Examination of Witness

High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:26 pm on 11th July 2013.

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Tony Berkeley gave evidence.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 3:40 pm, 11th July 2013

The evidence session is now resumed. We will now hear oral evidence from Tony Berkeley on behalf of the Rail Freight Group. I understand that written evidence has been submitted, which will be considered in due course by the Committee; we can confirm that.

Q 243

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Could you set out the capacity challenges that are facing the rail freight industry, and do you believe that high-speed rail will release enough capacity to meet them?

Tony Berkeley: The capacity challenge for rail freight is that—as I suspect you have heard before—the west coast main line, in spite of its recent improvements, is pretty nearly full for passenger and freight. Freight volumes will probably grow about 40% in the next 10  years and it is mostly intermodal, which is containers on trains. Much of that growth will be on the main routes between centres of population or consumption, or ports. Of course, the main one is the west coast main line.

The problem with HS2 is that when it is built as far as beyond Tamworth, or somewhere there, there should be space on the existing line for more freight. That is welcome, provided they do not fill it up with lots of high-speed passenger trains for people from Milton Keynes, who have asked for a five-minute frequency service or something. However, I am sure that Mr Stewart will be reasonable about that.

Tony Berkeley: More seriously, the problem comes when you get to Nuneaton or Tamworth, because at the start you have got eight high-speed trains an hour coming up HS2; you have got some extra ones that will go on the classic line, we are told, which are passenger trains from places such as Blackpool and Chester, and that is three or four; you may have extra regional passenger trains; and you have the 40% growth in rail freight that I have just mentioned.

What I have said to Network Rail and to Ministers is that that needs to be timetabled now, because unless a proper timetable is produced before the Select Committee starts next year, the promoters—the Government—will not be able to demonstrate that they can run the trains on the line that they need to get the revenue to pay for the line without affecting the other operators, which include freight.

I have been going on about this for some time. Meetings that I have had in the last week or two indicate that we can do it and I met Network Rail this morning, who will do the study, and I think meetings will start in September, or possibly August, to come up with an agreed timetable between the industry, Network Rail and HS2, to demonstrate that it can work. If it cannot work, somebody has got to come up with some more capacity enhancements beyond the end of HS2.

Q 244

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

What assessment have you made of the various alternative schemes that groups that are sceptical about HS2—51m and so on—have put forward? I am sure you are familiar with those groups. Do you think that they adequately account for the growth in freight traffic?

Tony Berkeley: I do not think the people who are objecting to HS2 have taken account of freight—they have hardly taken account of it at all. It has all been about passenger.

Regarding the 40% growth that I mentioned, we have had new forecasts in the industry for the past year. The Department for Transport has accepted them; Network Rail has accepted them. We have a little bit of debate going on about how the figures are interpreted, but they are basically accepted. I say to some of the groups that I meet, “Well, if you don’t carry the freight on the rail, it will go by road. Do you want that? Do you want it going through Great Missenden by road?” It is the same issue; the freight will want to travel.

There is a lot more we can do. We also want to get the timetable right on the normal part of the west coast main line and on the HS1-HS2 connection, which I am  sure you want to talk about. That is one of the biggest problems for freight, as well as for Mr Dobson, and maybe other people.

Q 245

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I think it makes sense to ask you whether you think the proposed connection between the two lines is sufficient.

Tony Berkeley: It will not work. I have heard previous evidence. Quite honestly, it will not work. That is before you talk about the damage it will do to the community, which Frank and I have been talking about for some time. The reason it will not work is that the latest design has two single-track connections between two congested networks. The first single-track connection is between HS1 and HS2, both of which we are told will be quite strongly congested. If you want to run trains between two congested networks, you need somewhere in the middle to park them in case, in layman’s language, something goes wrong. If something goes wrong and you have parked a train on this connection, what will the train going the other way do if it cannot get through because it is only a single-track connection? That applies to HS1-HS2 for the high-speed trains and it equally applies to freight.

The connection at the moment between Camden Road and the west coast main line is a two-track connection and it is used for parking freight trains until they get a path on the main line. It will not work and we have told HS2 this. The previous scheme did not work. This one does not work. The difficulty of constructing what they are doing—I think it is a crazy scheme, actually. Lord Bradshaw and I have come up with an alternative scheme. It is only one of a number of options, but the key is to leave the North London line alone for freight and passengers. It is doing very well but it is full. The damage it will cause to the community there—I worked on the channel tunnel for 15 years and I respect people’s right to live where they do. It just cannot work, so a new scheme has to be found. We have come up with one. It may not be the only one.

Q 246

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Do you think the connection between the two high-speed lines is necessary?

Tony Berkeley: I think a connection between the two is essential. I say that because the forecast for the international trains that you will have seen is not that great. It is two or three trains a day from beyond London. Most people I have talked to have said that this is to a large extent caused by the frontier control problems and worries. Because frontier control issues are likely to be in a hybrid Bill, I have started having a series of meetings with the Home Office and the Department for Transport’s security people about how you can make it easier for people to travel from places like Birmingham and Manchester to Paris, Brussels or wherever and have the controls done on the train and mix domestic and international passengers. That is the only way you will make money. I believe that we can make progress and I believe in the next 10 years—it will take 10 years to get it open—that can be resolved.

It is not just a UK problem: it is a French and a German problem as well. But there is a bit of progress. There is also the Greengauge 21 forecast that you will have seen, which suggests that an east-west line, which could be the HS1-HS2 connection if it was built properly,  could justify between four and eight trains an hour in each direction from places like Southend or Kent to Milton Keynes or on the great western, depending on where people wanted to go, or the new airport, wherever that is going to be. There is a big demand there but it has to be built properly. I think the international ones will build up but it will take time.

Q 247

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

I am a west midlands manufacturing MP. It is noticeable that freight has had to come off the west coast main line and has to some extent gone on to the Chiltern line. A lot of it has had to go on to the roads. Does your 40% forecast of increased rail freight take account of the renaissance of the automotive industry in the west midlands?

At the moment, the vehicles have to come down by road to Southampton to the docks for export to China and India. Has the electrification of the railway between Nuneaton and Coventry made any difference at all to a freight pinchpoint? Is there anything more we can do when considering the Bill to ensure that the knock-on impact of rail freight is not overlooked, at a time when manufacturing is recovering?

Tony Berkeley: It is a very good question. I did say that most of the growth was in intermodal, but of course the automotive traffic is possibly a subset of it—possibly not. It is also growing very fast. There is a shortage of wagons at the moment. There is not much shortage of capacity.

You will know that the electric spine that the Government announced is an idea to make it electrified all the way, but until there is a good length of new electric lines that suit freight, it will be quite challenging to get the operators to buy more electric locos than they do at the moment. It is not a constraint at the moment; it is more about having the right wagons.

The manufacturers change the shape of the cars all the time—silly people. So you have to change the shape of the wagons, which is possible. I think it will grow. I would like to see more go through the channel tunnel as well, but they do not need to go down the high-speed line particularly. Frankly, they could go at night, we hope, but it is easier to have flexibility and send them during the day. I do not think that there is really a capacity constraint that will be affected by HS2. If they are coming south from the west midlands, that will be avoiding it, which will probably be a good thing.

Q 248

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

There have been attempts by the freight industry to move more on to rail for an off-peak access to Euston station, but I understand that that has gone on to the back burner. What are the implications of the proposed redevelopment of Euston station for that rail-freight gateway?

Tony Berkeley: No, it has not gone on the back burner. It is a really good idea to have city-centre deliveries in small trains, possibly with run cages going on to the train. In this case, it is local deliveries around Euston. I think they are coming from Daventry. They can go out at rush hour in the daytime as well.

What they are working out now are simple things such as, do you park the truck in parallel to the train you are unloading, or end on? They are just working out the details. I hope the scheme will go ahead and that it will be the start of many other ones. Yes, it uses the  upper deck at Euston, but I personally hope that that gets developed into something that will benefit the community, which it does not at the moment. I am sure that a small space can be found for it there if it is planned. It is a wonderful idea. I do not know what Mr Dobson thinks of it, but it is still very small.

Q 249

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

You are not worried that the proposed development of a high-speed train embarkation point will conflict with that?

Tony Berkeley: We will lobby very hard for that to be retained and in fact to grow. It is just as important as having embarkation points. I am still not persuaded that you need to have so many embarkation points for one train. If we did not have an end-on station and they were going straight through, we would probably not need them. It is a new idea. It is a bit Japanese to me, but I am not a passenger expert.

Q 250

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

You described the current suggestion for a connection between HS1 and HS2 as a “crazy scheme”. You have put forward an alternative proposal. Can you just say a little bit more about your proposal and how that would address issues in a way that the current scheme does not?

Tony Berkeley: This has been done by Lord Bradshaw and me, and it is nothing to do with the Rail Freight Group. We started off by looking at the HS1 and HS2 connection and we thought that it was just crazy. We fiddled around and tried to work out alternatives.

One of the schemes that Network Rail has looked at had the railway going so steeply underneath the Roundhouse that you probably needed a rack and pinion to get up there, which is just crazy, so we thought, let us be creative and have a station under ground that joins Euston and King’s Cross St Pancras. We could have a proper connection between HS1 and HS2 and a better passenger connection at Euston, rather than walking along Euston road in the rain, which is horrible.

We came up with this idea, and then we refined it. We did not want to delay the Bill, so we refined it to take the tunnels a little north under Queen’s Park station. Phase 1, which we are talking about now, would be to have a connection up to the west coast main line. For the first few years, we will send all the HS2 trains into Euston station as it is. They will be single-deck trains. I cannot see the justification for spending an enormous amount of money developing double-decker trains just to go between Birmingham and London if single deckers will be perfectly all right for the first few years. That is phase 1.

When phase 1 is consulted on, and all the other work is done for the next bit, we will take the tunnels down under Regent’s park and across, between Euston and St Pancras, north of where Crossrail 2 is going to go, north of the two deep-foundation buildings, which you probably know about. It will be at the same level as Crossrail 2. We think it can go above the tube lines and below the ordinary railway lines, but we are still looking at that.

Then you have a station with probably two platforms in each direction and a pedestrian connection between the two main line stations. That is the station for the double-decker trains, which will go to Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. They will not turn round there, because  it seems to take 20 to 30 minutes to turn a train round at a terminus. We are looking at different options for going on. Some of them will go to HS1, and go gown to Ebbsfleet, Ashford or somewhere else.

For the trains that have to turn round, we are looking at two options. One is to build some stub tunnels, which are actually quite cheap, just beyond the station. You build half a mile of stub tunnel and you turn the train around there, so you do not take up valuable station time. Or you can go up and use the spare space on the east side of the east coast main line. If you go to King’s Cross North, you will see that there is a tunnel and track space, which is not used at the moment—it was in times past. You can park them there, and whenever they need to come back, they can come down.

We have had a lot of support for this. My only criterion—this is not just because Mr Dobson is here—is that I do not want to wreck Somers Town while this happens, so we have got to build an underground station. I think it can be done at reasonably shallow level, and we have got engineers looking at that at the moment. If it is at the same level as Crossrail, that is a good start. I do not think the costs will be very different, although we have not finished looking at it yet. It will also be able to take the extra trains that are forecast from the east to the west for the domestic services. That is a quick summary. I can send the Committee more papers if you want.

Q 251

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you for that. Can I check a couple of other things? We heard from Camden on Tuesday, who argued that Old Oak Common should be used while time is taken to get Euston right. Is that something you would support? Secondly, what response have you had from High Speed 2 Ltd on your proposals?

Tony Berkeley: To answer your first question, we have had many discussions with Camden. Old Oak Common as a terminus is something that has been looked at for a long time. The problem with that is if you are going to turn eight trains round an hour, you need an awful lot of platforms.

My suggestion is to carry the tunnel on as far as Queen’s Park, which is another mile or two, then come up to the surface and use Euston station as it is. Most of the trains are substitutes for the trains that are going on the west coast main line at the moment. I think that is a slightly better for Camden. We have talked to them about it, and they said, “Well, one or the other.” But we are talking in the same language, really.

Whatever you do, I would certainly urge a delay to the London end beyond Queen’s Park so it can be studied in detail. Bill Bradshaw and I—it is just two of us—know a little about railways. We have got one person helping us, who does not get paid. This needs to be looked at properly. We are confident enough that it can be built. It looks operationally good, and worth studying in the future. Sorry, what was your second question?

Q 252

Tony Berkeley: We have had several meetings with them. First, they said they liked it, because they thought about it 10 years ago—I suppose that is a good start. They then said they had looked at it, and the costs were much too high and it would take too long.

We are also talking to Transport for London about the costs they are looking at for Crossrail 2. I wonder whether some of the HS2 connect costs would not be —shall we say—on the higher side, because perhaps they do not want to do it. Perhaps that is unfair, but one gets this occasionally, in my experience. So we have more to do. I ask the Committee to hold fire on that and just let us finish the exercise. I think we will be more comfortable then.

Q 253

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

I should like to go back to the alternative proposals that 51m have put forward. When I asked them, they did not have the information to hand, but subsequently they sent me it. The summary conclusion is that the Felixstowe to Nuneaton upgrade will be sufficient to meet west coast main line increased capacity. Is that your view?

Tony Berkeley: Well, I am sorry, but it is totally wrong. I say this because I have just been explaining to the Committee about what happens beyond Tamworth when phase 1 joins the main line. The new connection at Nuneaton from Felixstowe actually adds to the traffic there, rather than takes it away. So some of that traffic will either come from there or still continue to go round through London on the North London line.

Network Rail will need to look at alternative routes for the Felixstowe traffic, which could—if you are coming from Felixstowe—turn right before Leicester, up the midland main line, and then turn left at Trent junction towards Stoke-on-Trent, and get to Crewe that way. It is not perfect, but it is an alternative. The central argument remains: they have got to allow for this 40% capacity. That is one option for mitigating it. Whether it is enough—we would need to look at the timetable and everything, but it certainly is not an argument for not having HS2, I am afraid.

Q 254

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

Have you looked at the likely demand for rail freight on the west coast main line, from the London gateway port development?

Tony Berkeley: Yes.

Q 255

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

Will that traffic largely go up the west coast main line?

Tony Berkeley: Yes, it will, and that is one of the problems. Luckily, most of it will not go on the North London line; it will go on the Gospel Oak-Barking line, because there is a bridge over the great eastern, just east of Stratford, rather than—if you want to go on the North London line, you have to wiggle across the tracks at Stratford. But most of it will go up the west coast main line.

I believe they are talking about 40 trains a day from there—that will take time to build up, but we are talking long term now—and probably three quarters of it will go towards the north-west, because that is where its destination will be. The only caveat is that, for the first time in probably 20 years, there will be an excess of deep water port capacity for container ships, with this London Gateway being built, so the shipping lines will be playing one port off against the other, to get the best rates, and one does not know who is going to win and who is going to move where, but one has to plan for it.

The 40 trains a day—it may take 10 or 15 years to get there—is an estimate. It will go on the LTS all right; it is when it gets on the west coast main line that there might be problems.

Q 256

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

I will not ask you about services to and from Milton Keynes.

Tony Berkeley: Are you really asking me or not?

Q 257

Tony Berkeley: Mr Stewart, all I would say is, please leave room for freight. I know you have to look after your constituency first.

Q 258

Photo of Graeme Morrice Graeme Morrice Labour, Livingston

Mr Berkeley, you are obviously aware that in the Bill there is mention of phase 1 and phase 2, but not an extension of phase 2 or, indeed, a phase 3. Would you support the extension of high-speed rail northwards, from Leeds and Manchester, into the central belt of Scotland?

Tony Berkeley: I support more capacity there and, for the same reason I support HS2 in its present form. Probably the easiest way of getting that is to build a high-speed line, at least in part because nobody has yet really found a way of building a new freight line and making it pay, because we are in competition with roads, so there is a big problem there. Your colleague, Kelvin Hopkins, has been doing this for years, sadly with not much success so far, but he is trying very hard.

I think we need extra tracks up there. Freight can perfectly well use the existing line. It will need electric haulage over Shap in particular, but that is easily arranged in the medium term. So from the point of view of freight, extra tracks, and therefore probably high speed over the whole thing or part of it, I would support.

Traffic to Scotland is one of the biggest growth areas for rail freight, with somewhere between five and 10 container trains a night going between Scotland and either the north-west or the midlands, where 10 years ago there was one. It is a big growth area, thanks to people such as Stobart’s and Malcolm’s. But they want to be on time and they do not want to be delayed by other trains.

Photo of Graeme Morrice Graeme Morrice Labour, Livingston

Or indeed by congestion on the motorways.

Tony Berkeley: That is absolutely right.

Q 259

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

First, I want to ask a supplementary to Nic Dakin’s question about the Berkeley-Bradshaw scheme. Tony, you said that there was not a lot of difference in cost. Are you talking about tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions or another figure?

Tony Berkeley: I am not trying to gloss over it but, at the moment, I do not know whether it will be more or less, because we have not done the sums. When one party tells us that, for example, a step-plate junction—the new junction into HS1—will cost A and someone else says it will cost 3A, I begin to wonder what people’s agenda is. That is why we have engineers working on it, who are independent of people’s interests, shall we say, and will come up with an answer. I have not got the answer yet, but it is not significantly different, shall we say.

Q 260

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Going back to the 40% increase in freight, the High Speed 2 line is basically a north-south line that will release capacity on the classic network on the north-south route, but how much of the 40% is north-south? A lot of it is, of course, access to ports, which you have mentioned. As you know, the biggest port in terms of rail freight is Immingham in my constituency. It is not all going to benefit from the project.

Tony Berkeley: You are right. Immingham is the biggest port and you have a lot of coal there at the moment. I do not know how much extra coal will be transported in the future, but perhaps you and your colleagues who are looking after the Energy Bill do. I think that the amount will probably drop. The balance to that, which your port is also looking at, is biomass, but there is still uncertainty about the price and there is competition between Immingham and Milford Haven, which wants to be the biomass centre of the universe. There is very deep water there—you know all that. They want 42 trains a day from Milford Haven to wherever the power stations are.

The central thing is that there are three different markets. Intermodal, which is what I was talking about, tends to go up the routes between north, south, east and west—and Bristol a little bit—and from ports. Your port does not have much intermodal—it has a little bit I think. Then there is the market for bulks—coal, biomass and steel, and things like that, which go where they have always gone but are probably not going to increase very much, and then there are aggregates for the building industry, which go on particular routes between quarries and centres of population and which, again, will probably stay much the same as they are.

So I do not think that the stuff from your port will be particularly affected up or down, and it will not really be affected much by HS2. It is the faster container trains—the long-distance ones in particular—that will have the challenge, and they also have the slightly greater demand for reliability. Does that answer your question?

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Yes. That is fine. Thank you.

Q 261

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

I would like to come back to what we will have to call the Berkeley-Bradshaw model, if that is all right by you. In evidence from Camden council, it was made very clear that the existing Euston station cut a swathe through a community. The costs of a new terminus for High Speed 2 at Euston were miscalculated, but the original sum was £1.2 billion, with, subsequently, another £400 million on top for a scaled-down version. Logically, I found that difficult to understand. The miscalculation is understandable, however, given the complexity.

In your scheme, would your proposal mean that the new station would be sufficiently far underground that it would be possible to achieve what the previous witnesses from Camden said that they would like to see, which a mixed development above the station in the same way that you see such happen at New Street? In terms of the Bill and its financial implications, if you could get a mixed development above the station, would that not offset the cost of tunnelling beneath it?

Tony Berkeley: I think it probably would. I do not know how HS2 Ltd came up with its costs. I just got the impression that some of the costs were forgotten about at some stage. There is a cost to development and a benefit to development. I look upon Euston station as ripe for development to make it a much nicer place for both passengers and residents. I think it is horrible. We basically would not touch the station at all except for where passengers go in and out. One has to work out the passenger flows and we can all be creative about how to get the passengers from one bit of the station to the other bits of it. I will try to resist the temptation to be creative now, but you have to find ways of doing it, which may include putting a nice deck above the station or putting a deck further north if that is what the community wanted. I get the impression that HS2 Ltd is not interested in that any more, and I do not have the impression that Network Rail is particularly interested either, but we should perhaps ask.

The opportunity is there, however. Whether it could pay for the station underneath I do not know, but my vision for the railway bit of Euston is to leave it as it is. If you have to extend the platforms, I would extend them at the London end and get rid of that taxi rank, which I think is pretty horrible. You could do a lot there without wrecking it, but as to whether there is a financial cost or benefit to the development, I do not know.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

If Members have no further questions for this witness, I thank you very much.