Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Railway Development Society (IT 69)

INTRODUCTION

  RDS welcomes the Government's vision for integrated transport contained in the White Paper and we look for early action to put this vision into practise. In particular early legislation is needed to create the Strategic Rail Authority, to take charge of passenger franchising and to bring much needed strategic co-ordination to Britain's railways.

  We support the range of funding tools in the White Paper, in particular empowering local authorities to earmark new road/parking charges for public transport improvements, and we urge the government to take early action to implement these measures. We believe that a national charge on private non-residential parking—including out-of-town shopping and leisure complexes—is also needed to stem traffic growth.

  The Government should now set national targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions from transport and, to achieve that, targets for reducing road traffic and increasing rail use.

THE STRATEGIC RAIL AUTHORITY

  We welcome the commitment to establish the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). A powerful and proactive SRA is crucial to achieving the twin aims of rail expansion and integrated transport.

RDS proposes the following additional functions for the SRA:

    —  a full review of the passenger franchise system to set new priorities for the next round of franchises, including new network-wide "integration standards";

    —  an urgent review of National rail fares to create a new basket of protected walk-on fares, concessions, railcards and passes, which all new franchises will have to honour;

    —  creation of a National Rail Development Plan—including line and station reopenings, electricifation and freight facilities—to increase passenger and freight capacity.

Targets

  We support the setting of targets for increasing volumes of passengers and freight going by rail, and urge that these be introduced as soon as possible.

Fines

  We welcome the prospect of swifter action to fine poor performance. We note the wider review taking place into the issue of whether fines/penalties should be retained by the levying authority. We support this principle, and believe that the SRA should retain fines from operators for reinvestment in rail.

RDS proposes the following interim measures until the SRA is up and running;

    —  fresh instructions to ORR, OPRAF and BRB to instil the new priorities for rail integration:

    —  tighter regulation of Railtrack and the train operators—with swifter action to fine poor performance—within the current constrains. The Government should be prepared to terminate franchises when services are persistently poor and to relet contracts on the basis of higher service standards.

  We strongly urge the Government to bring forward legislation to set up the SRA as soon as possible to prevent a repeat of the pre-privatisation investment hiatus, take control of the re-franchising process and provide a strategic vision for rail development.

DEVELOPING THE NETWORK

  We are disappointed that the White Paper does not contain real plans to expand the rail network. Under privatisation line and station reopenings have ground to a virtual halt, electrification has stopped all together and major projects like Crossrail and Thameslink are on indefinite hold. The SRA must be given the remit and powers to get all these things moving again.

Expansion

  Expanding the rail network is vital to achieving the Government's aim of a major shift from road to rail. Britain needs a national programme of line and station reopenings to give everyone access to the rail network. The SRA must drive this forward.

Electrification

  Most other European countries have electrified networks. Electrification means faster, cleaner, more reliable trains—less energy and less pollution. No single party in the privatised railway has an interest in pursuing the long term benefits of electrification. The SRA must be given specific responsibility for promoting electrification, or it will simply not happen.

Light rail and urban rail

  The White Paper effectively dismisses light rail as too expensive. However, upgrading and extending existing suburban lines for light rail can be cost effective and deliver significant modal shift. Manchester's Metrolink, for example, replaces 2.5 million car journeys a year. Another cost effective option is to upgrade conventional local rail services to provide a high quality "metro-style" network of frequent trains, such as Birmingham's Cross-City Route, Merseyrail and Clyderail.

Integration

  Integration of bus and rail services—with through tickets and connections—is crucial to achieving modal shift. The Tyne and Wear Metro network achieved full integration of surface rail, Metro and local bus services, up until bus deregulation. We believe that some form of bus regulation is needed to ensure co-ordination with rail services. Improved access to stations for pedestrians and bikes is also vital to integration—new research from Sustrans/Railtrack shows that shorter/safer routes to stations can dramatically increase rail use.

RDS proposes that the SRA should produce a National Rail Development Plan, to:

    —  give all major population centres (over 23,000) access to the rail network;

    —  promote the line and station reopenings which will deliver significant modal shift;

    —  promote schemes which offer social, environmental or indirect economic benefits;

    —  plan the strategic in-filling and extension of electrification.

New funds

  We welcome the two new funds for rail development and the increase in freight grants. However, we question the sole purpose of the Infrastructure fund of relieving "pinch points"—work which could and should be funded by Railtrack.

RDS proposes that:

    —  the scope of the proposed Infrastructure Fund be widened to include track re-doubling, reopening of strategic links and in-fill electrification;

  If the rail network is to provide the backbone for integrated transport, the SRA must be empowered and resourced to take the lead in network expansion and electrification.

PASSENGER FRANCHISES

  We note that the Secretary of State will seek the advice of the SRA on franchises. The SRA must be set up as soon as possible, if it is to have proper time to consider the options for changing the franchising process to incorporate the Government's new priorities. It is important that new priorities and commitments—especially to integration and investment—are enshrined in the new franchises. There is, therefore, a strong argument for not extending franchises on an ad hoc basis in the meantime.

RDS proposes that the new franchises should include:

    —  enhanced protection for all walk-on fares, railcards, concessions and passes;

    —  new "Integration Standards" covering information, tickets, connections, joint marketing, integration with buses, and pedestrian, cycle and disabled access;

    —  enhanced PSRs—especially for evening and weekend services—to provide a real alternative to car use;

    —  the opportunity for the public sector to bid for franchises, if it will provide a better deal for the taxpayer.

  We need to move towards Quality franchises—awarded on the basis of best value not least cost—which seek commitments to integration and investment by operators.

ROLLING STOCK

  We support the SRA's role of "monitor rolling stock needs". However, we are concerned that, as the end of the first franchises approach, there will be a hiatus is rolling stock investment. Early action is needed, ahead of the SRA, to ensure adequate renewal of rolling stock.

RDS proposed that:

    —  OPRAF be instructed to use its powers to guarantee, and encourage, new rolling stock investment (the possibility of grants for new trains could also be examined);

    —  the ROSCO's be brought under similar regulation to Railtrack—obliging them to maintain and renew rolling stock at modern equivalent asset value;

    —  Rolling stock leasing charges should be regulated to prevent disproportionate charges for running extra/longer trains.

ACCESS CHARGES

  We support the continuing role of the independent Rail Regulator in setting track and station access charges. Access charges must be structured so as not to discourage operators from running more/longer trains or experimental services.

RDS proposes that:

    —  the SRA investigates paying fixed infrastructure costs direct to Railtrack—combined with greatly reduced access charges—to encourage operators to run marginal/experimental services;

    —  access charges for freight be reduced to reflect savings to the wider economy (less pollution, congestion, road damage and accidents).

Open access

  We agree with the Government that Open Access should be pursued with caution, and must not be at the expense of achieving an integrated network. The role of local rail services in delivering integrated transport and traffic reduction must not be undermined by allocating extra train paths for competing services on profitable inter-city routes.

PASSENGER REPRESENTATION

Rail user's committees

  RDS supports the proposal to enhance the powers of the CRUCC and RUCCs. However, we agree with the Select Committee that the CRUCC and RUCCs need to represent a wider cross-section of passengers.

RDS proposes that passenger representation should be further strengthened by:

    —  giving the CRUCC and RUCCs a higher profile and a wider remit;

    —  consulting with passenger groups ahead of franchise extensions, renewals and take-overs.

RAILTRACK

  Railtrack have a crucial role to play in delivering the switch to rail. There is a real danger that rail growth could be stifled by Railtrack's failure to provide adequate capacity soon enough. Further measures are needed—through stronger regulation, and an equity stake—to gain greater control over Railtrack.

Direct payments

  We support the principle of paying Railtrack at least a portion of their income direct from the SRA in return for specific network enhancements.

Safety

  We do not think that Railtrack should be responsible for safety enforcement, and we support the Select Committee's recommendation for an independent safety authority.

FREIGHT

  Rail freight is an essential element of integrated transport. The SRA should set early targets for increasing the proportion of freight going by rail. We welcome the increase in grants for rail freight, and urge that the allocation process be further streamlined.

Heavy lorries

  We welcome the Government's decision to limit lorry weights to 41 tonnes until at least 2003. Intermodal operations could be encouraged by giving tax concessions on lorries used exclusively for short-distance intermodal operations. However, excise duty on all other heavy lorries needs to be increased to reflect their true costs to the wider economy.

Gauge enhancement

  We believe that more urgent action, and Government funding, is needed to advance "High gauge" and "Piggyback" freight. This is vital to increasing rail's share of the freight market and the SRA should be instructed to promote it.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  We welcome the White Paper's proposals to pass greater control of transport to the regional/local level. But, it is essential that government gives local authorities adequate support and resources to promote the new transport agenda, and the powers and duties to deliver it.

Local Transport Plans

  We welcome the stability and long-term view encouraged by LTPs, and the news that they may be developed to cover more than one local authority (the necessary scale for proper rail planning). DETR must now enforce its new priorities by rejecting Local Transport Plans and corridor studies where the alternatives to roads are not fully explored.

Road/parking charges

  We welcome earmarked road/parking charges, and we urge early legislation (and encouragement to local authorities) to introduce them. A recent MORI poll showed 76 per cent of the public in favour of traffic charges which are earmarked for improving public transport.

Passenger Transport Executives

  We were disappointed that the White Paper contained no plans to extend the successful PTE model to more areas. Existing PTEs offer some of the best examples of local rail networks and public transport integration. PTEs should have their previous powers restored, to require operators to participate in integration initiatives. We also urge that the Greater London Authority be given the same powers and responsibilities as PTEs to control integration of all public transport.

RAIL LAND

  RDS welcomes the freeze/review of BR land sales. We also welcome the agreement with Sustrans that ex-BR lines will be returned to rail use when necessary.

Railtrack land

  We are concerned at reports that Railtrack is accelerating its disposal of land assets. Whilst they have taken some steps to protect land for freight use, Railtrack are not taking a sufficiently broad view of passenger needs—such as using land around stations to improve bus interchange and pedestrian, cycle and disabled access.

RDS proposes that:

    —  the government should reconsider the Select Committee's proposal that the SRA be given first refusal (at market value) of any land Railtrack wishes to sell;

    —  in the meantime, ORR should be instructed to monitor Railtrack land sales, to ensure land needed for transport integration is not lost.

Route protection

  RDS still believes that further measures are needed to prevent the break-up, or building on, of disused rail lines owned by BRB, Railtrack, local authorities and others—as outlined in RDS's proposed Railway Route Protection Bill.

  The loss of disused rail lines and other rail land could undermine the government's objectives for transport integration. We urge that a long term view be taken.

CONCLUSIONS

  RDS welcomes the White Paper's vision of rail at the heart of integrated transport. We propose the following key measures, to help this vision become a reality:

    —  legislation to establish the Strategic Rail Authority must be passed as soon as possible;

    —  the SRA should produce a National Rail Development Plan;

    —  the SRA should conduct a full review of the passenger franchise system;

    —  further measures to ensure adequate levels of investment by Railtrack and the ROSCOs.


 
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Prepared 28 April 1999