Memorandum by Nottinghamshire County Council
PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING
1. Before giving evidence it may help the
Sub-Committee to understand this County Council's involvement
in, and commitment to, local rail passenger development.
2. The County Council was the lead of a
consortium of eight local authorities which in conjunction with
the rail bodies re-opened the 32 mile route, the Robin Hood Line
(RHL) between Nottingham and Workshop via Mansfield. The passenger
services are operated by Central Trains and have been financially
supported by this County Council, Derbyshire County Council and
Nottingham City Council.
3. The RHL has been a considerable success
in achieving transportation, economic, social and environmental
objectives and both the operator and the sponsoring Local Authorities
consider that is has significant potential for further development
to meet local needs. It had been hoped that this would be in the
context of a new Central replacement franchise.
4. Based on RHL experience, the County has
promoted further development of the under-utilised local rail
network as a key part of the transportation strategy laid out
in the Authority's Local Transport Plans. The County Council's
statutory response to the Road Traffic Reduction Act lays great
emphasis on rail and the Districts' Local Plans indicate a clear
wish to relate their development strategies to improved rail infrastructure
5. For these reasons, the County Council
needs the Train Operating Company, the SRA and Railtrack to deliver,
and so cannot be immune to current issues affecting the industry.
6. The Transport Sub-Committee outlines
a number of criteria it considers appropriate in the assessment
of the implications of the Government's recent draft policy statement
on passenger rail franchising and the draft directions and guidance
to the SRA.
7. This Authority considers that whilst
issues of safety and improving performance have to be addressed,
the thrust of the Government's approach, namely an emphasis on
the negotiation of changes and short extensions to existing franchises,
rather than the award of new long-term contracts, will have negative
implications for all of the key issues relating to the performance
of the rail industry which the Transport Sub-Committee notes in
its Press Release.
8. In view of the Background set out above,
it may be of interest to the Sub-Committee to be aware of the
particular circumstances affecting passenger rail in Nottinghamshire
which have informed the County Council's views.
9. The main local train operator for most
of Nottinghamshire is Central, whose franchise covers not only
parts of the East Midlands Region but extends into the West Midlands.
In February this year the SRA suddenly announced, after many months
of work, its decision to terminate negotiations on a long term
replacement franchise for that held by Central Trains. The County
Council had earlier welcomed the SRA's initiative towards the
end of 1999 in including this franchise in the second tranche
for which early replacements were to be sought. There was an awareness
that the existing franchise, one of the last to be awarded by
OPRAF, had very tight financial targets and that its modest investment
commitments appeared to be heavily orientated towards the West
Midlands rather than the East Midlands. (It was assumed that this
reflected the relative strength of the West Midlands PTE as a
co-signatory to the franchise).
10. The County Council considered that a
new long term franchise would provide a much better financial
framework to facilitate a significant increase in the flow of
investment in rail services and facilities to the benefit of the
communities in Nottinghamshire. In particular it was perceived
that it would help substantially in the progression and implementation
of rail development schemes in the County and City Councils' Local
Transport Plans which are considered to be fundamental to the
Authorities' integrated transport and development strategies.
These important schemes include Robin Hood Line enhancements,
Nottingham Station capacity (and other) improvements, Ilkeston
Station, the South Notts Rail Network and Rail Quality Partnerships
focusing on station modernisation within Nottinghamshire.
11. It is considered that any extension
of the existing Central Trains franchise on a re-negotiated basis
for two years will have very little effect on the Company's preparedness
to invest. The level of investment which can reasonably be expected
from the existing franchise between the present time and early
2006 (assuming a two year extension) is likely to be significantly
less than that which would flow from a long term franchise, even
on the basis of the initial proposals of the two former contenders
which were dismissed by the SRA as conveying inadequate passenger
12. The current circumstances, allied with
the apparent demise of Railtrack's focus on future development,
suggest that it will be much more difficult for the County Council
and its Local Authority partners to progress their rail development
proposals. There will need to be much more reliance on the seeking
of public funds from the SRA's Rail Passenger Partnership (RPP)
to make possible such development. Whilst this is noted, certain
misgivings have to be expressed about the rather complex and unclear
requirements which RPP funding applications appear to involve;
and the fact that outputs from the Fund have been so modest to
date. This is also against the background that whilst there have
been very welcome capital increases in transportation funding
through the recent LTP settlements, local authorities do not have
the levels of revenue funding to support local train services.
13. Development of the rail network is clearly
a central strand in the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan, but
the County Council is concerned that the Government's new stance
on the franchising issues will discourage the very private sector
investment on which the achievement of the Plan's aspirations
are dependent. At a more local level there is a corresponding
concern that it will impede the implementation of the rail component
of the Local Transport Plans. As indicated above, rail is a key
part of the plans of the County and City Councils especially in
the Greater Nottingham area, but the present circumstances will
make it very difficult to push ahead in constructive partnerships
with the rail bodies to bring these plans to early fruition.