Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 8700 - 8719)

  8700. As an outsider, I would be more concerned about the number of containers you can shift.

   (Mr Bennett) Absolutely. The pricing basis for much rail container freight activity is a price per container—it might be a price per train moved—but in terms of system use and network use, a tonne/kilometre, which is a measure of the output of the rail freight industry, is a reasonable measure.

  8701. LORD BERKELEY: Mr Bennett, could you possibly look at it in a slightly different way? Tonnage is different, whether it is coal or containers, but there is still a weight involved and there is still a distance. A truck probably gets charged by tonne or truck/kilometre, so would you agree that it is the best comparison one can make between, possibly, the two modes?

   (Mr Bennett) It is certainly the best comparison one can make between the use of the road-alone transport network, my Lord.

  8702. LORD SNAPE: Before we move on, I think Lord James's point is: is tonne/kilometre a fair way of judging growth in rail freight? I am thinking, for example, of the coal market, which has changed considerably over recent years; much of it is now imported and, therefore, I would imagine, travels a lot further than it did when it came out of an indigenous coalmine. That would reflect in that 60 per cent but it does not necessarily mean you are carrying much more traffic; you are just taking the same stuff longer.

  8703. LORD BERKELEY: I have just been informed or reminded that the Government uses the tonne/kilometre measure in all such calculations. I think if we start telling the Government—

  8704. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: So they are very unreliable!

  8705. LORD SNAPE: Given Lord James's political activity I do not think that is a very wise comment to make, to be honest!

   (Mr Bennett) If I could say: as we said, there is not a perfect measure, but if we take tonne/kilometres, the point, as Lord Snape has said, is that distance can impact on the total number. If you do not take distance into account, then the growth of lighter weight traffic is masked by fluctuations in heavier weight traffic. So therefore growth in containerised freight can be masked by fluctuations in coal-carrying—

  8706. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: I think my concern was that if you have got a train full of coal, once you have got it loaded and you have started to run the train, it really does not matter whether you are going to Penzance or whether you are going just one stop down the line, because you have done it; you are on the rail and you are running, and it is not particularly an indicator of the growth impact on the burden of delivery and what you are trying to do commercially.

   (Mr Bennett) If we took containers, for example, where the ports are relatively fixed and the demand points are relatively fixed, and that growth in tonne/kilometres (which I will come on to later) and which Mr Cann will talk about in terms of train numbers, I think that is probably a good measure of a real increase in demand. The average distance hauled will not have changed very much, so a growth in tonne/kilometres for containerised freight is a fair representation of underlying growth in the number of containers moved by rail, as opposed to a distortion.

  8707. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: Thank you. I will not press it any further; I will try and understand as we go.

  8708. LORD BERKELEY: Mr Bennett, you were going to tell us a little bit about the expected growth. The next slide, number 6.[6]

  (Mr Bennett) There is now a reasonable consensus around rail freight traffic growth over the period to 2015. The consensus view is that (and apologies, this is in tonnes/kilometre) the total tonne/kilometres will grow by around 30 per cent. That figure is agreed by the Rail Freight Operating Companies and by Network Rail, who have analysed business plans and looked at customer-by-customer intentions, and the Rail Freight Group and the Freight Transport Association, who have used the GBFM forecasting model described earlier, to undertake their own analysis on the independent assumptions. We converge on a view that rail freight traffic is expected to grow by 30 per cent to 2015.

  8709. Does the Government do forecasts of rail freight growth, or has the Government accepted these figures?

   (Mr Bennett) The Government does not do forecasts of rail freight growth because it believes that rail freight output should be the result of competitive negotiations between clients and suppliers, but in the Rail White Paper in July 2007 it incorporated 30 per cent growth as a view of the future, and Department of Transport representatives at the Crossrail Track Access Option hearing confirmed that 30 per cent growth represented a reasonable planning basis for the railway network.

  8710. What happens in the longer term, after 2015?

   (Mr Bennett) Again using the tonne/kilometre measure, we project that rail freight between 2005-06 and 2030 will grow by 115 per cent. That is more than double. With particular reference to the commodities that traverse routes also served by Crossrail services, we project a 330 per cent growth in containerised freight traffic. In effect, that means that, broadly, four times the current volume of containerised freight traffic will be carried in 2030 than today, and that for the construction materials traffic (which, I apologise, is omitted from the slide) there will be 40 per cent growth.

  8711. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: In your slide 5 you refer to £1.5 billion of private sector investment. Is that principally rolling stock and craneage?

   (Mr Bennett) Principally rolling stock. It will include some investment in cranes, in container terminals and it will include some investment in IT systems.

  8712. Do you have a figure for rolling stock?

   (Mr Bennett) I can obtain one.

  8713. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: That would appear to indicate capacity more than anything else. It might be helpful to know.

  8714. LORD BERKELEY: Mr Bennett, would it not be the case that quite a lot of existing rolling stock would be used and, also, better utilisation of rolling stock? Is there a connection between the two?

   (Mr Bennett) There is an indirect connection. There is existing rolling stock which is being used more effectively. Some of this rolling stock is growth. Some, for example, are modern locomotives, from which much higher outputs can be obtained, replacing existing locomotives. The £1.5 billion is not directly incremental but it represents a very substantial increase in the productive potential of the rolling stock.

  8715. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: At some point in this presentation, Lord Berkeley, are we going to receive some indication of the additional rolling stock which will be required by the extension of the resources created by Crossrail?

  8716. LORD BERKELEY: In terms of the construction of Crossrail, in terms of aggregate delivery, that is easy enough to answer. Crossrail otherwise is not going to increase the amount of freight; it might even decrease it if things go wrong, but it is not going to have a great effect, apart from the materials. Mr McLaughlin can speak about that when he gives evidence. Mr Bennett, you have shown the growth figures in slide 6, which are pretty high. How is it planned by Government, Network Rail and anyone else to accommodate this growth? Slide 7, please.[7]

  (Mr Bennett) Thank you, Lord Berkeley. What I also should have said, of course, is that the growth in containerised freight traffic very much reflects the investment decisions by the private sector in expanded port capacity and the Government's forecasts of port throughput as well. So our forecasts were not undertaken in a policy vacuum. What is necessary is an increase in the capacity of the rail network (that is the ability to run more freight trains), an increase in the capability of key sections of the rail network, so that the freight trains that are run can be longer, can be heavier, they can carry higher gauge containers on standard wagons, which means the train productivity is higher, and that the network should be resilient and inter-connected, so that a number of routes could be capable of carrying the new nine-foot-six containers on standard rail wagons.

  8717. LORD JAMES OF BLACKHEATH: Lord Berkeley, if we are going to go that far somebody ought to tell us quite soon what you have to do to make a railway capable of taking freight that it cannot otherwise, because we have not got any idea what you have to do.

  8718. LORD BERKELEY: My Lord Chairman, I was about to ask my witness that question. The word "resilience" is something which is not necessarily well-known to the Committee in terms of rail freight. Mr Bennett, you mentioned gauge and we have discussed that. Perhaps you could just go through the gauges and the need for a nine-foot gauge to take nine-foot-six containers, the need to have longer trains, which means longer sidings, perhaps, or whatever else you may propose. You mentioned resilience. Does that mean having a diversion route for when these lines are closed for maintenance and things like that? In other words, the general view of what is needed to take this extra growth.

   (Mr Bennett) Thank you, my Lord. To make a route fit for freight, for example, if we are talking about heavy freight trains—construction materials—then in some cases it may be simply to do with relaying or improving the quality of track or strengthening underlying bridges to allow wagons with heavier axle-loads to operate. However, for containers, which is the subject of most interest, it probably means it will often be increasing the clearances of structures on a route either by lowering track or by increasing the aperture through which the train runs. In the worst case, nine-foot-six containers can be carried on specialised rail wagons on routes where the structures have not been enlarged to permit the use of standard wagons, where Network Rail's own calculations indicate that the productivity dis-benefit per train is around 33 per cent. In effect, you can carry 33 per cent less containers on a single container train if you have to use specialised Well wagons than if you can use standard wagons. So the productivity gains of enhancing a gauge are very significant. That is the principal issue. That gives the cross-sectional improvement. Lord Berkeley asked about train lengths. Very often the lengths of loading or discharge sidings and the lengths of loop sidings en route where freight trains can be parked temporarily—

  8719. Is the Committee clear what a "loop" is?

   (Mr Bennett) For sidings in which a train can be recessed, or parked, temporarily for traffic regulation purposes to allow faster trains to pass, the maximum length of the freight train may often be limited by the maximum length of that loop. So the question is, for example, can the loop be extended, or can the train schedule be investigated such that the need for using the loop is eliminated? These are the sort of sequential processes that we go through. So to make a route fit for freight, as Lord James asked, one needs to consider the cross-sectional capability (tunnels and bridges), one needs to consider train speeds—are there locations where, because of infrastructure problems, trains are slowed down and have to accelerate, losing money and time and, in effect, imposing a capacity limitation—and are there train length restrictions? Are there locations that limit the maximum length of the train which could be relaxed to allow more productivity, more cargo to be carried, per train?

6   Committee Ref: A52, The future of rail freight (LINEWD-34_05-007) Back

7   Committee Ref: A52, Accommodating the growth (LINEWD-34_05-008) Back

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