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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. People are reasonably incredulous about these statistics obviously because the mechanics by which they are compiled sometimes are slightly devious, are they not? Trains are cancelled rather than recorded as late.
  (Mr Cameron) No, they are not devious at all. In fact they are actually audited by independent sources; not just the Strategic Rail Authority, but we have them independently audited as well. They stand scrutiny. As I say, for the last three weeks up to last Saturday to only have cancelled four trains in one thousand and run 95.9 per cent punctuality shows that we are starting to get these services right. We do not believe that is good enough. We can do better.

  21. If you wish to satisfy the sceptical public, what would you be promising them for the future?
  (Mr Cameron) What we are promising, and we are bidding at the moment for the franchise in Merseyside, is to improve the reliability of the rolling stock. It is going to be completely refurbished, not only the interior of it but under the sole bar it is going to be made more reliable, so there are even fewer failures. We are talking about increasing the number of drivers and conductors to build in some more resilience to the service.


  22. How are you going to do that when there is a £10,000 difference between you and other companies?
  (Mr Cameron) I should have explained that the £10,000 difference was on Arriva Trains Northern, which is on the Yorkshire side. Dr Pugh is talking about the Merseyside one where we do not have the same issue. We have never had the loss of drivers to that extent over there.

  23. Yet you are still drivers short.
  (Mr Cameron) No, not on Merseyside.

  24. Not in general.
  (Mr Cameron) No. The point we made in our submission is that the difficulties we inherited from MTL on Merseyside were nowhere near as severe as they were on Northern and therefore we were able to remedy the problems that much more quickly.

Dr Pugh

  25. Can we go back to rolling stock? I wake up every morning, look out of my front window and watch Arriva trains go past. I am absolutely certain that they are the same trains that have been going past for the last 15, 20, 30 years. Why have you not invested in new rolling stock?
  (Mr Cameron) You are quite correct: those trains have been running on that line for 25 years. The plan which has been put to us by the Strategic Rail Authority and Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) is that they want them to run until 2015, which is why we are going to be doing this work on the refurbishment of the interior and the upgrading below the sole bar to make them much more reliable. There is absolutely no reason why rolling stock cannot operate for 30 or 40 years; it does in other parts of the country.

  26. I was told that there was no absolute shortage of rolling stock in Merseyside. When MTL took over the franchise there was in fact spare rolling stock but people did not put it in service. Is that correct?
  (Mr Cameron) There was and there still is spare rolling stock. Initially there were ten spare three-car sets and there are now six, three of them have been transferred down to the South of England to help with some overcrowding there and one unfortunately was torched by some vandals and had to be completely taken out of service. We are looking to refurbish those six additional units and use them for the growth we expect to occur over the next 10 or 15 years on Merseyside.

  27. Do you have any scheme which will sort out the conundrum where people wait on crowded platforms and crowded trains arrive which are only three cars when six cars are expected?
  (Mr Cameron) You are quite right to have pointed that out. It was a problem which we inherited. If we take the last three weeks up to last Saturday, there were only three occasions in the whole three weeks when six-car sets were not provided. What we are intending to do is to refurbish the six sets which are in storage at the moment so that we will have 59, rather than 53 sets and we can further strengthen some of the three-car sets to six car-sets and relieve any overcrowding that materialises.

  28. To some extent you are bound to make promises at this stage, but one thing which affects Mersey and affects many other railways is the security of the passenger and also the use of the trains by people who are frankly dishonest and do not pay a fare at all. What are you going to do in the new scheme of things to prevent that?
  (Mr Cameron) We have done a couple of things already. We have worked much more closely with the British Transport Police. We have augmented our security operation which works very closely now with the British Transport Police. Last October we put a lot more station staff at key interchange points so that provision of information and assistance to customers with luggage, those parents with buggies, people who need some assistance, was provided. We are intending to enhance that. We are also going to be putting more CCTV facilities not only on stations but as part of the refurbishment CCTV will be put on all trains. That will get rid of some of the unruly elements who sometimes travel on the trains. We are also intending to increase the number of on-train staff to make sure that people do pay their fares.


  29. Can we move on? Do you think that the SRA's sanctions really work, because you got rather badly thumped, did you not?
  (Mr Cameron) We had already taken action before the SRA decided to fine us. We have accepted the fine because the performance of the service was just not good enough. I stood up publicly on 4 September and said it was not good enough and that what we intended to do was put in an emergency timetable to stabilise the position whilst we got the recruitment coming through. We accepted not only the £2 million fine, but we also paid £1.25 million compensation to the Strategic Rail Authority and the Passenger Transport Executive so that they could refund some of the users, because the PTEs have some of their own tickets, and that in addition to the nearly £300,000 we paid in compensation to our customers.

  30. If you knew there were so many difficulties coming up, why was it you only told the passengers of the changes to your services on the Friday before they began on the Monday?
  (Mr Cameron) We had to receive agreement from the Strategic Rail Authority and the four Passenger Transport Executives before we were allowed to proceed. We suggested back in late August/early September that we should put this in very quickly. It got agreed on 25 October and it went in on 29 October.

  31. That is not very passenger friendly, is it? Replacement bus services did not keep to their timetable, did they?
  (Mr Cameron) In the main the replacement bus services did the job that was expected. We stabilised the service.

  32. Not quite what was expected if you were expecting to do it in 25 minutes and it was taking 50 minutes.
  (Mr Cameron) We expected the buses to take longer and they did take longer than the train. It is very rare for a bus to be able to provide the same journey time as a train.

  33. I think we are aware of that.
  (Mr Cameron) That was planned in the bus replacement process. We were well aware of, and we advertised to our customers, the fact that it would take longer, but at least there was a guarantee that where they turned up for the train there would be a train and where they turned up for a bus there would be a bus.

  34. Do you think bus replacement services are in fact a comparable service to a train? Have you learned anything from this crisis?
  (Mr Cameron) They are certainly not comparable. They do not make the journey time, they do not give the facilities that trains can give for those people with buggies, those people who need facilities for the disabled and they do not always go on exactly the same routes.

  35. You would not do the same thing again.
  (Mr Cameron) We certainly thought it was the right thing to do and that was why we suggested it to the Passenger Transport Executives and the Strategic Rail Authority. We had to do something when we were 165 drivers short, which was the worst position that we faced in early October. It is pleasing to say that we are now only 65 short. We celebrated last week the 200th driver to come out of training in just over two years with another 191 in training.

  36. Did the HSE look at your operating company as one of its monitoring exercises in driver training?
  (Mr Cameron) They have looked at our driver training and are satisfied that our driver training meets the standards of the industry.

  37. Did they give you a list of things they were not happy with or did they say what you are doing is absolutely perfect?
  (Mr Cameron) I do not think we believe that everything we do is absolutely perfect.

  38. No, did the HSE say they were unhappy?
  (Mr Cameron) I am not aware of that. I shall take that away and come back to you.

  39. We should like a note from you on that.
  (Mr Cameron) I shall certainly do that.

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