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

Memorandum by South Yorkshire PTE (PRF 14)



  1.  South Yorkshire comprises the four Metropolitan Districts of South Yorkshire—Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield—and has a population of 1.3 million. As a consequence of the decline of the coal and steel industries in the 1980s and '90s, South Yorkshire has become eligible for Objective 1 funding, reflecting the fact that its GDP is lower than 75 per cent of the EU average. The aim of Objective 1 is to achieve a step-change in South Yorkshire's economy over the period 2000 to 2009. It aspires to create over 30,000 jobs in a way that is sustainable and addresses the problems of economic decline and social exclusion that have arisen in South Yorkshire.

  2.  The four District Councils in South Yorkshire (Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield) and the Passenger Transport Authority (SYPTA) are jointly seeking through the Local Transport Plan to develop an integrated transport network for South Yorkshire that is high quality and car competitive. Central to that network is a rail network that is reliable. To be that it requires substantial investment and the commitment of a strong long-term franchise partner. South Yorkshire believes the combination of the Draft Policy Statement and Draft Directions and Guidance to the SRA are a real threat to South Yorkshire achieving the improvements it needs in its transport network and risk delivery of the wider economic environmental and social aims. Accordingly, South Yorkshire PTE (SYPTE) has prepared this evidence on behalf of all of the South Yorkshire Authorities.


  3.  South Yorkshire is generally well located on the national railway network, with services provided by the following train operators:

Inter-City Services

    —  GNER provides the Doncaster to London service. Its franchise was recently extended for two years to 2005;

    —  The Midland Mainline franchise provides services from Barnsley and Sheffield to London and was recently extended from 2006 to 2008;

    —  Virgin Cross-Country provide services from Doncaster and Sheffield to the North East and South West. The franchise runs to 2006.

Regional Services

    —  Arriva Trains (Trans-Pennine) and Central Trains provide the regional links to the North West, East Midlands and Humberside.

Local Services

    —  These are principally provided by Arriva Trains Northern who took over the Northern Spirit franchise which is due to run until 2003. Trans-Pennine services are currently part of the same franchise;

    —  First North Western also provide some local services between Sheffield and Manchester via the Hope Valley.

  Current proposals by the SRA are to operate the Trans-Pennine and local services, currently operated by Arriva Trains, as two separate franchises Trans-Pennine and Northern.


  4.  A recent independent study by Colin Buchanan and Partners on behalf of the Objective 1 Executive looked at those transport barriers which could seriously undermine delivery of South Yorkshire's strategic economic objectives. It highlighted the inadequacy of:

    —  South Yorkshire's links to the National, Regional and European rail network; and

    —  the current local public transport service's contribution towards congestion reduction and opening up of accessibility to employment.

  Objective 1 has set aside specific funds to address these issues.

  5.  Eighteen months earlier South Yorkshire identified in its Railplan a number of key priorities. These included:

    —  improved links from Sheffield to London;

    —  improving access from Barnsley and Rotherham to the National network;

    —  better Trans-Pennine links;

    —  a step-change in the services linking Leeds and Sheffield (both direct and via Barnsley);

    —  changes through the franchise replacement programme to deliver more reliable local services; and

    —  significant improvements in the local network to make it car competitive.

  All of these required the co-operation and long-term commitment of the Train Operating Companies to ensure that the investment needed, particularly in infrastructure and rolling stock, was delivered. They were ambitious aims but realistic given the likely funding available through the Local Transport Plan, Objective 1 and other regimes.


  6.  South Yorkshire's strategy fitted well with the approach the SRA was previously taking to extend all franchises affecting South Yorkshire on a long-term basis with contracts for up to 20 years. The prospect of significant investment was welcomed. There has naturally been disappointment at the recent announcement of a 2 year extension to the GNER franchise which is seen as short-term and separated out from the need for long-term strategic investment. While South Yorkshire supports the continued work being carried out on the High Speed Line. It is concerned at the uncertainty over the future of the current franchise. The consequences of this short-term approach are currently being felt directly on schemes such as Doncaster Interchange and the associated development of stations in South Doncaster.

  7.  The Midland Mainline franchise has been more successful. A two year extension has succeeded in securing benefits to services from Sheffield to London in terms of frequency and journey time as well as the potential provision of additional rolling stock. One of the reasons why this is a relatively successful extension is because there was sufficient time left to run on the franchise for both the SRA and the Train Operating Company to be satisfied with the arrangements.

  8.  South Yorkshire recognises the potential benefits in the Trans-Pennine franchise, particularly the need for a long-term vision on capacity across the Pennines, and was impressed with the aspirations shown by some of the bidders. They would have addressed some of the capacity constraints around Sheffield and between Sheffield and Doncaster which are critical to opening up the local and regional network. It has been disappointing that this process has slowed down and become uncertain.

  9.  South Yorkshire Authorities do not believe that further short-term plans can successfully operate on the local franchise. The local network suffers from poor reliability, shortage of drivers and inadequate rolling stock. A two year extension to the Arriva Trains franchise was agreed with the SRA making significant funding available to provide additional drivers and improve rolling stock. Arriva Trains's performance has continued to decline and it will be some time before they have sufficient drivers in place. As yet no improvement to rolling stock has materialised. Whilst there are some mitigating factors for both of these, it does not give us confidence that further short-term extensions to franchises such as this will achieve South Yorkshire's objectives nor those of the SRA or DTLR. Operators need the security of a long-term franchise to encourage them to invest and commit.

  10.  South Yorkshire has been working hard over the last two years to bring about improvements in its rail network. The Railplan has been further assessed to quantify the outline costs and benefits of each proposal and create an implementation plan, as well as progressing individual schemes. For example, it recently submitted an innovative Rail Passenger Partnership bid to improve the services between Leeds, Barnsley and Sheffield and supplement the existing stopping services by more direct trains. Whilst this was initially favourably received by the SRA it is currently held up awaiting the outcome of the Trans-Pennine franchise bid and requires further capacity enhancement studies to be carried out by Railtrack. The changing role of Railtrack has added further delay in the ability to bring about improvements. Railtrack's change in emphasis to an "asset stewardship" role as opposed to its previous "network enhancer" role has created a frustrating lack of progress on many schemes. The SRA do not appear to have contingencies to cover this changing role, which again highlights the need to bring in alternative investing partners with the offer of a long-term period of return. Meanwhile the funding that was available for Objective 1 from such investment might well be committed to other schemes because of the uncertainty surrounding the availability of the SRA, Railtrack and Train Operating Companies to commit to matched funding investment.


  11.  The recent combination of the Draft Policy Statement and Draft Directions and Guidance do little to encourage South Yorkshire to believe that the long-term strategic thinking that is required to provide a step-change in rail service is evident. There is a real risk that they will lead to a concentration of investment in Inter-City routes and in the South East. South Yorkshire understands that there is a real capacity crisis in the rail industry in the short-term. There are funding issues to resolve, skills and staff shortages to address and the need to establish delivery agents capable of ensuring that infrastructure is enhanced. This may mean there is a case for taking stock and concentrating on improving the customer focus of the railway. If this does mean five to seven year franchises, they must be accompanied by a clear commitment to address these issues and deliver commitment.

  12.  In the longer-term, South Yorkshire believes that the way forward is through longer- term franchises structured with break periods and clear milestones as they will provide the climate within which investment can confidently be made. An essential precursor to this is the resolution of the overall funding available to the SRA for developing the rail network.

  13.  The PTE Group has submitted detailed responses on the changes it wishes to see to the Draft Directions and Guidance and has submitted separate evidence to the Committee on the broader effects it believes the revised Policy Statement and Directions and Guidance will have. South Yorkshire supports the views set out in that evidence.

  14.  South Yorkshire strongly supports the objectives the Committee are seeking, namely:

    —  rapid improvements in safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services;

    —  additional investment in network capacity;

    —  major infrastructure enhancement projects;

    —  leadership of the rail industry;

    —  improved industrial relations.

  South Yorkshire does not believe this will be achieved if the emphasis remains on short-term extensions as currently reflected in the Draft Directions and Guidance and Franchising Policy Statement.

September 2001

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