Memorandum by South West Transport Network
The Plan was a move in the right direction but
gave insufficient weight to enhancing the capability of rail.
"Sticks"like congestion charges
and workplace parking levyneed to be preceded by delivery
of "carrots"in particular attractive, reliable
and affordable public transport, with due regard to convenience
Remedial action has to include getting effective
structures in the rail industry. (Chapter 6 of Christian Wolmar's
"Broken Rails" is worthy of notice). It is as sensible
for rail infrastructure to be, in effect, publicly owned as it
is for roads. (The proposed Company Limited by Guarantee might
be a suitable vehicle for achieving this). Upgrading rail is more
urgently needed than are new roads. Such road construction as
proceeds should complement rather than compete with rail, encouraging
greater rail use particularly for freight.
Skills and current capacity are insufficient
to deliver the improvements required. The drain of skilled personnel
from "action" to "consultancies etc" needs
to be reversed. Had the resources poured into consultancy, "studies,"
preparing for privatisation and such-like, been devoted instead
to maintaining and improving the physical rail network, we might
now be on a par with European standards instead of being seen
as almost "third world."
For a non-profit infrastructure company private
finance will be attracted only by the quality of the Trust, backed
by Government guarantee. But why not? This in the nature of PFI
for public needs. Public money is made available for roads. Operating
companiesor in some situations joint venture companies
exercising a degree of vertical integrationshould be able
to raise finance on the market, depending on the quality and efficiency
of their management and the nature or their franchises. These
are factors to be taken into account by SRA in determining contracts,
together with such public funding as is provided for socially
needed non-commercial services.
Determining balance between rail and road should
be at the discretion of the Secretary of State to meet changing
circumstances; not pre-determined in the Plan. Phasing of investment
for major schemes can extend over many years, and should be determined
by getting best "value for money," not necessarily meeting
Similarly, flexible arrangements are required
for local schemes, in association with Regional and Local Authorities,
With all the money being spent on them, account
should of course be taken of the emerging multi-modal studiesbut
with due regard to achievement of policy objectives as set out
in A New Deal For Transport.
Flexibility is desirable in determining balance
between large and small schemes, and between infrastructure, management
and operations. But the Treasury "golden rule" should
apply; borrowing only for capital while revenue expenditure should
be from currently raised income.
To be credible targets must be realistically
achievable, by physical capability as well as available finance.
Progress has to be seen to be "on target" to maintain
credibility. The public quite properly expects to see results.
Adjustments may be needed as the Plan proceeds.
The thrust of the Plan should be incremental
evolution of an integrated transport network that supports the
economynational, regional and localwhile enhancing
social inclusion. Reducing congestion has to be a major objective
in achieving this.
Modal shift from road to rail should aim at
reducing traffic levels wherever there is potential congestion.
In urban locations walking should be a pleasant experience, free
from traffic but safe, with points of interest en route and easy-to-follow
directions. It must include convenient access to public transport,
with clear information about times and availability.
Target setting by Regions and Localities makes
sensewith acceptance of responsibility for achievement
by those who have acknowledged it can be done, and have the power
and resources needed to make it possible.
The Plan is broad and primarily financial. Balancing
with social and environmental policies has to be in the detail,
much of which is necessarily Regional and local. An overlooked
aspect of rail (and associated LRT) is electrification. There
may not be a commercial return on the investment, but in long-term
environmental interestsustainable energy resources and
avoidance of vehicle emissionsthere needs to be a national
policy and a continuing programme aimed at minimising cost. There
is also a case for some standardisation of rolling stock designs,
including trains with DC motors that can pick up from third rail
but also take AC from overhead using on-board transformers and
rectifiers, and can accommodate a diesel generator to operate
over non-electrified lines. These are developments in progress
and exist in varying degrees.
The Plan tends to look at road and rail, trains
and buses, as separate entities. Integration requires they be
seen as related to each other. Making provision for walking cannot
offer a direct commercial return, but there is social, environmental
and economic advantage. It should be clear where responsibility
lies for such as interchanges and access to them, information
systems, stations, bus-shelters, etc.
Conflict between the Plan and the White Paper
is doubt as to whether the former is capable of meeting the aspirations
of the latter. One aspect of this concerns capacity of the rail
network, and means for optimising its use. The pattern set in
privatisation clearly did not work. There is a case for a degree
of vertical integration, and there is a major task for the SRA
in timetablinga case well set out in the article "Fantasy
railways" on page 4 in the January 2002 edition of "Modern
Rationalising the franchise system, with fewer
franchisees as is now proposed by SRA, is to be welcomed, recognising
that there are National (InterCity and CrossCountry) services,
those that are essentially Regional, where Regional Assemblies
and Agencies should have a role, and in the major conurbations
Local and "journey-to-work" services. For the latter
PTEs (where they exist) do a good job, but as we often have said
the Bristol area missed out when these were set up, and it shows.
A possibility is that the proposed "Bristol Business Unit"
might take on the role, or as some are suggesting a "BART"Bristol
Area Rapid Transitto undertake co-ordination of all public
transport in the conurbation, including the proposed LRT whichon
the "Karlsruhe" principlehas to be associated
with local rail as it shares tracks. The Joint Planning &
Transportation Unit of the four unitary authorities, plus representation
from the three surrounding Counties, could constitute a sort of
PTA. It is an urgent necessity. So is determining a future organisation
for the branch lines in Devon and Cornwall and upgrading the mainline
to Waterloo. Exeter should be the base for this and the greater
part of what is proposed for "Wessex", while the intended
"Plymouth & Cornwall Business Unit," in association
with the County Council and local authorities, could take on Cornwall
branches. As we have said, delivery of the Plan is in the detail!
Connections between the South West and Europe
are important. For passengers by rail, enhancement of the line
to Waterloo will help, and when St Pancras is the terminus for
Eurostar good connection from the Great Western will be desirable.
For freight via Channel Tunnel there is much to be said for the
Central Railway project, to which we would expect a connection
from the Great Western at Colnbrook, where a major freight area
is in development, associated with Heathrow. The possibility might
also be examined of a connection from the L&SW line where
it would cross the Central Railway (adjoining M25) at Byfleet.
Above all, what is now needed is great urgency
in sorting out the structure, organisation and financing of the
railwaysand this time getting a system that works and delivers
what is required. A start has been made in the changes at Railtrack
and at the Strategic Rail Authority. We look forward to seeing
the published "strategy" on 14 January.