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

Memorandum by the Tonbridge and District Railway Travellers Association (PRF 06)

  On a day to day basis, the interest of members of this Association is focussed on the franchise of Connex South Eastern which provides the services that they use. The franchise is not due to expire until 2011 but, nonetheless, there are aspects of Government policy which will impinge upon that franchise.

  Generally, it is a misconception that there can be rapid improvements in rail services. However, there are areas where management can effect short term improvements to meet the aspirations of rail users and these are reliability and punctuality but neither of them can be dictated by Government policy. It is interesting to note that the response received to a passenger survey organised by this Association that safety was low in the priority of respondents.

  To deal with the safety problem first. The members of this Association exclusively travel in Mk. 1 rolling stock which we are told is inherently dangerous because it has a separate underframe and slam doors and has been described by the contemptible unqualified clown who masquerades as Her Majesty's Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways as "a Chicken coop on wheels". I should explain that the gentleman in question has no railway background nor professional training as a mechanical, electrical, signal or civil engineer. Let us examine the reality. I would suggest that if an estimate were made of the number of passengers who have travelled in this rolling stock since it was introduced between 1956 and 1972 and divided that number by the number of people killed or injured travelling in it, it would demonstrate the minuscule risk—a quotient with at least four zeros after the decimal point before any significant figure was reached. Despite this, the Railways Inspectorate recommended to Ministers SI 1999 2244 which requires all such rolling stock to be scrapped by 1st January 2005.

  Apart from the dubious question of the safety of the Mk.1 rolling stock there is the question of its replacement. In a normal situation the rolling stock introduced in 1972 would last until 2012 and be phased out over a planned period during which new rolling stock would be used off peak whilst the old rolling stock would be used in the peaks bearing in mind that the amount of rolling stock used in the peaks is greater by a factor of three than that used off peak. This would be the normal economic way of doing things. Another aspect of this is that the 1972 stock (Class 423) has high density seating whereas the replacement rolling stock has 20 per cent fewer seats which means as far as the members of this Association are concerned that, because Connex cannot run anymore peak trains due to infrastructure constraints, that large numbers will have to stand for up to one hour. Connex simply will not be able to meet its Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC) limits to which it is committed.

  The Committee should examine whether the SI 1999 2244 should be repealed or modified so far as it relates to rolling stock. Apart from the considerations referred to above there is the question of the provisions of para. 4(3) of the SI which requires some form of override device to be fitted to Mk.1 rolling stock remaining in service after 31st December 2002. This is a particularly unhelpful requirement that will require the expenditure of not less than £10,000 for each modified vehicle to reduce an almost non existent risk for 2 years. The device will only be of value if trains collide in line on the same track. Three recent incidents on the lines affecting members of this Association would not have benefited from the contraption, two were "side swipe" incidents and one, had it taken place, would have been amidships. It also requires the abolition of inter unit corridor connections. Only an inmate of bedlam would recommend such a device.

  Similarly, Class 423 rolling stock has a total of 72 doors on each 4 car unit which would have to be fitted with central door locking so that the trains can run a further two years would be wholly unjustified. This proposed piece of ill thought out nonsense has not been costed. A greater misuse of resources could scarcely be imagined.

  The Committee might also like to consider whether the amounts to be spent to eliminate the minuscule risks associated with the operation of the railways in the UK are justified. Is it more important to bend to the emotional media rants aided and abetted by "victim support groups" and a discredited Railways Inspectorate?

  Prior to the introduction of SI 1999 2244 a draft was circulated to interested parties for comment. However, the civil servants only aim was to give the Minister the opportunity of scoring a political point "Look what I am doing for rail safety". Consequently, as usual, any sensible adverse comment was totally ignored, as a result, this preposterous wasteful piece of nonsense went through "on the nod"

  Modern rolling stock has an unfortunate habit of being unreliable. This is due largely to the fact that it has more onboard systems which are all potential sources of failure. Reliability is also not helped by the "Disabled Vehicle Access Regulations" which prohibits the use of rolling stock when a disabled aid has failed and has not been repaired within a specified time. This is a factual comment which has nothing to do with whether one agrees or disagrees with the DVAR.

  On comfort, the Committee should note that generally new rolling stock is less comfortable than the stock it replaces. No regard is had to the fact that people are getting bigger in fact, the space allowed per passenger is considerably reduced and bus style seating is used to pack in as many seats as possible. It is also interesting to note the comment of a senior railway manager that "We cannot go back to the comfort of Mk.1 rolling stock—we cannot afford it!"

  This Association's experience of the SRA is that it is particularly unhelpful as far as the passenger is concerned. It has been pointed out to it that the design of rolling stock leaves a lot to be desired. It will not even accept that it should take steps to see that the provisions of the pamphlet "Aspirations for Rolling Stock Design" published by the RPC should be adhered to. It responds with the useless statement that it chooses not to be overly prescriptive in these matters. To give but one example, many classes of multiple unit train have been produced without the facility of interunit corridor connections so that when a unit is joined to one or more other units the train remains corridor throughout. The SRA's response is that this is a matter for the commercial judgement of operators that has nothing to do with the safety or convenience of passengers.

  It has also been pointed out that Connex will not be able to meet the PIXC limits to which they are committed; a situation that will only deteriorate if passenger traffic increases to estimated future levels. The response is to ignore the question or to hint that it is a problem for Connex to solve. Connex cannot solve it because the solution depends on infrastructure improvements none of which is foreseen other than Thameslink 2000 which is receding into the ever distant future.

  On the question of the award of new and extended contracts for passenger services. It is assumed that this question will include the variations to timetables. When Connex proposed a major change to the services used by members of this Association to be effective from May 2000 the SRA made no effort to consult users of the services. The changes were based on the aspirations of the Strategic Development and Economic Planning unit of Kent County Council who labour under the false belief that improved services to East Kent will aid its economic development. (Historical evidence can be adduced to demonstrate the falseness of this belief). The fact that 85 per cent of the traffic on the line originates west of Ashford and that many through journeys became impossible was totally ignored in a desire to provide slightly faster services to destinations east of Ashford. Clearly, the SRA does not have the resources to check the details of timetable changes which do not infringe the PSR but, at least, it could consult the representatives of those who use the services who might actually be able to demonstrate the faults of the proposed changes. Also, in this case, the historical fault in the assumptions of KCC. The Committee should enquire into this important matter for whilst timetable planning should encompass future development it should mainly be designed to serve the interests of existing traffic in a robust and reliable manner.

  The expenditure proposed by the Government or, indeed, on works in progress, will have little impact on the services used by members of this Association. It is claimed that the completion of Stage 1 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in October 2003 will free up capacity but it will have little or no effect on peak working because the constraints are in the infrastructure eg lack of terminal capacity. Apart from which, the prognosis is that Connex will have insufficient rolling stock to provide any service enhancements due to lack of investment in additional rolling stock and the effect of SI 1999 2244. As noted above Thameslink 2000 will provide a small relief, assuming that rolling stock is available, and the scheme has not receded into the ever distant future.

M J Whitson

September 2001

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