Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum by Amey Rail (FOR 112)

THE FUTURE OF THE RAILWAYS

INTRODUCTION

  1.  My name is Collin Carr, I am a Chartered Civil Engineer and I have worked in the rail industry for 28 years. I am the Engineering Director of Amey Rail, a leading provider of maintenance and renewal services to Network Rail. Amey Rail is a subsidiary of Amey Group, now wholly owned by Ferrovial, who are Europe's second largest construction company.

  2.  I will deal with the questions posed from Amey's perspective.

(1)   Is the Regulator right, or is rail an outmoded form of transport?

  3.  It is our view that Rail is not an outmoded form of transport.

  Investment in Europe and Japan demonstrates that with the right investment, rail can be a fast, highly efficient, highly competitive, safe and environment friendly form of transport. Undoubtedly, the completion of the first stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) will support this.

  4.  However, although the rail industry has undergone considerable change over many years, strategic technical innovation has been limited. For example, this might require the construction of new lines, it might mean the closure or re-routing of some old ones, but as part of a long-term coherent strategy. This is also a critical requirement for the people who we will need to attract to a career in the railways.

  5.  If, however, our railways are allowed to standstill without a clear focus and direction, deterioration will follow, cost will increase and return on investment will reduce.

  6.  Rail must be able to compete with the car and the aeroplane and the present value of rail can only be viewed in terms of the role that it plays in the wider national transport system. It is environmentally friendly, and the public's expectation is for an efficient, affordable and safe system. Current network usage (which I understand is the highest for many years) is a demonstration of the value that they place on the rail network.

  7.  It is our view that fast intercity services extending into Europe are required. Also, urban and suburban railways that dovetail into local integrated transport systems, freight services and rail links with key locations such as airports, are wanted now and in the future.

(2)   Is the present network the right one? If not, how should it be changed?

  8.  Much of the present network is right and this can be demonstrated by the heavy and increasing use. However, over-capacity is clearly a problem and it is recognised that there is an urgent need to introduce new signalling systems that will increase the capacity of the existing network. Also, many junctions and other bottlenecks in the system need to be engineered out and could bring about significant improvement for the capital outlay. It would be foolish to think that anything built over a period of 100 years, could match present day needs perfectly, given everything that has changed in that time.

  9.  The industry needs clear leadership and direction. The creation of Network Rail and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), are certainly a forward step, and are starting to give the direction those of us responsible for improving the quality of the network infrastructure require. However, there are many other entities within the industry, for example, the train operating companies, Rolling Stock Operating Companies (ROSCOS) and infrastructure maintenance and renewal contractors such as ourselves. These organisations all need to be involved in developing common strategies and setting of these objectives so that all understand the consequences. The Rail/Wheel Interface Strategic Authority is a good example of this working together.

  10.  In its current form, the network is not capable of delivering all the demands that are placed on it. In some locations, the system is running at or near capacity. One of the consequences of this is that there is insufficient time put aside within the timetable for cost effective maintenance to take place. This often results in system failure and associated train delays.

  11.  As indicated earlier significant improvement in capacity can be achieved by improving signalling systems and network bottlenecks. These need to be considered alongside the development of acceptable diversionary routes to ensure a robust service.

(3)   What traffic is the network best used for?

  12.  We think that the Network is best used for:

    —  High speed, inter-city long and medium distance passenger services.

    —  Quick, high density, medium to short distance urban and suburban passenger flows, working with the conurbation developing integrated transport systems.

    —  Various categories of freight traffic that meets the customer needs but has flexibility to accommodate other traffic flows.

  13.  These traffic flows need to be weighted to ensure that the best use of the Network is offered. For example, it might be prudent to discontinue a traffic flow to ensure that the infrastructure is maintained for reliable, high speed running.

  14.  It needs to be understood nevertheless, that mixed traffic railways are more expensive to maintain than dedicated traffic routes, which we understand is more common elsewhere.

(4)   How does our network compare with other railways, and what lessons can we learn from other countries?

  15  Comparison with other networks is extremely complex due to differing societal priorities, operating conditions and third party influences. Where we perhaps lead, is in ensuring the availability of a deteriorating network. We achieve much on a highly utilised, fragile network.

  16.  Other networks, such as in the USA, deliver reliability and cost optimisation by closing major parts of the network for longer periods to enable maintenance "blitzes". This ensures high productivity and reliability. This approach known as "blockades" is being used in the UK to a much lesser extent. Arguably this option could only be considered where viable alternative rail routes are available; this could require the development of new routes.

  17.  Greater integrated transport appears to be delivered in other countries. Our network could perform a better service if it is integrated into other transport initiatives such as Trams, Park & Ride, Congestion Charging, Underground Systems etc. However this integrated service is only viable if all aspects operate reliably. Also, the structure gauge of many other Networks allows the use of "Double Decker" commuter trains. This would require substantial investment for the UK Network.

  18.  Private investment funding appears to have been used to good effect in other countries, delivering Design, Build, Finance Operate/Transfer solutions to infrastructure requirements. The SRA objective of creating Special Purpose Vehicles may encourage this, if risk and reward is appropriately managed.

CONCLUSION

  19.  In our view what is most needed is a clear strategy for the railway industry and its network. Whatever the funding it must be spent in the most cost effective way in support of the strategy.

  20.  Given a clear strategy, those of us in the industry who support Network Rail can also then invest with certainty not just in our equipment and technology, but also in the next generation of engineers and other staff, improving our efficiency and value for money, and significantly improving the quality of the rail network.

Collin Carr

Engineering Director

October 2003


 
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