Memorandum submitted by the Strategic
The Strategic Rail Authority formally came into
being on 1 February 2001, following the passage of the Transport
Act 2000. Its responsibilities cover the three sectors of Passenger,
Freight and Infrastructure, with the aim throughout being the
creation of a `Bigger, Better, Safer' Railway.
The SRA's key role is to promote and develop
the rail network and encourage integration. As well as providing
overall strategic direction for Britain's railways, the SRA has
responsibility for consumer protection, administering freight
grants and steering forward investment projects aimed at opening
up bottlenecks and expanding network capacity. It is also responsible
for letting and managing passenger rail franchises
The Strategic Rail Authority recognises the
role which the railways can play in Welsh transport policy which
in turn contributes to the overall health of the nation. It is
working closely with the National Assembly in Wales, local government
and the statutory representatives of passengers to deliver a bigger,
better and safer railway. The Rail Passenger's Committee for Wales
which is sponsored by the SRA has been a tireless advocate of
improved services and facilities for Wales and has an extensive
dialogue with the SRA and local authorities.
The railways in Wales are characterised by principal
flows from East to West across the border between Wales and England.
The markets of these flows fall into three categories of North,
Mid and South, following routes to Liverpool and Manchester, Birmingham
and Bristol & London respectively. The network of railways
in Wales is shaped by the geographic constraints and the needs
of the market.
The railways in Wales do not need major infrastructure
enhancements to facilitate increased use of the network, though
there are a number of incremental improvements which are under
consideration. These are discussed below. The key to the better
railway in Wales is to ensure adequate levels of revenue support
to permit the enhanced levels of service which will help to stimulate
The SRA commenced the re-franchising process
for the new Wales and Borders franchise in the autumn of 2000
following consultation on the case for such a franchise. It was
recognised that a new franchise would provide a better focus for
services within Wales, and offer scope for a clearer marketing
of the network. The introduction of the new franchise will mean
that all stations within Wales will be managed by a single Station
The SRA announced a short-list of four counterparties
in February 2001 to proceed with working up more detailed proposals.
However the process is currently in abeyance awaiting further
guidance from the Secretary of State for Transport Local Government
and the Regions.
It should be noted that the outcome of the franchise
replacement process will be governed by the extent to which the
proposals received offer value for money for the improvements
to services and infrastructure which counter-parties may offer,
and the affordability of such proposals.
Whilst the planned investment in the railway
network remains at the levels envisaged at the commencement of
the Government's Ten Year Plan, the resources available to the
Strategic Rail Authority for re-franchising are less than anticipated,
chiefly as a consequence of the Hatfield accident, and the need
to increase the funding of renewals and maintenance. Moreover,
there is now a serious shortage of the skilled signalling resources
required to install TPWS B signalling designers and inspectors
etc. These mandatory requirements constrain the investment in
other aspects of the rail network.
The SRA has sought to encourage prospective
operators of the new franchise to consult widely with stakeholders
in order to understand local aspirations for the network. We have
not specified priorities on a regional or line by line basis.
The next stage of the process will take into account the revised
guidance from the Secretary of State. The Authority's approach
is likely to be more prescriptive. The Authority had previously
sought creative solutions from the market, but this imposed a
greater burden on bidders' resources than the more conventional
tendering process used for original franchises and the the evaluation
of bids by the Authority was more complex and therefore time consuming.
The Authority will now invite bids against a clear specification
whilst still allowing bidders to put forward their own additional
The replacement process is a key component of
building the better railway in Wales, but there are other initiatives
which will deliver benefits. The SRA has identified with Railtrack
a series of small schemes (Incremental Outputs) which deliver
additional capacity or journey time improvements, or improved
resilience across the network, for a modest capital outlay. The
design for these schemes and detailed costing are currently being
worked up prior to formal contractualisation. An example of this
is a scheme on the line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury to
increase line speed and supply the potential for an hourly service.
Some infrastructure schemes are subject to financial
constraints and the SRA is looking at other forms of procurement
such as special purpose vehicles (SPVs) as a possible way to break
this potential log-jam. SPVs are in essence, multi-partner ventures
combining private and public capital. There are also technical
resource constraints, particularly in signal design and commissioning,
and the SRA is working with the supply industry to overcome these.
A better and bigger railway clearly needs both
capital and revenue investment. The SRA has welcomed the decision
by the National Assembly to fund capital works on the railway
network notably the initiative to re-open the Vale of Glamorgan
line to passenger traffic, and the SRA has supported this local
authority driven initiative by providing revenue support through
the Rail Passenger Partnership Fund (RPP) to cover the costs of
the passenger services which are not met by the farebox.
A major element of SRA funding for local authority
schemes comes through the RPP programme, designed to provide funding
support for schemes that would not otherwise be viable commercially.
Funding is often part of an overall package of enhancements and
the SRA may be contributing a small element. Examples of awards
to projects in Wales include interchange enhancements at Haverfordwest,
Sunday services on the Heart of Wales line, and a late evening
connecting service from Carmarthen to Milford Haven, connecting
with the 17.30 London Paddington to Carmarthen train.
The new franchise operator will be encouraged
to develop interchange initiatives and to work closely with the
local authority partnerships, many of whom have both imaginative
and well considered plans for making the journey experience more
seamless. Already train operators in Wales are providing improved
information, for example Wales and West have been engaged in implementing
Project Inform to provide a better information system at passengers.
This is particularly important at un-manned stations B the majority
of stations in Wales. We recognise the importance of the passenger
information systems such as PTI Cymru which are being developed.
It will be mandatory under the new franchise for station posters
to carry the PTI Cymru number.
Responsibility for freight facility grants has
been devolved to the National Assembly. The Strategic Rail Authority
administers the projects under an agency agreement allowing the
Assembly to draw on the Authority's expertise, whilst retaining
the final decision at the local level.
During 2002 the SRA will be producing a freight
strategy for Wales and will be gathering data and information
to inform the work.