Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  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 service.
  (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 that issue?
  (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 that?
  (Mr Grant) I do not have the detail of that specific answer.
  (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 Mainline.

  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 that.

  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 in Railtrack?
  (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' views.

  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.

Mr Leigh

  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 that?
  (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 or not.

  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 all?
  (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 do it.

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