Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 216)




  200. And this has all been coloured by a previous gentleman from Railtrack, who gave us evidence saying that it did not really make any difference anyway, and that it was not accurate; he was, of course, only the Managing Director?
  (Mr Bowker) I think an asset register is important; if you are going to ask third parties to form a view on interface management and taking a risk then it is important that they do know what those interfaces are.

Andrew Bennett

  201. So the lack of one is one of your problems. EU Directives; are they going to cause you any problem?
  (Mr Bowker) No; it is not really a question of problems. Again, they are matters to be dealt with. We do have the Inter-Operability Directive, which is being factored into our planning.

  202. And the money is there for that?
  (Mr Bowker) The main plank of the Inter-Operability Directive, is ERTMS, where there is money in the Plan for scoping and for pilot schemes, for trialling schemes.


  203. Scoping; what is your definition of the word "scoping"?
  (Mr Bowker) Scoping, with respect to looking at the operational and technical feasibility of the project.

  Andrew Bennett: But not doing it.


  204. But not doing it, just looking at it?
  (Mr Bowker) At this stage, the group that has been set up to look at what the proper implementation and timescale for ERTMS might be has not formed a view. There is not a workable, operational scheme in existence that we can go and buy. So we felt it was inappropriate to speculate at that level of lack of information. But a lot of work is going on, to address those questions.

  Chris Grayling: It is a multi-million-pound scheme.

Andrew Bennett

  205. And safety; how far is the money in for the Uff-Cullen proposals?
  (Mr Bowker) There is not substantive funding for the implementation of Uff-Cullen; but that is tied up very much with the ERTMS proposals. What there are are all the monies necessary to secure the completion of TPWS, which is a major safety scheme and will deliver major enhancements to safety on the railway.

  206. In answer to Mrs Dunwoody, you said you were not sure whether one or two of the companies could only make a profit because their trains were overcrowded. It has been put to me that at least one company can only really make a profit by going on using the slam-doors right up to the last possible moment, because if they had to move to new rolling-stock it would wipe out any prospect of profit. Are you worried about that?
  (Mr Bowker) I am not sure it would change any practical effect, because the programme to get Mark 1 replacement rolling-stock in place—

  207. It is slipping, is it not?
  (Mr Bowker) The programme to build the trains is under way, and it is a programme which I believe the industry is up to meeting the challenge of, but there are not huge great swathes of slack in it, so it will need very tight management controls.

  208. And are you in a position to put some pressure on them to get on with bringing them in?
  (Mr Bowker) The best pressure they have is the fact that the train operators are the duty holders of the operator safety case, and it is an obligation on them to comply with the regulations to replace Mark 1 rolling stock.

  209. So it is a duty to bring them in, in the end, but the speed with which they bring them in is not laid down, is it?
  (Mr Bowker) To deliver it by 31 December 2004 is a challenging time frame but a deliverable one, in the view of the operators.

  210. Lastly, are you in regular discussions with Lord Birt about the future of transport in this country?
  (Mr Bowker) I have a meeting arranged to see Lord Birt on 8 March.

  Chairman: It is nice to know that you are going to get the chance to meet him, Mr Bowker. Perhaps you would like to come back and tell us what he says, after that. Thank you very much.

Miss McIntosh

  211. I am going to have to ask three questions in one. Do you stand by the strategy to attract private sector funding in the Strategic Plan?
  (Mr Bowker) Yes, I believe it is absolutely right to seek private sector investment.

  212. Are you aware that, as of January this year, 18 of the 25 Train Operating Companies face losses of £120 million? It was put to us by the Department earlier that they were actually coming to you to ask for more subsidies. Now I cannot understand, if they are seeking more subsidies from you, how, at the same time, you can seek investment into these strategic projects; can you explain?
  (Mr Bowker) I have heard these numbers bandied around, of £120 million, but they were done by independent assessors, and I have not seen the basis of them, so I cannot comment on the number. There is no doubt that since Hatfield and since September 11 many operators have seen significant damage in terms of income, and I think it is actually to some of their credit, actually, that they have been able to stay very focused on delivery the way they have. We will always engage in discussions with train operators where they feel there is a need to. What I want to see is train operators who actually want to be in this market; there is absolutely no value in having operators who are surviving by their fingertips, because that is a bad way to have a partner in a relationship. So, to the extent that they want to engage in dialogue, we will.

  213. Okay; but you have not actually answered the question, whether they can still, while receiving subsidies, apply for more subsidies from you, how they would be in a position to invest?
  (Mr Bowker) Well, because I do not think they are connected financial flows. I do not see the Train Operating Companies in the future having the major lead role in the raising of equity or debt for private sector investment, so I am not sure that the particular subsidy line that they have is a major determinant on our ability to raise private sector finance.

  214. And a final question. Arriva, obviously, were fined very heavily for replacing the train service between Thirsk and Newcastle by a bus service; what is the position if their passengers are disadvantaged, as they have been on four days, so far, probably, by the beginning of February, through a rail strike? What penalty will you impose on them for something which is beyond their control?
  (Mr Bowker) Sorry; something that is beyond the passengers' control?

  Chairman: If they are bad at industrial relations, are you going to fine them?

Miss McIntosh

  215. Or if the unions hold them to ransom, I would say?
  (Mr Bowker) In order to create a balanced position between the train operators and the unions and their staff, where there is clear industrial action, we have taken steps to relieve some of the performance regime payments, so that the Train Operating Companies are not hit twice. If that were the case, it would be less likely that we would get resolution of these problems, not more.


  216. Thank you very much indeed for being so open, Mr Bowker. Doubtless, when you have had one or two of your encounters with people like the Lord Birt, you would like to come back and talk to us again?
  (Mr Bowker) Thank you very much indeed; thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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