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

Examination of Witness (Questions 180-199)



  180. Yes, one would hope so, but I ask you again, would you think increases of that size, which are going to come into operation in June, would be worthy of close examination?
  (Mr Byers) I think we are all aware of the decision in relation to the network railcard. I do think that this should be looked at in the round by the Strategic Rail Authority, which they are, I think, doing, and I do think we will then need, in the light of their proposals, to give it detailed consideration, but I would much rather look at the whole question of fares in total and also the benefits that can come from certain—

  181. So we can take it that fares are going to be a major consideration for you?
  (Mr Byers) I think they have to be, Chairman, because if we are going to achieve a target of a 50 per cent increase in rail passengers at the end of the 10 Year Plan, then obviously fares are going to play a clear part in that, because you can price people off the trains, which I think is the point you are making.

  Chairman: That is something which has occurred to one or two of us, Secretary of State.

Mr Donohoe

  182. Have you seen the report that was, I understand, presented to you in the last week on the whole question of the installation of the Automatic Train Protection system and its delay?
  (Mr Byers) I will be receiving a report but I have not received a report yet.

  183. So you are not in a position to make any comment on it?
  (Mr Byers) No.

  184. You talked earlier about the positive relationship between yourself and the SRA, what is the relationship between the SRA and the Regulator?
  (Mr Byers) I think the fact they agreed the concordat recently is a positive development. Both Tom Winsor and Richard Bowker agreed that, and that is to be welcomed. It reflects the responsibilities they both have but also I think is a recognition that they will achieve far more, when they can, by working together.

  185. Do you think the need for the Regulator has increased or decreased since the setting up of the almost new Strategic Rail Authority?
  (Mr Byers) I think there is going to be a need for independent economic regulation and that will remain the case while we have a licensed structure. What I do welcome is the fact that clearly the relationship—whether it is a personal thing between Richard Bowker and Tom Winsor or whatever—between the SRA and the Office of the Rail Regulator is now a very positive, very constructive and very co-operative one, and that can only be good for the industry.

Mr Campbell

  186. Secretary of State, given the public perception which exists in relation to the SRA and the Regulator, and in a wider sense, is quite low, at what point in the 10 Year Plan might you expect to see public perception much more greatly improved in terms of its analysis?
  (Mr Byers) Of both the SRA and the Office of the Rail Regulator?

  187. Yes.
  (Mr Byers) My view on all of this is that people will judge on whether or not there have been improvements in the quality of rail travel, in punctuality, reliability, safety, the quality of the rolling stock, all those will be key issues. It will not be until we see genuine improvements on those factors that people will say, "Yes, we think the SRA is doing a good job or the Rail Regulator is doing a good job" or it may even be that they think the Secretary of State is doing a good job.

Mr Donohoe

  188. I do not know about that!
  (Mr Byers) Maybe not!

Mr Campbell

  189. Given your confidence about the private sector as well as the public sector investment, at what point in the 10 Year Plan might we be expected to see some sort of turnround in public perception?
  (Mr Byers) I honestly believe we will begin to see improvements in performance during the course of this year. The next lot of figures are coming out on, I think, 6 June, and we will see what they show. There should be improvements anyway because we are coming out of the difficulties of Hatfield, and, let's be honest about this, there should be improvements whatever you do because of Hatfield and the consequences of that. But over time, year on year, people will be able to judge whether there have been real improvements. The way people do that is from their own travelling experience. We will look at the national figures but for most people it will be whether or not you can get from Wakefield to London and rely on the train, or Liverpool across to Manchester, or Liverpool up to Newcastle. People will do it on the journey they take day in and day out. What you have to say at the moment, if you are a London commuter travelling on South West trains, is four out of ten of those trains do not turn up on time, and that is simply not good enough. So in the travelling week for two days or four journeys, you are not going to get to work or back from work on time, and that is not acceptable. People will judge whether we are improving it on whether or not their own personal experience has improved.

Andrew Bennett

  190. On safety, you have pointed out you have not received this report on train protection but what about the rest of the recommendations which have come out of various accident inquiries? Health and Safety seem to think we are not on track to deliver most of those.
  (Mr Byers) As the Committee will be aware, on the TPWS progress is being made and that is being implemented. There were specific proposals coming from Cullen-Uff, and I think those are the aspects which Mr Donohoe may have been referring to, where there has been a cross-industry working group, it will shortly go to the Health and Safety Commission, and the Health and Safety Commission will report to me and they have not reported to me yet. I think they are still awaiting recommendations from the cross-industry group but they will report to me in due course. I was concerned that not enough progress had been made on the Cullen recommendations, which is why I said about six weeks ago that I would expect as a matter of urgency the recommendations contained within Cullen to be implemented. They have been around long enough, it is now for the industry to see them implemented.

  191. But the ones which were supposed to be in place by the end of March, I think there are 23 out of the 40 which still have not been achieved.
  (Mr Byers) Which is why I said—

  192. So when?
  (Mr Byers) I said at the time to the Health and Safety Commission that I did not feel they had acted quickly enough and that I wanted them to be implemented as soon as possible.

  193. When is "as soon as possible"?
  (Mr Byers) As soon as the industry is able to implement them effectively. What they do know is we, that is myself and no doubt you as a Select Committee, will be monitoring when they are to be implemented.

  194. In answer to Mrs Ellman you said you could not tell us what you were asking, but the multi modal studies have come up with quite a series of recommendations for rail improvements. There is no money in the 10 Year Plan for those, is there?
  (Mr Byers) There is a significant amount of money in the 10 Year Plan that has not yet been contractually committed, including over £8 billion, of public capital expenditure for rail alone. Clearly some of that could be used for those projects contained within the multi modal study proposals.

  195. So what about things like the up-grade from Hazelgrove into Manchester or the ones in the West Midlands? Do you see any hope for those?
  (Mr Byers) I would not want to go into specific proposals here, but what I can say is that the details coming out of the multi modal studies as far as rail is concerned will be considered. The whole point of carrying out those studies was to look at transport in the round, that is what I intend to do, and there is finance there to support additional proposals.

  196. If you are looking at it in the round and one segment of the circle is missing, it is not very good for transport, is it?
  (Mr Byers) Quite, which is why I said we have to look at it in the round. If there is a combination of bids for rail under the local transport plan, under the roads programme, if that is appropriate, if that is part of the scheme, then we can have a comprehensive approach to these transport issues. I got very heavily criticised when we did not go ahead with the two by-passes at Hastings, however in my view there is an alternative to that which is based on using public transport more effectively, and that will have a cost and we need to find the resources to do that. That is the way we intend to do it.

  197. You need to find the resources but you have not found them yet, have you?
  (Mr Byers) As I say, there is within rail alone an unallocated amount of £8.1 billion, and of course we can allocate that to some of these multi modal study proposals.


  198. We may want to argue with you about that later on. Can I ask you about London Underground. How soon do you expect these private finance negotiations to come to a financial close?
  (Mr Byers) As you know, Chairman, in the light of the concerns you expressed and also the National Audit Office, we have extended the period under which the comfort letters will be considered by Parliament, so the normal notification period will now apply. I think that was important on reflection because this is a major development and it is right that members of the House should have the opportunity to consider them in detail. That means there has been a delay of a few days to allow that to happen. We will obviously want to consider the outcome of the consultation exercise, which we are still doing in Government, and we will arrive at a conclusion about whether or not we wish to proceed with the tube modernisation proposals. We will do that as soon as it is appropriate to do so.

  199. The tube modernisation proposals in general or in the particular scheme you are looking at?
  (Mr Byers) In the particular scheme which is being consulted upon.

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