Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 9920 - 9939)

  9920. BARONESS FOOKES: I believe you were saying that the Rail Regulator's resources were rather thinly stretched.
  (Mr Smith) I was saying that. We were debating as to why the ORR in the meeting that we had with them on 13 March said that it was not able to produce a decision relating to specific infrastructure and they did not explain that point. I was going to go on to say that at that time the ORR's resources were very thinly stretched dealing with the consequences of the overrun on the West Coast Main Line at Christmas, the orders and provisional orders that had been served upon Network Rail and the analysis being taken by their operations and engineering team into what had gone wrong at Christmas and what Network Rail was proposing to do to put it right. If the ORR had wanted to make a recommendation relating to specific infrastructure they would have had to have modelled the effect of that infrastructure and whether it produced the additional capacity or the additional performance. They would need to assure themselves that the figures were correct, so they would need to use their own operating and engineering resources to make that happen. The point I was making, but it was speculation, was that their operating and engineering resources were diverted at that time on a number of other quite important issues within the railway industry and, therefore, may not have been able to have coped with this particular issue at that particular time.

  9921. MR ELVIN: Of course, that is speculation, Mr Smith.
  (Mr Smith) That is speculation.

  9922. The ORR had evidence from Network Rail, did it not, on the modelling as well as from the industry?
  (Mr Smith) There is evidence provided but the ORR will always want to assure itself that what it has been told by Network Rail or the industry is correct, so it will apply its own resources to test that.

  9923. Let us be absolutely certain about this so that Lady Fookes does not get the wrong idea. This is not a one-sided exercise, is it? It is not simply the applicant for the access option or even Network Rail putting forward its case and its evidence alone, there is evidence also from all of the other parties involved should they wish to put it in?
  (Mr Smith) Evidence from all the parties, but if one is doing timetabling testing, which is essentially what would have been needed to test that a piece of infrastructure did what it said it was going to do, you need timetabling experts and the majority of those reside either within Network Rail or a few within the Office of Rail Regulation.

  9924. Their Lordships and my Lady have already seen the debate in the hearing transcript, or at least will see it in the transcript if they were not here, with RFG. Mr Burns gave evidence, and indeed Mr Morris for Crossrail, that the modelling was only at the first iteration and there was considerable scope for improvement and considerable additional modelling to be done later. I think August is the next iteration. That is part of the uncertainty which led the ORR to the conclusion that it should be output driven and the ring-fencing of the capacity should be protected by the revised change control mechanism. That was all part and parcel of the reasoning for the decision.
  (Mr Smith) That was included in the transcript, yes.

  9925. Those are clearly the reasons why the ORR went for the output and change control mechanism, because the modelling was at a very early stage and there were acknowledged uncertainties with it.
  (Mr Smith) That is the reason the ORR has written into its decision.

  9926. We have no reason to believe it is anything else, have we?
  (Mr Smith) I have no other evidence.

  9927. Everyone has said that the process has been fair and transparent, the ORR has not suggested any reason other than those which have been given in the documents their Lordships have seen.
  (Mr Smith) I am not aware of any other reasons.

  9928. MR ELVIN: Thank you very much.

  9929. CHAIRMAN: Lord Young, do you want to ask Mr Elvin questions or Mr Smith?


  9930. LORD YOUNG OF NORWOOD GREEN: I think Mr Smith. I do not want to put you too much at ease. That was a joke! I understand your concerns but they have arrived at a decision that they feel it should be based on outputs and they arrived at that figure of 92 per cent PPM. Presumably that was based on some modelling, they are not just clever figure-pluckers, they got there by a process that is reasonably transparent and capable of being validated and is there for a reason.

  (Mr Smith) The 92 per cent was a figure that was suggested by Crossrail, and Crossrail will have to explain why they chose 92 per cent. They said they can actually get to 95 per cent. Our presumption is that it is drawn from the Government's wish to have a PPM of just over 92 per cent by 2014 for the whole railway. The ORR in choosing 92 per cent were building on some existing assumptions about the performance of passenger trains. They also recognised that the 71 per cent that the first run of the model had produced was completely unacceptable. The ORR's problem was they were putting in place some mechanisms and some tests that will only be put into practice perhaps in ten years' time and that was all they felt they could look at at that time. The point I made is that leaves us with ten years' uncertainty that when everybody is put to the test that mechanism actually works because no-one has ever tried this way of sorting out capacity before.

  9931. Thank you for that. Can I ask you one further point. Is that a challenging figure, 92 per cent? You clearly are of the view that the first suggestion of 71 per cent was not acceptable, but is 92 per cent a challenging figure?
  (Mr Smith) 92 per cent has not been achieved in the UK rail industry since before the crash at Hatfield, which saw the industry go into performance meltdown, particularly on the passenger side. On the passenger side, we are currently approaching 90 per cent. 90 per cent is a bit more of a stretch. 92 per cent of short-distance trains arrive within five minutes. Long-distance trains arrive within ten minutes. I think it will be challenging because this is going to be a very intensively worked piece of railway. I have been on the railway for nearly 30 years and the intensity of service that is being proposed on both the Great Western and the Great Eastern and, particularly on the Great Western, the number of divergences to Heathrow, intermingling it with freight services and other passenger services, is great. It is easy to achieve 92 per cent or even 100 per cent on a branch line with one train going up and down, say between Norwich and Cromer. On this bit of railway with Network Rail needing engineering access, with our freight trains trying to get into terminals, trying to get out, avoiding the peak hours but running at nights, this will be demanding.

  9932. Surely it is in Crossrail's interest to ensure that they have got the necessary infrastructure to meet that challenge, bearing in mind the very valid point you make about the complexity of interaction between different services.
  (Mr Smith) That was the very point I was making yesterday, that the six pieces of infrastructure we were seeking, including Acton, were not just for the benefit of freight. Because freight and Crossrail are both using the relief lines as well as some of the complementary passenger services, these pieces of infrastructure will benefit all users of the railway, all the operators, all the customers, whether they are passengers or freight. This is not just a special pleading by the rail freight industry, this is what will make the Great Western work with the intensity of service that everybody is proposing. That is why it seems sensible to agree to do these pieces of work now. The Airport Junction seems to be virtually a done deal, but not a commitment. The other ones are not complex pieces of infrastructure but very sensible additional pieces of work. Bear in mind these ideas were not ours, they were Crossrail's which create the flexibility that all users of the network need. They are an extremely good idea. To have certainty about them now would mean the objective test is important and the objective test will be put to the test in ten years' time, but to know that one passing loop, one bit of railway, enables a freight train to wait before going into Southall Yard rather than crossing all four lines on the flat, is sensible operating and I think any professional railwayman could give you that assurance. These are plain, simple good ideas.

  9933. LORD SNAPE: Given the projections that have been made for the freight industry over the next decade or so, Mr Smith, do you think it is feasible that you could operate not just the existing freight trains but the forecast ones without the infrastructure improvements prior to Crossrail actually starting?
  (Mr Smith) It will be tight but our view is that if you did not have Crossrail we could operate. We would probably have to run more services at night and maybe in the early hours of the morning and late in the evening, so we would have to spread our services out 24 hours. That said, customers are becoming much more 24 hour orientated as well. Network Rail have plans for the seven day railway, which you may have read about, which they believe they can do with less engineering access. There are ways and means of fitting in the growth that we anticipate. The problem comes with the step change in the level of passenger activity with Crossrail.

  9934. Take us through that then. If some or all of these infrastructure improvements are not made, what will happen in the first, let us say, two years of operation of Crossrail?
  (Mr Smith) There has been no timetabling modelling without the infrastructure, so I will caveat my statements with that. What I think we will see is if there is no infrastructure improvement and all the Crossrail services are permitted to run, I would expect the number of paths per hour for freight would have to be reduced. The worst time will be during the peaks but then we try to avoid running our trains during the peak hours anyway, we try to be a good neighbour to the passenger railway. The pressure would come in places like the shoulder peak. For example, we try to bring our stone trains up from the Mendips and get them into the terminals before the current peak period starts. Under the Crossrail proposals the peak and the shoulder peak will start earlier—Crossrail believes there is a significant passenger demand for that—therefore we are either going to have to bring our stone trains up even earlier, but then one is saying to a customer, "Do you mind loading this train at three o'clock in the morning,", and they will say, "Our neighbours are not too keen on that", and I can understand that point, or we are going to have to have spare sets of wagons so we keep the trains held back and throw them in when we can or, more realistically, there will be a cap on the amount we can do.

  9935. Let us look on the black side of this particular equation, that all the infrastructure improvements that you are talking about in your petition are not made, the Crossrail trains are introduced and according to Mr Elvin, of course, these matters will be resolved in due course and it will be Crossrail that will lose out. You have spent a lot of time in the rail freight industry, is it your view that for too long perhaps rail freight has been treated as the poor relation of the railway industry and the pressure will be on you to reduce your trains rather than go through this procedure of going through the ORR and the impact being placed on Crossrail rather than on rail freight?
  (Mr Smith) Let me give you just one example that makes me have the fears that you have just expressed. In December 2008 there will be a very intensive passenger service introduced on the West Coast Main Line as the end result of the very long upgrade works that have been going on. EWS has been served by Network Rail with something called a "carve-out notice" by which Network Rail has the right to change the times of, or remove altogether, freight paths on the West Coast Main Line that are in conflict with the new passenger service. That is a matter between ourselves and Network Rail. We are challenging it. We are realists, we appreciate the politics of railways is primarily about the passenger and the passenger train and when there is a squeeze on capacity it is freight that does suffer.

  9936. LORD BROOKE OF ALVERTHORPE: Mr Smith, if Crossrail did not hit the 92 per cent do you believe that the regulator would in fact deny them access, they would leave the tunnel unused and all the trains unused?
  (Mr Smith) That would be quite a surprising outcome.

  9937. What do you think would happen?
  (Mr Smith) It is speculation but I can presume that all parties would be brought together by whoever is running the railway at that time, Department for Transport perhaps, and we would all be asked to see if we could make adjustments, make compromises, reduce our ambitions. We actually had that experience, again on the West Coast Main Line when that project was going wrong, when the Strategic Rail Authority started up and Mr Bowker was taking over as chairman. The project was going nowhere and he called the freight operators in, the passenger operators, and said, "Okay, guys, what compromises can we all make to make this project work?" We gave up some paths and we persuaded customers to go by different routes and in some cases some traffic did not materialise and the long-distance operators and the commuter operators made some compromises as well. That is what business is all about.

  9938. So there is a history of this?
  (Mr Smith) There is.

  9939. CHAIRMAN: Is what you have said about the West Coast Main Line an example of the use of the CCM, so ultimately if there is no agreement it would go to the regulator?
  (Mr Smith) All disputes will eventually end up with the regulator who could use the CCM or other mechanisms in accordance with his published procedures by which he will then allocate capacity.

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