Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
160. But not improved?
(Mr Carroll) I think the debate will continue for
the next 12 months as to the amount of funds that are required
161. Are you satisfied with the information
you are getting from the department in terms of changes and the
way in which you have been kept informed?
(Mr Carroll) Generally, yes, it is still being managed
at a very senior level as far as the changes are concerned, and
the future structure is clearly still emerging. Yes, we are generally
being kept well informed on that.
162. Can I perhaps look at a parallel situation.
Some people suggested that Scotrail, which is a vertically integrated
operation managing both the trains themselves and also the infrastructure,
might be a possible model in the future for Wales. What is your
opinion on that?
(Mr Carroll) I think that is a possibility. I think
one has to be absolutely clear what one means by "vertical
integration". Certainly as a train operator we are interested
in considering the expansion in the role and responsibilities
to cover signalling, to cover the control activities around running
trains. Where I think we are less clear is around the maintenance
and renewal of the infrastructure, because I think that is a very
big issue. First is not a civil engineering company. We do not
have that expertise within the company, nor do generally the current
train operators be it National Express, Stagecoach or Virgin.
It would be a very big and strategic decision to move essentially
a transport operator into a civil engineering maintenance-type
company. That, I think, would warrant a lot more debate.
163. As you will be aware the Scottish Executive
has powers of guidance and direction over the Strategic Railway
Authority. Could I invite you to comment on what you would see
as the advantages and disadvantages of the National Assembly in
Wales having similar powers over the SRA?
(Mr Carroll) I think the advantages would be your
understanding of the Welsh priorities and the investment requirements.
You would be that much closer than the SRA are at the moment.
I think accountability and clarity in strategy would be clearer.
I also think measuring and monitoring progress would probably
be more intense as well. I think they really are the main advantages,
as I see it. First welcome the opportunity to work with whatever
organisational structurewhether it is existing or a devolved
structure that takes place.
164. Is that something you would like to see?
You would like to see the National Assembly have more say, or
was that not really what you were getting at?
(Mr Carroll) We would like to enter into that and
be part of that debate. I think it is a natural development from
setting up a Wales and Borders franchise, which we have discussed
already, and I think that reality is going to be secured in the
next 12 months or so. I think it is a natural reality in setting
up a franchise responsible for the delivery of rail operations
generally in Wales to consider how that is managed at a strategic
level and how that is funded. I think that debate must take place
and we would welcome the opportunity to participate.
165. You also run the trains that go to Hereford.
I can easily see you getting torn between two masters if you did
find that happening. You are not worried about that at all?
(Mr Carroll) No, I would not put it in those terms.
We clearly have to operate a number of different train services
for different markets at the moment, and that is something that
organisationally we are established to do. Again, I think it is
very much about how those different services are integrated to
maximise the benefit for the customer in things like connections,
station facilities and other improvements.
Mr Wiggin: Very confident. I think "service"
is rather a generous expression from what I have been through.
Thank you very much.
166. Have you discussed the question Mr Price
asked you within your company, or are these your personal thoughts
(Mr Carroll) We have discussed them within the company.
Our company's view is that we would very much want to work with
any emerging structure, and want to participate in that debate,
with the SRA, with the Assembly, with politicians in general in
deciding what the future structure is.
167. In your discussions within your company,
did the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?
(Mr Carroll) We have not evaluated that to that level
of detail; but I think that would be part of the debate that would
168. Really you are not giving us a straight
(Mr Carroll) Not at the moment. I think it would be
unfair to ask for an evaluated response.
169. You have not had the time to consider the
benefits and disadvantages and which outweighs the other?
(Mr Carroll) No.
170. Are you intending to?
(Mr Carroll) I think we will as the debate continues.
I think there is a lack of clarity as to what options and what
the options are.
Adam Price: I was posing the question in terms
of advantages and disadvantages from a National Assembly or Welsh
perspective. I am grateful for your reply.
Chairman: I think we have had the replies you
can give us at the moment.
171. Moving on to track and infrastructure.
How does the state of the railway infrastructure in Wales, particularly
on the South Wales main line, compare with that of the rest of
(Mr Carroll) Our conclusion would be that the infrastructure
in South Wales, certainly the main line in South Wales, is below
average. I say that, although it is difficult in a way to quantify
how you might measure that. Information on the quality of the
infrastructure, apart from customers and people like yourselves
saying, "It feels a bit bumpy", is sometimes difficult
to quantify. Generally, I would conclude that the infrastructure
is below average. That is not surprising, given the fact that
the infrastructure of South Wales, both in terms of track and
signalling, is aged 25 years at least since major investment took
place; and, therefore, coming to the end of its natural design
life and requiring major investment in the future.
172. It has not been given that priority up
until now by the Strategic Rail Authority, has it? Do you think
that is mistaken?
(Mr Carroll) I think the whole of the Great Western
Railway, if you like, has not been prioritised. I think that is
really as a result of the main part of investments going towards
the east coast main line during the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
Essentially we saw a new railway being built between Kings Cross
and Edinburgh, with station improvements and track improvements,
with the resulting improvements that we see on that railway; and
then the lion's share of investment in recent years going towards
the Channel Tunnel and the fixed link there that has tended to
be the focus in recent yeas. Yes, I would say that the Great Western
as a whole is disadvantaged, including the main line into Wales.
173. Can we get a bit nittier and grittier.
Where, on your operation, do you identify the main infrastructure
requirements are on the whole of your linebecause I take
your point that just because the lines are in England they still
(Mr Carroll) In terms of the maintenance improvements,
I think there is a need to continue to increase the amount of
investment generally throughout the whole of Great Western. Members
will be aware that if you took a train this morning from, let
us say, Cardiff to London you would be subjected to a speed restriction
at a place called Patchway near Bristol, where there was a major
embankment slip some eight weeks ago and as a result every train
from South Wales is being delayed by probably about three minutes
for the last eight weeks. Once you then get beyond Swindon, there
was another major embankment slip six weeks ago and a significant
amount of work going on there. I think that is just a tangible
example that the general infrastructure is in need of significant
investment, just to maintain the level of reliability and train
performance that we have currently got. I think we then talk about
improvements. One of the key improvements I think we see in South
Wales is to do with the Severn Tunnel. The Severn Tunnel acts
as a quite significant constraint in the number of trains that
can go through the tunnel. The journey time and the signalling
time to get through the tunnel for a train at the moment is seven
minutes and, therefore, the number of trains that can go through
the tunnel in either direction is 60 minutes divided by seven.
That is clearly a major capacity constraint when one thinks that
we are running trains twice an hour now; Virgin are running trains;
there are significant freight trains, local trains etc. There
is a plan well advanced that is subject to SRA funding, which
we hope will be secured that will put a signal half way through
the tunnel and therefore reduce the journey time in signalling
terms by half, and therefore double the capacity. Secondly, I
am sure members are aware that in approaching Newport Station
or Cardiff Station, trains seem to slow down; and that is essentially
because the layouts at both those locations are 25 years old and
lack the flexibility in terms of signalling and track layout that
the modern railway requires. Again, we are running more services
to Cardiff; Virgin will be running more trains to Cardiff next
year; and what is needed is a dynamic layout there to allow those
extra trains to be dealt with. Again, I am sure there are examples
aroundthe additional trains we seek to run in relation
to major events at the Millennium Stadium. The major constraint
now in running more and more trains to Cardiff is the actual track
layout and that again, I think, points us towards infrastructure
improvements at Cardiff. As far as North Wales is concerned, Ben,
I do not know if you want to say anything.
(Mr Ben Davies) We have just had the upgrading between
Chester and Bangor to 90 mph. Of course, we have 90 mph now between
Crewe and Chester. With the Isle of Anglesey from Bangor through
to Holyhead all the improvements have been finalised on the island
and now make it up to 75 mph from the horrendous 50s and 60s we
had going down Llangaffo and Gaerwen.
174. How soon do you believe the Anglesey line
can be upgraded so that the trains can travel at the same speed
across the whole of the line?
(Mr Ben Davies) I think that is an issue for the SRA
and for funding. I think any improvement, be it in North Wales
or South Wales, is also an improvement and a benefit for the customer
175. You would say that was below average? When
Mr Carroll talked about the Welsh line being below average, that
is very below average, is it not?
(Mr Ben Davies) Yes.
176. Can you give us an idea of the sort of
funding we are talking about? To have that decent, high quality
line what we should expect in the 21st century in South Wales,
what sort of money would need to be put in?
(Mr Carroll) Hundreds of millions of pounds we are
talking about ultimately, because we are trying to run a mixed
railway on the same tracks. Wales has a range of traffic from
high speed trains, trying to go at 100 mph plus, through to very
hot, heavy freight traffic essentially using the same lines with
all the difficulties that presents. If one looks at the east coast
main line, they have moved very much towards lifting the freight
trains and the slower trains on to slower lines so freeing up
the fast trains to run at 125 mph capabilitypicking up
the earlier point, that there is no line in South Wales that has
a line speed of 125 mph, the maximum speed is 100 mph and a lot
of it is well below that. To actually drive up the capability
of the track and, therefore, reduce journey times and I think
move towards the vision you are suggesting would need significant
amounts of investment to be able to move that mixed traffic railway
into a high speed railway and a low speed capability railway.
177. What you have just said is very interesting
to this Committee, because the SRA told this Committee that the
rail network in Wales required no further significant enhancement.
What do you think of that?
(Mr Carroll) It depends what you want is the reality.
I think there are improvements that are available to the railways
in Wales, but they will come through the introduction of new trains
that will have faster acceleration opportunities and, therefore,
reduce journey times. Our very strong view is that if one wants
a step change in the railway and, therefore, the integrated transport
capability of Wales, major investment is required. I think one
only has to look at the current record of the railways in terms
of reliability and performance to suggest that major investment
is required just to lift it up from those standards that I find
unacceptable and I know you do as well. I disagree with that SRA
178. This is an example of what are the advantages
that would flow from the National Assembly having powers to direct
the SRA. Then of course we could more just contradict them in
that statement, we could actually issue a guidance to them?
(Mr Carroll) I agree, and the debate then needs to
be within the overall funding capability, because the SRA are
trying to manage the priorities of the railways as a whole. For
example, the signalling scheme I have described for the Severn
Tunnel has to compete with schemes from all around the country
for a limited finite amount of funding. That I think is a role
that the SRA currently plays at the moment. Yes, you are absolutely
Mrs Williams: Perhaps it is the case, once we
have been able to ask all the questions of the operating companies,
that the Committee should ask the SRA to come back and we can
revisit some of these questions.
179. The case you are making about investment
in infrastructure is made if we make that comparison between the
south west main line, where it takes two hours to get to Cardiff,
not too bad, but an hour to get the 50 miles further to Swansea.
We get 200 miles covered in three hours. If we look at the east
coast main line, trains travel 300 miles in that same three hours.
As far as you see it, is that what we need? The only way we are
going to get the high quality train service to West Wales that
those of us who represent that area want to see is by massive
investment in the infrastructure?
(Mr Carroll) If one is talking about that kind of
step change in journey times, it is not simply about new trains
having a faster acceleration capability. It is also about having
a piece of track that they can run on which has a higher speed
capability. All of the track west of Swansea has a line speed
of 75 miles or less. Therefore, the maximum journey time that
one can make that journey in is obviously very limited by that
track capability. In a way, it is an unfair comparison with east
coast main line because one of the beauties of the east coast
main line is that it has large cities that are very well spaced
out. If one looks at York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, they have
a good distance between each other and therefore a train can get
up to a high speed capability and operate at that speed before
it has to start to brake to make its next stop. In South Wales,
there are a number of stations that the high speed trains need
to stop at. If one was looking at the journey time from Swansea
to London as one of the key measures, you would have to make some
interesting decisions as to whether those trains would stop at
Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend or whether they would be first
stop Cardiff and then Bristol Parkway and then to London. In doing
that, you would have to be clear that there was the market capability
there to run that kind of service. The Yorks, the Newcastles and
the Edinburghs are very large markets that the east coast serves.
I am not sure that Bridgend, Neath and Port Talbot fit into that
same kind of category as far as the overall market is concerned.
To answer your question, yes, if journey time and getting from
a sub-three hour or whatever the journey time requirement is,
you really do need to see a combination of train and train performance
and track dynamics and performance as well.