JOHN HUMPHRYS: Let's get a political
view on that. Don Foster, the structure of the railway Christian Wolmar
says is absolutely crucial, George Muir says no it isn't, it's a dangerous
distraction. What do you think?
DON FOSTER: Well can I begin by first of
all giving condolences to those families of the people that were killed
in this tragic accident, but I think Christian's absolutely right. The
fragmentation that we saw following privatisation has led to significant
difficulties, not least because we frankly don't know who to praise and
who to blame for each of the things that are happening on our railways
and there a number of things that could be done very quickly to resolve
that particular problem. We could very easily reduce the number of train
operating companies, that is by reducing the number of franchises, and
going a stage further and giving an opportunity for the train operating
companies who want to, to take over responsibility for the maintenance
of the track on which their trains run. That doesn't mean wholesale re-nationalisation
but it is a way of reducing that fragmentation, and fragmentation is also
reflected even in the safety arrangements that we've got for our railways.
We've got a number of different bodies who are involved and indeed a
number of different bodies currently involved in the current investigation.
HUMPHRYS So you wouldn't go back
to the old British Rail; system. You wouldn't go back to having an operator
of the trains and the operator of the railways, of the track, of the infrastructure
all one body?
FOSTER: In the ideal world I'd
certainly like to see that, but the reality is achieving that would to
some extent, as George Muir says would be a distraction, but more importantly,
would cost a vast amount of tax-payers' money to buy back all of those
shares in the train operating companies and the various other bodies and
that money is urgently needed.
HUMPHRYS .....well maybe you simply
give them Railtrack...maybe you give the train operating company...find
a way of giving the train operating company Railtrack.
FOSTER: Well, that's a possibility,
but the linking of the maintenance of track with the train operators I
think is the most sensible way of moving forward, but let me give you one
specific example about where I believe we've got real problems. Following
all of those previous accidents, recent accidents, that Christian Wolmar
referred to, we've had a number of detailed reports. Those reports have
made a number of recommendations about improvements that need to be made
with very clear timetables associated with them. But the reality is that
in each case we have not seen those recommendations implemented to timetable,
and indeed, in the case of the most recent crash at Hatfield, we haven't
even had the publication of the final report as to what happened there.
So there's real concerns that because of this fragmentation we don't even
know who to blame for the fact that we're not getting on with the recommended
improvements to our railway system.
HUMPHRYS But isn't that partly
because some of those recommendations would have been absolutely breathtakingly
expensive. If you'd introduced the kind of ATP system right across the
network the way that was recommended on one occasion it would have cost
countless billions of pounds and you'd then have to start saying do you
not: should we be spending that amount of money to save one life? Of
course every life is precious, but you have to put this into context.
FOSTER No, John you're right. You
choose a very good example, Lord Cullen's recommendation of the introduction
of Advanced Train Protection Systems to be installed by 2008 and to be
up and running by 2010 is in my view totally unrealistic, not least because
the type of system that we really need to see which is the European Level
Two System to be technical simply isn't operating anywhere in the world
at the moment, so that's an understandable one where the industry has quite
rightly said, look, we simply can't do it, it costs too much, and anyway
it's realistically not possible to do. I have no objection whatsoever
to the industry looking at the various recommendations that have been made,
making clear where they don't think that they can be achieved, or are not
even sensible to do, and we have a revised timetable for those recommendations
we're going to go ahead with. But that has not happened either, the vast
majority of recommendations that the industry accepts should be done have
not been done to timetable, and where there's been a disagreement there
hasn't been a sitting down and a coming forward with a clear new timetable
so the public knows what's going to happen.
FOSTER: If we're going to regain
confidence we need to know what is going to be done, who it's going to
be done by, how it's going to be paid for and when it's going to be achieved.
HUMPHRYS: But the other way of
regaining confidence might be some say, to put this whole thing into context
- it's very difficult to have this discussion at the weekend like this
when people are grieving for their loved ones and people are in hospital
terribly injured, but the fact is railways are safer than other forms of
transport. We had terrible accidents when British Rail was running things,
and indeed before British Rail came along. Have we not to say this was
a terrible accident, and we'll try and learn the lessons, but let us not
over react, let's not scare people off the railways. Some politician have
done exactly that.
FOSTER; To some extent you're right.
And I accept entirely that our railways are very much safer than travelling
on our roads. Indeed if you look at the figures per passenger mile safety
on our railways is actually getting better still, but that doesn't alter
the fact that there's a great deal that needs to be done that could be
done, and will be done more easily if we had a less fragmented system.
I'll give you one other example.
HUMPHRYS Make it a brief one.
FOSTER; Four and a half years ago
the government introduced a Secure Railway Station Scheme, to make our
stations themselves very much safer. Four and a half years on less than
ten per cent of the two-and-a-half thousand stations have achieved accreditation.
Nobody's pushing them, nobody's making that happen, and that's just one
of many examples of things that could be done and have not been done.
HUMPHRYS; Don Foster, many thanks.