the opportunity to
void days, therefore the statistics would not be taken into account.
They also did not cover all trains and all days. The new performance
monitoring will include all trains, all days. There will be no
opportunity for the train company to void dates, the statistics
will be representative of what is happening out there.
135. Can I ask you in relation to this, and
it goes back to a point that Mr Rendel mentioned, about punctuality.
I would normally assume that if a commuter train that takes half
an hour to get from point A to point B arrives five minutes late
that is significantly different from an Intercity train that has
a six hour journey and arrives five minutes late. Do you agree
with that statement?
(Mr Grant) We have to differentiate it, commuter trains
are measured on 0 to 5 and Intercity trains are measured on 0
to 10, there is a difference in the punctuality test.
136. Perhaps this is a question that is more
related to the NAO than yourselves. I will ask you for your response
to it, I was slightly surprised in term of punctuality there were
no statistics in there as a percentage of the journey time that
the train arrived late. It did not just do up to five minutes,
five minutes to ten minutes, etc, but it did it as a percentage
of the overall journey length to give you an idea. I would assume
that a commuter train that has a 15 minute journey and arrives
ten minutes late is a significantly greater problem than an Intercity
train that has a five hour journey that arrives 15 minutes late.
Some effort should be made to show us the impact and what percentage
of service is being provided.
(Mr Grant) The difficulty in what you propose will
be the method of measurement, is it the journey that starts off
in the Edinburgh or is it the journey that starts in Peterborough?
I think it would be very difficult to measure what the actual
journey time is and where the passenger got on. There are an infinite
number of combinations there. I am not sure how easy it would
be to achieve what you are suggesting.
Mr Love: I understand the problem of passengers
getting on not at the beginning but somewhere in the middle and
that may vary in terms of the delays they have actually suffered.
The point I was trying to make was there should be some recognition.
For example, I believe that the London commuter services are significantly
worse in terms of reliability than almost anywhere else but that
is not shown up in your statistics because quite a lot of trains
arrive five minutes late, yet there is only a 15 minute gap between
those trains at peak times, so a five minute delay, indeed if
it was a 15 minute delay, it would be time for the next train,
whereas on Inter Cities there are much longer timescales involved
and, therefore, that problem is not quite as acute. That was the
only point I was trying to make. Thank you very much.
137. There is hardly a person in this room whose
life has not been made a misery by the railways in the last few
weeks. Do you think it is incumbent on you or anybody else concerned
with the rail industry who comes before a Committee like this
to say sorry?
(Mr Grant) Yes, I agree, I think that the rail industry
should be apologetic.
138. Thank you. In the last few days there has
been some publicity about Railtrack and a point of view expressed
that all of these speed restrictions might be causing, or could
cause, accidents. Do you want to say anything about what is going
on at the moment? It seems to me that there is an absurd atmosphere
in Railtrack of people covering their backsides with all of these
ludicrous speed restrictions all over the place which are causing
us all complete misery. Do you want to make any comment about
(Mr Grant) I do not think I am in a position to make
any comment other than to say that clearly the speed restrictions
are causing a great deal of discomfort to passengers. I am not
in a position to comment whether they are technically correct
139. You must have some sort of view surely.
You are in one of the most important positions, acting on behalf
of the public, but you are not prepared to make any comment at
(Mr Grant) The comment I will make is that Railtrack
have responsibility for the safe operation of the network, that
is in consultation with the Health and Safety Executive, and I
assume that they are running this network on that basis and, therefore,
if that is what they believe they need to do then they need to