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Rail performance a ‘minor miracle’ – Tim O’Toole

Improvements on the railway should be seen as a success story, the Transport Select Committee heard during its first evidence session for the Rail 2020 inquiry held today.

Rail unions, Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group and the Rail Value for Money Study team were all questioned by MPs. Witnesses included Sir Roy McNulty, David Higgins and rail union RMT’s Bob Crow.

First Group chief executive and Rail Delivery Group chairman Tim O’Toole said passenger growth, safety and performance over the past decade had been a “minor miracle”.

But one committee member, Labour’s Graham Stringer MP, said that while passenger growth was a success story, it had not been a good deal for the taxpayer.

Network Rail chief executive David Higgins responded: “By 2019, the end of CP5, public subsidy to the whole railway drops from £5bn to £2bn. I think that’s a pretty good story in terms of what the Government and the public get from the railway.”

He noted that there were decades of under-investment in the railway in the second half of the twentieth century: for example, the typical annual track replacement rate was stuck at 1%, when it should have been 2%, and has been closer to 3% since Network Rail came into being. He said there were 15 years of no investment in electrification, meaning a lot of recent infrastructure spending had been just “catching up” on that previous under-investment.

O’Toole made the case for longer franchises, saying that it was “undeniably true” that shorter franchises meant there were more ‘cliff edge’ periods towards the end of franchises where operators were disincentivised from investing in the route and their service.

Higgins said he accepted the McNulty report’s conclusion that the industry could make 30% savings by 2019, but rejected the comparisons with other European operators, saying they were too different to be compared usefully.

The rail unions have been calling for the railways to be re-nationalised and warned of the dangers of privatisation.

Ahead of the session, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “MPs are slavishly following the McNulty recommendations without thinking about the financial and safety implications for their voters – higher fares, increased profiteering, safety-critical job cuts and the running of infra-structure for profit through the creation of a whole series of Railtrack#2 operations.

“This situation is deadly serious and the McNulty plans are already being rolled out on South West Trains, London Midland and the new Great Western franchise, with dire consequences, before they have even been approved by Parliament.”

The witnesses today included:

Sir Roy McNulty, chairman, Rail Value for Money Study

Graham Smith MBE, team leader, Rail Value for Money Study

Tim O'Toole CBE, chairman, Rail Delivery Group

Sir David Higgins, vice-chairman, Rail Delivery Group

Mick Whelan, general secretary, ASLEF

Bob Crow, general secretary, RMT

Manuel Cortes, general secretary, TSSA

Julia Long, national officer for Docks, Rail, Ferries and Waterways, UNITE

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Andrew, Oxford   05/01/2013 at 10:44

I don't think Oxford commuters will agree about the miracles. Let's get rational: franchising has cost the British taxpayer far too much in "profits", which are paid by government subsidy.

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