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

Memorandum by the Railway Development Society (RI 10)


  RDS is a national independent body. We campaign for better rail services with the aim of allowing passenger and freight to transfer from road to rail. We have a central office in London and we lobby on national rail issues supported by specialist groups in rail policy and promotion. We have a network of about 100 local branches and user groups for passenger and freight. There is a wealth of local knowledge and practical experience to inform the points we are making.


  We welcome the much improved positive environment for rail investment, as evidenced by:

    —  greatly improved Railtrack Network Management Statement (NMS)

    —  rival proposals for East Coast passenger upgrades

    —  revived Central Railway proposals for new freight route

  However, there are serious concerns about the present direction which we think ought to receive priority attention from the Government.


  It is very clear to us from our discussions with Railtrack senior management that funding from private sources is far short of what is needed to finance the infrastructure upgrading detailed in their NMS. In other words private finance on its own will not deliver the track and route capacity needed to bring about a major modal shift from road to rail as envisaged by the Government in their 1998 Transport White Paper.

  We think that a major injection of new money from the Treasury is essential to augment additional private finance. This should start well before the next General Election and be linked to the Government's 10 year transport plan expected to be announced in July. As an immediate first step the Treasury should plough all premiums paid by the profitable TOCs back into rail investment.

  The issue of financing for rail infrastructure investment schemes needs to be addressed urgently along with protection of land assets and disused routes. Leaving matters to be resolved largely by the industry in the private sector is not sufficient and fail to generate enough investment either in new infrastructure, electrification or reopenings. Some Government policies as set out in the Transport White Paper will not happen because they are not in the commercial interests of the industry.

  As part of this the Government should provide infrastructure support to the railways to enable them to compete with 44-tonne lorries which the Government has recently allowed and financed the upgrading of the road network to take them.

  The Government should make extra efforts to facilitate the use of EU money for Britain's railways.

  Access charges by Railtrack should be reviewed for reopened lines and stations. The expected high level of these charges is inhibiting reopenings that could well have occurred under British Rail when costs were lower, for example Ivanhoe line—Leicester to Burton.


  The SRA should have a strategic vision for the whole Rail Network and its potential for expansion. So far they have tended to be reactive to proposals rather than proactive in expressing transport requirements. The new Authority has not yet shown that it is fulfilling expectations in this respect.

  We are concerned that promoters of schemes such as the East Coast passenger upgrades and the Central Railway proposals for a new freight route seem to be working in isolation to tackle specific problems or needs they have identified. There is a crying need to take an overview of new capacity requirements for the network as a whole.

  Railtrack NMS begins to do this for the short to medium term requirements, but not for the major long-term projects. The rail industry is looking to the SRA to provide the strategic vision that UK rail needs, and RDS believes that the SRA should be the guiding force behind implementing these strategic decisions.


  In our view some of the principles that should guide an investment programme are:

    —  on all three or four main intercity routes into London the greatest congestion is at the London end and this is where new capacity (new lines) should be provided;

    —  other bottlenecks in major conurbations such as Birmingham and Manchester need to be tackled urgently; the current scheme in Leeds is a welcome start on such work;

    —  major schemes in London are crucial for the Capital to remain a world-class city generating wealth for the nation. The aim should be to integrate the services of the surface and underground systems (from the users' point of view) to simplify and speed journeys and to relieve severe congestion. We appreciate that some of these developments involve Transport for London and the Greater London Authority. However they do have a fundamental relationship with the national network so we include them here.

  During the last five years Thameslink 2000 has progressed much too slowly and CrossRail not at all. The orbital rail network within London needs major refurbishment and proper integration by links such as the East London Line extension and the Woolwich river crossing. Other gaps in the network need to be filled by light rail or conventional rail links.

  The Chelsea Hackney line is another valuable cross-centre rail link which should be very high on the agenda. London has one crosslink worthy of the name (Thameslink) whereas Paris now has six which have been created over the last 15 years.

  The electrification programme needs to be reactivated. No electrification has been completed since Heathrow. No new schemes authorised since privatisation. And, with one or two minor exceptions, no part of the industry sees electrification as in its commercial interest yet the case for it remains a strong one for the community at large. We think the SRA should take the lead in recommending which parts of the network should be electrified in the short and long term giving due consideration to network, commercial and environmental benefits.

  Line restoration and service reopenings also need reactivating. Station reopenings have continued thanks to local authority sponsorship but have almost halved in number post British Rail (14 per year down to eight per year). Line reopenings have slowed down very much. This is because costs have somehow greatly escalated while it seems much harder to put together agreements in a commercial environment. Well researched schemes ranging from Ivanhoe in Leicestershire to Alloa in Scotland have made little progress.

  Reopenings involving line restorations (as opposed to those where the line still exists but is not in use) face even greater hurdles. We and other groups have called for suitable procedures for safeguarding potential routes for restoration. We are not satisfied with the response. Indeed the programme of "asset-stripping" by selling rail land continues uncomfortably fast, possibly removing important options for the future.

  The current land sell-offs by Rail Property Limited are occurring before the rail industry as a whole can plan what is needed for an improved future network. There are sites that may have transport uses but are not yet identified as such. There are sites that at present lack a transport bidder. In either case they may end up with a supermarket or ill-placed housing development built on top of them.

  These land sales are preempting the completion of processes that will determine rail development. For example, the passenger refranchising process is in its early stages, the Government's 10 year plan has not been announced yet; local transport plans are only just being finalised. We urge the Government to rethink the land sell-offs to address these issues.


  Bids should be ambitious with radical ideas for rail expansion, realistic and deliverable and able to bring about modal shift from road. Performance track-record of present franchises should be considered in connection with any candidate TOC bidding for the new franchises.

  Investment in rail rolling stock has recovered from the three-year hiatus at privatisation, but there is still insufficient spare stock available to deal with exceptional demand or breakdowns. The period between a train operating company ordering new stock and the stock coming into practical commercial service has often been more than three years and must be reduced for the benefit of long-suffering commuters and other passengers.

  Lack of extra equipment means less reliable and more overcrowded services. This makes it more difficult to persuade new users from their cars.


  We have reports from our regions which suggest Railtrack is falling far short of fulfilling its stewardship role for the national rail network. We have examples of the company choosing to ignore simple low cost developments, which could greatly improve the lot of local communities. Even more disturbing is the total neglect of some potentially useful assets when these do not have an immediately profitable purpose.

  We quote three examples from the Midlands area to illustrate what we mean:

    1.  At Leamington Spa some two to three years ago Railtrack replaced or updated the signalling but refused to include works to enable trains using the up bay platform four to depart towards Kenilworth and Coventry. The signal only permits departures towards Warwick. This seemed a very negative attitude to operational flexibility and service development.

negative attitude to operational flexibility and service development.

    2.  At Stratford-upon-Avon in 1997 Railtrack modernised the signalling and revised the trackwork but refused requests for a new facing crossover to be installed outside the station to enable trains to terminate directly into platform two or three. This would avoid double shunting moves and delays to services when more than one train is at the station. This can be a particular problem when say both a Birmingham and a London train is present together at the station with a locomotive hauled charter train and often chaos has ensued.

    3.  The eight-mile Round Oak-Walsall section of the 18-mile Stourbridge-Dudley-Walsall line has lain dormant for some five years due to repairs necessary to the Parkhead Viaduct. Although there is strategic freight and passenger potential for this route Railtrack has undertaken no maintenance. There has been unauthorised removal of parts of the track and burning of two signal boxes. We think this amounts to wanton neglect of valuable infrastructure with considerable potential which will cost £30 million to repair.


  The Government and the Nation would like to see significant heavy and longer distance freight transferred from road to rail for social and environmental reasons. Some parts of the network round London and other major centres are already full to capacity. Network expansion is needed to deal with the bottlenecks, provide alternative routes on former rail trackbeds, and more terminals to connect with the road network or directly into manufacturers sites. We are very concerned indeed that existing railway land may be sold too hastily without time for realistic consultation with railfreight users. Again we reiterate the need for the SRA and local authorities to work closely with the industry looking carefully at long term strategic needs before land is disposed of.


  The UK rail network is experiencing a most welcome "renaissance" in terms of increasing passenger miles and freight tonnage. This renewed patronage must be encouraged further by investment in the network to facilitate the accessible, inclusive, reliable service which the British public want and deserve. We welcome the private capital which has been injected into the railways since privatisation. This must be complemented by a much greater level of Government financial support to realise the goal of major modal shift from road to rail.


  We would very much welcome the opportunity to present further evidence orally at the Palace of Westminster when the sessions are arranged in due course.

June 2000

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