Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 10400 - 10419)

  10400. I have something to say about tomorrow but I will deal with that at the end of today, so I think those three points conclude matters which I had promised the Committee.

  10401. CHAIRMAN: Will you bear in mind the point I made about getting a minister to say something about clauses 40 and 41, because I think it is fairly important. It is not going to be on our record. You do not have to do it now, but when it comes to the Public stage of the Bill, I think somebody ought to say something. Lord Bassam no doubt will be leading the debate.

  10402. MR ELVIN: Indeed, and, of course, what I have just said about clauses 40 and 41 will appear as evidence in your Lordships' report.

  10403. CHAIRMAN: Yes.

  10404. MR ELVIN: Thank you very much, my Lords.

  10405. CHAIRMAN: Lord Berkeley and Mr George, which of you is going first?

  10406. LORD BERKELEY: I have drawn the short straw to go first, Lord Chairman.

  May I say at the end of three days' discussion on railway issues for the rail freight industry I really am grateful to the Committee for their attentiveness and interest regarding matters of rail freight. I hope we were not incomprehensible—that will come out in your report, I am sure.

  10407. As the Committee will realise, freight is in the private sector but it does compete for track space with passenger services which are generally State-funded or State-directed, and Mr Elvin and Mr Berryman had a brief discussion about passenger services and why they did not petition them, and I would like to suggest to your Lordships it is because none of the current franchisees will be around when Crossrail opens. I do not want to get into more detail but that, I think, is the reason why they are not here. We certainly talk to them a lot.

  10408. But it is, therefore, often an uneasy relationship and that is why the role of the ORR is so important, I think we all agree, with a duty to promote the use of the railway for the carriage of passengers and goods and facilitate investment which, as I said on Tuesday, would inspire business confidence.

  10409. I think the Committee will have appreciated the growing demand for rail freight, especially for containers—four times growth in 25 years—and the forecasting work that has been approved by Government and effectively agreed by all sites in relation to Crossrail, which, of course, we welcome very much, and of course, the consequences of not allowing such freight to go by rail. Mr Cann said it would be the equivalent of 500 extra trucks a day on the M25, A13 and A14, and Mr McLaughlin said a thousand extra on the M4, so we are talking big numbers.

  10410. My Petitioners realise that Crossrail still has a lot of work to do to complete their designs and timetable, as we have heard. Some would call it a heroic challenge but I think we all agree it leads to uncertainty, and this is where business confidence sometimes causes us concern.

  10411. We have heard about the timetable being modelled, and the passenger and freight trains for 2015, the infrastructure in the Bill included, and the fact that it resulted in about 72 per cent PPM. Mr Berryman has admitted no modelling has been done to see how many trains could be run without the infrastructure we have been talking about, and also they have not modelled the consequence of the Regulator, ORR, saying that the number of offpeak Crossrail trains should reduce from eight to six on the Great Western and Great Eastern.

  10412. My Lords, with all those uncertainties, with the planned introduction of this new type of signalling which does not involve any lights—it is all cab-controlled, it is working, as Lord Snape said, on a single branch line from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury, I believe; not very well but it is still being developed—and to transpose that on to the Great Western between Reading and London, to deal with the problems so far unresolved between TfL and Network Rail on the infrastructure and, at the same time, increase the PPM to 92 per cent without any commitment to build much of the infrastructure, I think is challenging, but I get the impression that the Promoters' view is that the ORR will sort it out and they will tell us to run fewer trains until it is sorted out.

  10413. My Lords, what happens if it does not get sorted out and, having all spent five years trying to do the timetable or make it work, we admit defeat and decide, three years before the planned opening of the Crossrail services, that somebody has got to build more infrastructure? What happens if they run out of money and the Government or TfL or whoever cannot bail them out? Do they offer to cut Crossrail services or put increasing pressure on cutting freight services? We are talking politics here, my Lords, but I am afraid that is life. What happens if ORR at that stage was overwhelmed with Government pressure to give Government the answer it wanted for Crossrail, and I would remind your Lordships that in the last few years the Government has tried a number of times to limit the powers of independent regulators. It is in the Olympics Bill, nothing very serious there admittedly; it is in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, which I personally believe is extremely serious; it was in the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill until we persuaded them to remove it, and it is still, to some extent, in the Crossrail Bill in clauses 40-41.

  10414. I am not going over this again but what I am saying is governments, and not just this Government, have a habit of trying to control independent regulators when they come up with unpopular decisions. Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe mentioned that this morning, and I am afraid I fear that they might do it again.

  10415. My Lords, I believe it is important that we have tried to demonstrate to the Committee that there is no conflict between getting planning permission through the Bill and using industry processes through the Regulator to get access to the network.

  10416. Mr Elvin disagrees. He said it is completely wrong in law. Well, as your Lordships know, I am no lawyer but I have seen a lot of what Hutchison Ports have done, and we have heard their evidence. They applied for planning permission to build their port and the planning authority required them to build certain specific rail infrastructure. It was not the Rail Regulator who asked them to do it but the planning authority, who said: "You cannot open your terminal until you commit and build these rail links", all the way to Leeds.

  10417. The Regulator is involved because Hutchison, the Promoter, same as Crossrail, said: "Well, if I am going to spend all this money on railway works I want to have an option agreement to make sure I can run trains on it", and they are applying for an option agreement just as Crossrail has, so I submit that there is no conflict between the two—one is for planning permission and the other is for access options, and that is all I have to say on that.

  10418. I think it is reasonable for the freight industry to ask the Committee to require the Promoters to build a small number of works which we consider to be vital to rail freight. It is not an exclusive list, as we heard this morning, because some, we know, are going to change, and they are not expensive, but they are not only important for freight but very important for bringing in this flexibility against perturbations and against other problems I have already described which are going to happen between now and some time in the future, which Mr Berryman said will start next year for the bigger schemes and go on for several years after that.

  10419. Finally, if it is wrong in law for your Committee to ask the Promoters to commit to building certain pieces of infrastructure, was it wrong in law for the House of Commons Select Committee to ask the Promoters to build the Acton dive-under, and was it wrong in law for that Committee to require it? I leave that with your Lordships.

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