Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by City of Stoke on Trent Highways & Tansportation Division (PRF 01)


  Further to the press notice dated 23 July 2001, I would respond to your points in order as follows:

Point One

  In my professional opinion I do not believe that improvements in safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services will be achieved by extensions to franchises of the very short time span proposed. Because the privatised rail companies have, effectively, assumed that their business would have to be won back at the end of the first series of franchises, all their investment and planning decisions have been based around the fixed period of the current franchises. I do not believe that they are in a position to simply extend their investment plans to any meaningful degree in a two year extension, unless, as with the case of Midland Mainline, they are forewarned of the extension some years before that termination date.

  I am not suggesting that safety would be compromised, but I do not believe that improvements can realistically be expected of an operator who knows that his time of operations is so short.

Point Two

  Rail investment is a long-term commitment. The sums involved in investing in heavy rail are considerable. I cannot accept that operators will seek to upgrade existing or commence new investment programmes especially with regard to rolling stock because a two year extension presents no incentive to such a business as a rail operator to progress additional investment.

Point Three

  Similar comments apply to point three. However, the recently altered role of Railtrack is such a major change to the industry's processes that I cannot accept that operators will somehow "fill the gap". The issue of enhancement of the network is so vital to future rail development that it must be clearly identified in policy and operational strategies which take account of the need for a robust national rail network which also serves local needs.

  The main purpose of an extension would be to give time for policy review and any possible change in strategic direction. Bearing in mind the recent developments in the rail industry, it is perhaps opportune therefore to take this forward by short-term extensions.

Point Four

  With regard to point four, this Authority was disappointed at the way in which the Central Trains franchise was handled. Although the two bidders made an attempt to consult with Local Authorities, this did not seem to us to result in any plans to meet the aspirations of this Authority, and then, after a period of careful discussion with the bidders, backed up by representations to the SRA and Railtrack, the process was abruptly terminated. The effect of this action by the SRA has been to apparently stifle further development of the network in our area. We would be very concerned indeed if this process were to be replicated with other franchises. In particular, we remain concerned that local aspirations are difficult to adequately promote with the industry. The combination of private companies, the SRA which has no local or regional offices, and Railtrack whose role and management structure has changed remarkably, make the development of rail services extremely difficult in an area such as ours, where we are not a direct funder of services.

  In this Authority's view, a much more robust mechanism is required to ensure that the aspirations of the Local Transport Plans of Authorities, combined with changes in our own City such as the development of a 24-hour economy, the progress of cultural and leisure facilities, and the upgrade of public transport generally are reflected in step-change improvements in local rail services. Much has been achieved in Stoke-on-Trent towards this end, and in particular Virgin Trains have reacted positively to our representations, but the issue of the Central Trains franchise replacement served to emphasise how fragile the system can be in the progressing of improvement plans.

  Some thought perhaps needs to be given to how the plans and aspirations of Authorities such as the Unitaries can flow through to the rail companies' own future planning. The industry culture of regarding itself as separate from the rest of strategic planning has been largely reversed in the main conurbations where the PTA's are primary funders, but the same process needs to be replicated in the unitary conurbations.

Point Five

  We have no observations on point five.

  I trust that these comments will be of assistance to the Committee's investigations, and I would be obliged if this Authority were kept apprised of its deliberations in due course.

Paul Lucas

Passenger Transport Manager

September 2001

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