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

Memorandum by Henry Law Esq (PRF 05)



1.   Will this new approach, which includes placing the emphasis on the negotiation of changes and short extensions to existing franchises, rather than on the awarding of new long-term contracts ensure that rapid improvements in the safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services are achieved?

  1.  Extension of short term contracts could encourage train owners and operators to take economical initiatives, such as upgrading and refurbishment of existing rolling stock which is by no means life expired. This is excellent value for money, offering a low-cost alternative which delivers most of the benefits of new trains at a fraction of the cost. It should also avoid the teething troubles which have affected new trains delivered since privatisation whilst still providing a platform for development of appropriate technological advancement through upgrading.

  2.  The industry could be further encouraged to make best use of existing valuable assets through the removal of certain conditions/obstacles, such as the deadline for removal of Mark 1 rolling stock from active service at the end of 2002. As a result of this deadline, maintenance of these vehicles has been prematurely cut to a bare minimum, with an adverse effect on service quality.

  3.  There are options which could be engineered and made available, whereby Mark 1 rolling stock can be brought up to current safety standards and kept in operation until the end of its economic life, around 2015. It is also possible to upgrade this and other classes of stock by retro-fitting new/improved components, thereby producing reliable, refurbished trains which fully satisfy passengers' expectations.

  4.  Such projects would not detract from production of new rolling stock; as traffic growth continues, so does the requirement for an overall increase in the size of the rolling stock fleet. It may however, assist with keeping jobs in Britain, as opposed to importation of new trains where shortage of capacity for new build has forced purchase from abroad.

  5.  As regards safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services is concerned, current problems are to a large extent the result of the current philosophy of railway operation; this is discussed in the answers to question 4.

  6.  For a given line capacity, there is a trade-off between frequency of service and punctuality, and to some extent comfort also; this again is discussed in the answers to question 4. On many routes, the service pattern is very different from what it was before privatisation; trains are now more frequent, a few minutes faster, but mostly made up of short units. This makes for good advertising copy, but in practice, it means that the timetable is easily disrupted and at popular travel times, there is serious overcrowding. Comfort can also be affected by the faster speeds as ride quality is significantly worse.

2.   Will this new approach secure investment in additional network capacity and other improvements to meet both the long and short-term needs of the railways and whether the sums allocated to rail investment remain adequate in the light of events since the publication of the Government's ten-year plan for transport?

  1.  It is diffcult to see how short franchise extensions will lead to any investment for the longer term. As regards improvements to the fixed infrastructure, this is in any case unattractive to the investor as so much of the benefit is external (ie over and above traffic receipts); mostly, this settles in enhanced land values along the line of the improved route; a good example of this is the Chiltern Line, where improvements have significantly boosted property values along the A40 corridor.

  2.  The very serious drawback of a short-term focus is that major improvements are discouraged, including, for example, structure gauge enhancement, reconstruction of bottlenecks to improve capacity, and opening of new lines and new stations.

  3.  There appears to be no systematic means of forecasting the external value of rail investment schemes, for example by estimating the summated value of land value enhancements, which probably constitutes the most reliable measure of the economic benefit and justification for infrastructure enhancements and developments. In the absence of such a methodology, there is no reliable means of prioritising schemes; is it, for example, better to spend a particular sum of taxpayers' money on a single, high-speed rail link or a number of urban heavy or light rail schemes?

  4.  A notorious example of this is the Phase 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the main effect of which will be to give passengers a relatively small time saving, which will be immediately squandered as they will be delivered into one of the most congested parts of central London; it must be asked whether it would have been better to bring forward the Crossrail and Thameslink 2000 schemes instead. The same objection also applies to the West Coast Main Line upgrade stage 2, compounded in this case by runaway costs. On the other hand, at £200 million, Croydon Tramlink appears to have delivered outstanding value and will be a major element in the regeneration of a run-down part the town centre.

  5.  The objections raised in the preceding paragraph are an example of a general failure to view transport needs from the customers' perspective, which is that of the total, door-to-door journey. Investment plans need to be re-focused to address the total journey—from home or office to station, station to final destination. At least as important as major investments in high speed routes. At least as important as major investments in high speed routes are relatively low cost initiatives dealing with, for instance, the number and convenience of inter-modal and train-to-train transfers and interchanges; personal security; baggage; staff attitudes; ticket purchase and information systems, etc.

  6.  There is a need to create low cost spare capacity, for example through the use of longer trains composed of older, refurbished rolling stock. The current trend towards operating short frequent trains is squandering the existing capacity of the infrastructure and the price structure paid for train paths needs to be changed to discourage the train companies from doing this and promote the operation of longer trains.

3.   Will this new approach provide the framework for major infrastructure enhancement projects to be taken forward now that Railtrack is to focus on the maintenance and renewal of the existing network?

  Please see replies to question 2 above.

4.   Will this new approach transform the SRA's leadership of the industry, its day-to-day management of franchises and the way in which it assesses and awards new and extended contracts for passenger services?

  1.  Not in the light of the preceding comments. The SRA needs to be told how it is to exercise its leadership function, whether or not the present train operator franchise system is retained. The SRA will be unable to adopt an effective leadership role for the industry until it is in a position to go out with "shopping lists" which expressly set out what is required of franchisees.

(B)  Exchequer Contribution To Rail Services

  1.  SRA needs to develop a model in which the rail service component of land values is assessed and acknowledged as the primary measure of the public value of railways. Having established this, it becomes possible to determine what services are required and to put a sensible ceiling on the size of the exchequer contribution.

  2.  In addition , the SRA needs to be in a position to know what kind of service improvements represent genuine added value in terms of traffic receipts, and what do not.

(C)  Commission For Integrated Transport Survey

  Attention is drawn to the results of the survey conducted by the Commission for Integrated Transport which was published on 18 July 2001. This shows what those questioned considered most important.
1Punctuality/reliability 24 per cent
2Level of fares20 per cent
3Overcrowding13 per cent
4Personal security10 per cent
5Frequency9 per cent
6Cleanliness7 per cent
7Number of places accessed 6 per cent
8Journey time3 per cent
9Station staff attitudes 3 per cent
10On-train staff attitude 1 per cent

(D)  Journey Times

  1.  It is noteworthy that journey time is near the bottom of the list of priorities. It is unfortunate that this was not known before the current investment was committed, as most of the available resources for rail improvements have now been pre-empted by two high speed rail schemes.

  2.  There are aspects of high speed rail which appear to be little understood. Costs rise exponentially with speed. This arises from various factors:

    —  Vehicles and their components must be designed for more exacting conditions.

    —  Signalling systems become more complex.

    —  Wear and tear on track and rolling stock are increased.

    —  Energy costs are higher.

  High speed rail also causes other problems:

    —  Freight and slower passenger trains cannot share the same tracks.

    —  Services are more susceptible to serious disruption.

    —  Utilisation must be optimised through the use of yield management techniques as developed in the airline industry.

  3.  Against this can be offset, in some circumstances, improved utilisation of rolling stock (each train can make more journeys) and, to an extent, higher traffic receipts; it is, however, difficult to establish how much traffic growth can be accounted for by speeding up the trains. Depending on how the data is collected and analysed, it seems as if traffic increases by between 0.4 per cent[9] and 1.3 per cent[10] for each 1 per cent reduction in journey time.

  4.  About 75 per cent of the population lives within 150 miles of Oxford. This means that the typical inter city journey is around 150 miles. The arithmetic of speed means that successive speed increments bring diminishing journey time reductions; on a 150 mile journey, a speed increase from 80 mph to 100 mph saves 22.5 minutes; the next 20 mph, from 100 mph to 120 mph saves only 15 minutes, and so on. Thus there is a point of diminishing returns; for inter-city journeys, the optimum top speed is probably between 90 and 110 mph for inter-city journeys and 75 mph for journeys of up to 80 miles.

(E)  Fares

  1.  There is also a link between speed and fares; people will pay more for a faster journey, but the amount depends on passengers' circumstances, the purpose of their journey and who is paying the fare. Studies[11] published in 1986 indicated a figure of about 6 pence for each minute saved when travelling for leisure, 12 pence a minute for business travel and 23 pence a minute for executive travel when the employer is paying. Time is money—but more so for some people than others. We have a segmented market.

  2.  The high costs of speed mean that spare capacity cannot be economically provided. This is the principal reason why long-distance rail travel has adopted the yield management techniques as developed in the airline industry. The result is that we no longer have an affordable walk-on service.

(F)  Train Frequency

  The relatively low proportion of interviewees placing train frequency at the top of their priority should also be noted. Passengers obviously prefer frequent trains; a turn-up-and-go service is the ideal, and this requires frequent trains. But when the capacity of the fixed infrastructure is limited, the frequency should be no more than can be accommodated with sufficient leeway to prevent a domino effect collapse of the train service when things go wrong; frequency can be the enemy of punctuality and reliability.

(G)  Overcrowding

  The above point also has a bearing on another issue, that of overcrowding. The current trend is towards running short frequent trains. As well as making poor use of the fixed infrastructure, and train staff, it is also a cause of overcrowding because people prefer to travel at some times rather than others.

(H)  Rolling Stock Design

  1.  Question 1 refers to the need to improve comfort on the railways. This cannot be done without defining parameters for train comfort. The RUCCs attempted to do this in "Aspirations for Rolling Stock Design", but under Morton, as a matter of deliberate policy, the SRA abstained from attempting to influence rolling stock design.

  2.  Recent designs of rolling stock have regressed in comparison to those of fifty years ago, especially as regards passenger space. This is astonishing, considering the experience of manufacturers of clothing and motor vehicles, who are having to cater for the increase in average height of the population over the past fifty years, as well as the growing prevalence of obesity.

  3.  What is necessary is a basic performance specification, with certain parameters laid down. Mark 1 stock can be taken as a benchmark, and new trains should be in no way inferior to this. Amongst the items covered should be:

    —  General aspects of seat configuration eg spacing, dimensions, aisle widths, percentage of seating in facing bays, proportion of those with tables, etc seating.

    —  Amount and location of space for luggage space, bicycles, clothing and personal belongings, and security provisions for these items.

    —  Visibility from seats.

    —  Standards for vibration.

    —  Performance specifications for ventilation systems.

    —  Proportion of toilets (passenger per toilet).

    —  Provision of inter-vehicle gangway connections and performance specifications thereof.

    —  External route indication—performance specifications.

    —  Number, width and location of doors and design characteristics thereof.

  4.  Rolling stock design should be specified with reference to current anthropometric data. So far, this has been done only in relation to disability access. But obvious disability is only one end of a spectrum of capacities which vary across the entire population—for example, children have particular needs, as does the growing proportion of older people with age-related mobility restrictions and other limitations. There is also a need to revisit the disability access regulations themselves, having regard to compliance costs, which have turned out to be considerable, and also to the actual utilisation and demand for the facilities themselves.

  5.  The excessive complexity of new trains should be a matter of concern. It was reported that the Alstom Juniper EMU has 40 km of cable per vehicle. Amongst the undesirable effects are:

    —  Commissioning and reliability problems.

    —  Hidden costs, eg staff training, rebuilding of depots.

        High capital costs which mean that seats have to be crammed in[12] and spare capacity (eg fleets larger than the bare minimum) cannot be provided. This is another factor which has compelled the railways to adopt airline style yield management techniques.

  6.  There is a need to assess on-train systems in terms of value added. Examples are heating and ventilation, and passenger information systems; for instance, paper information systems (maps and labels) provide most, and in some respects more, of the functionality of electronic information systems at a fraction of the cost.

  7.  Also of concern is the question of compatibility of different types of rolling stock. All vehicles on the railway should be capable of being coupled to all other vehicles without the need for special adapters (with the possible exception of vehicles semi-permanently coupled within fixed-formation units. At least braking systems should be operationally compatible. All DMU units should have full operational compatibility, and EMU stock having the same electrical supply system should also have full operational compatibility.

(1)  Safety

  There is a need to review responsibility for safety. Safety measures impose costs on the railways which reduce their competitiveness with other modes. Since privatisation, we have seen a series of measures which have been demanded, the costs of which are out of all proportion to the risk. A rigorous cost-effective approach to safety must be applied.

(J)  A Model For Medium/Long-Distance Train Services

  The following model for long-train services is proposed. In contrast to the airline model of rail travel which is the emerging pattern, the model is that of the urban bus:

    —  Walk-on basic fare set at about Supersaver rate (around 10 pence per mile), and subject to regulation.

    —  Travel at this rate to be available at all times with exception of extreme peaks.

    —  Normal method of ticket purchase to be on train

    —  National network of services of moderate speeds to be set up; normal journey times would typically equate to the best of those of the early 1970s ie Euston to Crewe in 2 hours, Kings Cross to Newcastle in 3 hours 45 minutes.

    —  No seat reservations as sufficient seats will normally be available; access to trains at extreme peaks controlled by regulation tickets.

    —  Train staff to be one steward per vehicle, to be responsible for selling tickets, providing at-seat refreshments, cleaning and tidying, assisting passengers, etc.

5.   Will this new approach improve industrial relations in the railways?

  Uncertainty about the future inevitably creates a sense of anxiety and insecurity. It is difficult to see how this can promote loyalty and commitment at any level within an organisation.

September 2001

9   Shilton 1982. Back

10   Evans 1969. Back

11   Marks, Fowkes and Nash, 1986. Back

12   The capital cost of per seat has risen by a factor of between 3 and 6 since 1955. A mark 1 coach cost about £200 per seat (1955 prices, including the cost of traction); the Adtranz Turbostar works out at about £12000 per seat and the seats in the new Virgin fleet are around £24,000 each. Back

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