Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
MP AND MR
440. Last week we also had the Passenger Transport
Executive and they mentioned a number of different proposals they
had in mind for network linking, small network extensions, even
re-opening bits of networks. They have got projects in mind and
most of these projects currently do not sit in the Ten-Year Plan
and are not fundable within their PTE budget. Should they forget
about them as totally pie in the sky or is there a way of progressing
them and, if so, what? I am thinking about the Wigan Hub, the
Burscough Curves, things which have been around for years.
(Mr Spellar) Well, the Wigan Hub is not
just a rail plan, but it is tied in with a road plan as well.
It is a mixed development which they have certainly talked to
the Department about. At the moment we are looking at and hopefully
getting a better picture of the commitments that we already have.
We also have the Rail Partnership funding and we are also concerned
that we should not be over-concentrating just on big schemes to
the detriment of a considerable number of smaller schemes which
may deliver a very substantial enhancement to the network.
441. So although you are not against small schemes,
you are not encouraging these schemes to be too optimistic?
(Mr Spellar) No, it is not just that we are not against
small schemes, but we actually believe that the previous focus
maybe of the Strategic Rail Authority largely towards large schemes,
there may need to be a degree of correction because a considerable
number of smaller schemes may deliver quite substantial enhancement
to the network.
442. Stephenson's Rocket, when it was first
introduced, managed to do over 30 miles per hour. In fact it would
find itself at home, would it not, on most of the routes between
major cities in the north of England as 30 miles per hour seems
to be about the speed of the trains on those routes? When will
we actually get the very efficient, up-to-date, fast service between
any of the major cities in the north of England?
(Mr Spellar) That is very much the focus
of the franchise for the Trans-Pennine Express in order to look
at the enhancement of faster trains between those centres and
also to grow that market and separating that out, therefore, from
the more local trains and getting that different focus for those
443. Can you give us, for instance, two cities
which would be benefiting from that within the next three years?
(Mr Spellar) I would obviously have to look at the
444. You would like to give us a note on that?
(Mr Spellar)that are going to
be coming out of the franchise bids.
445. What about the engineering works and this
idea we are going to have the West Coast Main Line closed for
18 consecutive weekends. Great idea?
(Mr Spellar) There was an initial proposal
from Railtrack which was just to close for a block periodthree
to four weeks is my recollection but we can correct that if I
am wrong. There was considerable resistance from the business
community in the north west to seeing that shut off for that period.
There is a lot of work being done in order to minimise the inconvenience
to passengers over those weekends and quite a bit of money being
spent, but it is a straightforward trade-off. The engineers, quite
frankly, would nearly always prefer to have a solid block of time
because of the time it takes to secure the network before they
move workers on to it; then, of course, the time when you are
dismantling those provisions as well. It really is a case where
there needs to be a decision; it is not an easy one and I think
there are arguments on both sides, but I think there would have
been considerable opposition had there been the closure for that
period of time. It is the difficulty with retrofitting an existing
446. When the line was last upgraded, forty
or thirty years ago, there were four tracks and two were done
and then the other two. Why can that not happen now?
(Mr Spellar) One reason is I think we operate under
more stringent health and safety procedures now.
447. Have the health and safety absolutely vetoed
that as a solution?
(Mr Spellar) I think that the procedures under which
you have to work, particularly the closeness of the tracks here
and the ability to be working while train systems are still running,
makes that extremely difficult.
448. It has been done on quite a lot of the
other parts of the track, though?
(Mr Spellar) That is what my advice is, and I am sure
that those train companies who are being affected by this would
have been pressing for this very strongly if they had not been
convinced of the argument that closure, either over weekends or
for a block period, was required. After all, this is the sort
of difficulty we face on motorways as well, in terms of how we
449. The Highways Agency seems to be getting
more and more efficient at dealing with these whereas Railtrack,
whatever you call it, seems to be getting less and less?
(Mr Spellar) The Highways Agency is doing that and
you are now drawing attention to some of the underlying problems,
as I said, with Railtrack. Notwithstanding that there is still
a requirement for closure either at weekends or on a completed
450. Can I take you on to industrial relations
and driver shortages. What are you doing about it to make sure
it does not happen again?
(Mr Spellar) The rail companies are, in fact, working
with the SRA doing a considerable amount on that; in pretty well
all of the franchises there are a lot of drivers in training,
there has been an extensive recruitment campaign, and driver shortages
are certainly reducing as reasons for delays.
451. What about a no-poaching agreement between
each of the franchises?
(Mr Spellar) That might be regarded as a restraint
on the ability of the drivers themselves to move between one company
and another, but quite apart from that the key issue is to ensure
that we have sufficient train drivers and that all franchisees
are making sure they are training enough drivers to meet their
requirements, and a number of them had not. In some cases indeed,
after privatisation, some had as I recall laid off train drivers.
452. The HSE looked at the standards of driver
training and gave each one of the companies it looked at a list
of things that needed to be done. Are you satisfied, firstly because
there is a national agreement on pay and conditions and, secondly,
because all the individual TOCs are doing their own training,
that there is in fact any kind of standardisation or uniformity
across the country?
(Mr Spellar) Standardisation and uniformity
453. Of the training of drivers, for a start.
It would be nice if they all knew how to drive a train.
(Mr Spellar) I am not aware
454. You did not read the HSE report which said
they had looked at a number of companies and they gave strict
instructions to the companies as to what was wrong, but they were
concerned that there was no consistency across the training?
(Mr Spellar) But after the HSE have put in improvements
then we will be seeing, even if it is not consistency because
they are dealing with different groups, adequate training of drivers
so they meet the standards. That is quite different, of course,
from the question of national rates and conditions and standardised
rates and conditions, which is a quite separate issue.
455. Lastly, could you not bang the drum to
make the rail companies give passengers accurate information?
I travelled down from Manchesterironically for a conference
on speedand it took me six hours. During that journey,
I was given misinformation on several occasions, and no accurate
information. Could you not get the rail companies to tell passengers
what is happening when there are problems?
(Mr Spellar) I very much take that on
board and it is quite interesting that, if one looks at public
perceptions of different rail companies and then you compare with
the objective reliability, very often the public's perception
of some companies is much better and one of the key factors may
be that those companies give much better information so that even
if people are delayed they have a better view.
Andrew Bennett: What are you doing about it?
456. So you are going to insist in the future
that not only the individual companies but also this Committee
get no misinformation but very accurate information, very full
and always at the time that they want it, is that right?
(Mr Spellar) Of course, that is an aspiration
in both regards!
Chairman: Thank you very much.