Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
300. How much did that cost?
(Mr Steer) I cannot give you a figure
immediately, but these are not cheap projects. There is a two
mile tunnel underneath
301. I realise that they are not cheap projects
and it seems that, because they are not cheap projects, the decision
has been made by the SRA to exclude infrastructure significantly,
even infrastructure investment plans, from the revised Trans-Pennine
bid. Why is this?
(Mr Steer) I think there are two points
here. Just to be clear, the fact that they are expensive does
not mean therefore that they do not make the plan. If they are
expensive but produce commensurate benefits that is greater than
the cost, they will get in the plan. They are not made a part
of the Trans-Pennine bid because in fact the Manchester network
is used by several franchises and by a number of freight operators.
We are the major freight operation using the viaduct from Piccadilly
to Deansgate. To try to pin those infrastructure investments around
the development of one franchise does not, in our view, make sense
as the way forward.
302. We have taken evidence that says that it
will not be possible to accommodate the Trans-Pennine franchise
within the current service structure in and around Manchester
because of the capacity constraints.
(Mr Steer) One of the fundamental aims
of the Trans-Pennine Express proposition as originally launched
was to be able to create a pretty much even interval service of
the core sections from Manchester to Leeds in/near quarter-of-an-hour
303. With respect, I am sure that is the case.
(Mr Steer) And we do believe that fits.
304. And Manchester to Sheffield and Sheffield
to Leeds because you mention the three major cities and it goes
back to Mrs Ellman's point, do you use the same assessment for
that northern region as requiring a commuter type frequency between
the major conurbations as you do in the south-east and others
because there is a strong feeling that that does not happen in
(Mr Steer) Exactly so, but my earlier
answer to the proposition, "Are you taking account of regional
factors?", was that, in terms of doing a cost benefit study,
which is what these assessments crudely use, no, we do not. We
apply the same criteria right across the country. There is no
305. Wait. Are you telling us that although
there was clear evidence that these infrastructure changes would
not only improve the times of the trains but would impinge upon
all the other qualities, you ruled that out because, as far as
you were concerned, that was a matter for regeneration and you
do not look at regeneration because you do not look at regional
involvement in economic terms?
(Mr Steer) Absolutely not. I am saying
that, at that stage
306. What confuses the Committee is that you
simply say, "That was ruled out." Then you go on to
talk about the franchises, and the franchisees themselves are
very concerned because they want to know how they are going to
be able to develop if they do not have the infrastructure. Did
you or did you not, before you went ahead with the discussions
which you are having at the present time, do the assessments of
the two cases: one where the infrastructure would be improved
and one where the infrastructure would be ignored?
(Mr Steer) We did not do an assessment; we have not
let the competition run so far on Trans-Pennine on the basis of
a package of improvements that came out of the study
307. Were you aware of what would happen?
(Mr Steer) The SRA is absolutely fully aware of the
Manchester capacity study and
308. Then would you tell us why you took the
decision that you took.
(Mr Steer) Very simply. At the time of putting together
the strategic plan, the case for making that particular package
of investment could not be made. It is not a matter that it has
been ruled out. It will be looked at again; it will be looked
at in the preparation of the next strategic plan
309. In ten years' time?
(Mr Steer) This year in readiness for
publication in January next year. So, this is a current issue.
What I saidand I am sorry if this sounds like picking wordswas
that we could not bring it into the strategic plan.
310. Because you do not have enough money to
(Mr Steer) Because we do not have the
case that is available to justify that expenditure. We did not
have at that stage. We will look at it again.
311. What we are hearing, I think, is a great
deal of inconsistency over franchise related decisions from the
SRA. Let me give you a specific example of that. We have in London
talk by the Chairman of the SRA of the combination of franchises
to reduce the pressure at major termini. So, there is talk about
merging Thames Trains with Great Western; there is talk about
merging WAGN and GNER, for example. Mr Bowker has made a very
clear case that the reduction in the number of franchises will
help the flow of trains through stations. By contract, in Manchester
where you have two substantial stations and there are seven franchises
currently, you are looking to expand the number of franchises
without even putting into the network in that area the kinds of
bottleneck easing pressures that, God willing, may actually eventually
appear in the London area.
(Mr Steer) First of all, I was not aware that we were
increasing the number of franchises. We are reconstructing and
they are being sliced this way rather than that way, but there
were two, Northern Spirit/North Western; there are going to be
two, Trans-Pennine Express and Northern. So, the number of franchises
is not actually increased but you are right, they are not being
reduced. It is not as easy to formulate a way to do, for Manchester,
what is possible on some London terminals. The number of different
franchises operating through Manchester is a large number. So,
would it make sense to combine North Western, the Northern Spirit
franchise, CrossCountry, West Coast, Central Trains? You would
have a very cumbersome vehicle. It is not the relatively simple
proposition of, say, combining Thames and First Great Western.
312. You have just said that you are creating
a Trans-Pennine franchise because you want to create a vehicle
to deliver a high quality city service separate to the more localised
services but, in the case of Great Western and Thames Trains,
you would be doing exactly the opposite.
(Mr Steer) Well, you know
313. Do you want to reduce the number of franchises
in Manchester or are you happy with the number you have?
(Mr Steer) I think we see, on balance,
there being a material advantage which we would hope representatives
in the northand we believe they are increasingly seeing,
we know that there has been a view that it is not desirablewill
see in having a Trans-Pennine Express separate franchise. It is
true that, if you rolled it in with Northern, you could have had
possibly some of these benefits of the type you refer to at Central
London termini, but the truth of the matter is that at the places
where it really matters, say at Manchester Piccadilly or Leeds
or wherever, there will always be another operator. So, you cannot
get it down to a single operator at a key station, which is an
opportunity in the south east. So, if you cannot have that, is
it not worth trying to get the benefit of an intercity type franchise?
Chairman: I think, Mr Steer, there is a total
amount of, perhaps, confusion and not total conviction in this
314. The central railway proposition is designed
to go through Manchester. Given what we are hearing about the
problems in Manchester, is that even vaguely realistic?
(Mr Steer) It is very challenging.
315. Is that "no"? Is that SRA speak
(Mr Steer) The SRA is doing a study on
316. And you will give us notes on the results
of your study?
(Mr Steer) I am sure we will.
317. Is it necessary to close the West Coast
mainline for 18 consecutive weekends for upgrading?
(Mr Steer) It is my understanding that that is the
best balance that can be struck.
318. Balance between whom and whom?
(Mr Steer) Between those who are intent on providing
a service to passengers and freight customers and those who are
intent on delivering the upgrade which requires access to the
319. Could you not do it any other way?
(Mr Steer) You certainly could. The cost would be
lower if you blockaded the route, which was RailTrack's original
proposition. The cost would be higher if you just did it overnight
and it would take a lot longer.