Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Strategic Rail Authority (PAC 2000-2001/52)


  The market for franchises developed as the process of privatisation progressed. Accordingly, there were fewer bidders and less competitive bids for the first few franchises. Also, initial estimates of revenue growth were lower than began actually to be achieved and reflected in later franchise bids.


  It is for the train operating companies and Railtrack to maintain the rail system as a safe and secure means of transport,meeting safety criteria drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Railway Inspectorate (HMRI). All rolling stock is designed to run safely even when full loaded. Passenger loading does not affect a train's stopping performance or its structural strength; doors on trains are also designed to cope with crush loading. There is accordingly no statutory safety limit on the numbers of passengers that can be carried on trains.

  It is certainly true that the more heavily laden the train, the greater number of passengers who would be at risk in the event of an accident. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest that overcrowding on trains is dangerous or actually causes accidents or that the net level of risk to an individual standing in an "overcrowed" train is any greater than that presented to a person standing in a train that is not overcrowded.

  The comfort levels of crowding are the SRA's responsibility. We have three mechanisms within Franchise Agreements to deal with this. All are based around planning to prevent general overcrowding; it is extremely difficult to prevent localised overcrowding on a day to day basis. This is because we have a walk-on ticketing requirement with largely unrestricted access to trains (unlike many European railways where, especially on long distance routes, tickets have to be pre-booked and access is refused without a reservation). It is also because day to day peturbation in timekeeping and irregular failures to provide the full train capacity cause localised overcrowding on individual trains and/or routes.

  Our mechanisms are:

i.  General Requirement to plan to prevent overcrowding (Clause 6.1 of the FA)

  This is mainly applicable to longer distance, InterCity services. The train operator must use all reasonable endeavours to ensure that sufficient capacity is provided to carry, without overcrowding, all passengers intending to travel on such train and holding a valid ticket. We require that train operators should plan for passengers to have the expectation of a seat for a journey of 20 minutes or more. There are occasions where this may not happen. Usually, this occurs when (a) the train is not the full-planned length; (b) train services have been disrupted and the train is carrying an unexpectedly high number of passengers; and (c) an unforeseen demand has arisen for train services. Train operators on longer distance routes operate reservation systems to ensure passengers may have the opportunity of a seat. On the most popular trains where seat reservation is recommended or compulsory, reservations are provided free of charge. Passengers are advised about busy services and are asked to reserve seats in advance if they can. The train operator still has to cater for walk-on passengers who may wish to travel without pre-booking.

  Where overcrowding is identified we ask the train operator to demonstrate to us that it is taking appropriate action to remedy the problem.

ii.  Specific PSR capacity requirements

  The train operator must provide a minimum number of seats on nominated trains or flows, often at stated times of the day. This tends to be used on commuter services outside the London area and on InterCity services used for commuting purposes. It is also used by Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) for all their commuter services.

iii.  Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC)

  Used for the 10 London commuter TOCs, Scotrail services to the north of Edinburgh and on all PTE commuter services except GMPTE. PIXC applies to peak services only. The train operators must count demand, predict future demand, then plan to provide adequate train services and capacity to meet this demand. For journeys of over 20 minutes the train operator must plan to provide passengers with a seat. Journeys of 20 minutes or less may be catered for by seats or standing space but standing must not, on average be above the PIXC values. These are currently based on standing densities of 0.55m2 per person. The PIXC measure is a development of work formerly carried out by British Railways Board (BRB), and our current PIXC level is slightly below (ie less crowded) than the BRB equivalent. PIXC is an average, and there will be high peak spikes but we also require the train operator to ensure that crowding is not unduly concentrated on any particular service or route. The train operator submits a train plan to us for each timetable and we check this for acceptability.

  When a train plan is approved we incentivise delivery of capacity for PIXC train operators through the Short Formation Incentive Payment (SFIP) regime. All such services are monitored and failure to provide capacity on any train incurs a monetary penalty. In the year to March 2000, train operators paid £3,486,000 under the SFIP regime. There are also Capacity Thresholds within the Franchise Agreement that apply to all services covered by ii and iii. Again, all are monitored. There are three levels of failure to provide, Call-In, Breach and Default.

  Demand for rail travel has substantially exceeded expectations prevalent at the time of the initial franchises being let. One of the main issues driving re-franchising is the need for greater investment to provide enhanced capacity to meet growing future demand. The new template franchise agreement strengthens our requirements in three key ways:

a.  More train counts

  Hitherto we could require up to two programmes of passenger counts each year. We have raised this to four. Behind this we are pursuing a strong policy of getting train operators to change from manual count techniques (effectively a snapshot process) to installing and using on-train electronic passenger count systems, ensuring continuous monitoring. Our reasons for this and the approach we are taking were outlined to the NAO last year and endorsed by them in their report.

b.  Stronger General Count Requirement

  The present requirement does not ensure overcrowding is always detected early enough. We will in future require train operators to have arrangements to monitor for possible overcrowding at all times and to be able to demonstrate to use they have done so and have active measures to reasonably deal with such crowding as soon as it is detected.

c.  Possible Tighter PIXC Requirements

  We are actively considering the scope for tighter PIXC requirements ie a more generous space allowance for commuters.


  SSRA has in place an enforcement regime in respect of Cancellations which includes trains that run through stations without stopping.

  The Cancellations regime effectively sets a limit on the number of trains that fail to call at all the stations they are timetabled to call at. This includes trains that do not run at all, terminate before the end of their booked route, start at points other than their booked start point (where this leads to stations being missed) or miss out a station for any other reason. In addition trains that run very late (generally one or two hours late depending on the route) are labelled as "Cancelled" as from the point of view of most passengers, they are so late that they have effectively been cancelled.

  Operators face three levels of enforcement if they Cancel too many trains.

  The lowest level of enforcement involves the operator being required to attend a meeting (called in) to explain their performance—there "Call-ins" can be deemed to be a breach, the next level up in the enforcement regime. Breach is hit either through three call-ins or going through the breach level of Cancellations. When it does either of these it can be required to pay a form of compensation—an example might be the passenger dividend extracted from Chiltern which included improvements to the passenger's charter and extension of the performance incentive regime to cover all services.

  The final level of enforcement is Default and it would occur when very high levels of Cancellations were taking place. At Default SSRA has the power to terminate the contract with the operator.

  Enforcement thresholds were set on the basis of historic performance.

  Most Cancellations are caused by trains that start after their booked origin, stop before their booked destination, or are diverted by an alternative route and miss a station. It is rarer for trains to pass through a station and not stop; but the SSRA still has access to the enforcement powers described above.

  We do not have a break down of the number of trains that run through stations deliberately (though we believe that they make up a very small proportion of trains). We do have the number of Cancelled trains (under the definition give above). In the year (17 October 1999-14 October 2000) there were 156,064 trains in this category—this is out of 5,979,944 trains planned and represents 2.61 per cent of the trains planned. Of these we know that 81,584 either did not run at all or did complete less than 50 per cent of their journey.

  We also publicly report train performance through the public performance measure. This gives the performance of each operator in terms of trains arriving at their final destination. In doing this we concentrate on trains arriving at their destination within a specified margin—normally 4 minutes 59 seconds, but 9 minutes 59 seconds in the case of the former InterCity services. A train that has missed a station is not shown as arriving within this margin—even where it has arrived exactly on time or early. The logic behind this is that a train that has missed a station may well have inconvenienced some passengers even if it is punctual.

  The existing Franchise Agreement (dating from the mid 1990's) imposes a reasonable endeavours obligation on the operator to attempt to run the timetable. This means that even if it is below the enforcement threshold for Cancellations it cannot simply decide to miss stations without good reason.

  Looking to the future, the revised franchise agreement will see tightening of the thresholds for Cancellations—reducing the operator's ability to miss stations without the prospect of enforcement action.

  The franchise agreement will also bring in contractual sanctions for the PPM for the first time.


18 December 2000

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