Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Questions for the Government and the SRA

  The SRA has been provided with a number of questions which have also been provided to DTLR to consider on behalf of the Government. The responses set out below deal with those aspects of the questions which are specific to the SRA role in delivering the national transport strategy.

  6.  What discussions have recently taken place between the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales regarding transport policy and transport funding? In particular what discussions have been held regarding:

    —  integrated transport policy issues

    —  Railtrack's failures to maintain the network

    —  The Wales and Borders franchise requirements?

  Which offices of the NAW and departments of the UK Government have been involved?

  There are regular contacts between officials of the National Assembly for Wales and SRA officers with agreement to meet at least quarterly. In practice the development of policy in Wales has meant a more frequent dialogue over the phone and in meetings. The discussions on re-franchising have been underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding.

  The SRA also maintains relations with individual local authorities in Wales. The local authorities throughout the UK are consulted on changes to service provision (PSR) and re-franchising and on other aspects of SRA policy of specific interest, such as enforcement.

  8.  The Committee raised concerns about the requirements of different bodies to consult one another during its inquiry into the Transport Bill (Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, HC 287, Session 1999B2000), in particular:

    —  county and county borough councils must submit LTP's to the National Assembly. (Thus two way consultation and integration may be achieved.)

    —  no consultation or integration is required between the SRA plans and LTP's from either body.

    —  the SRA is required only to consult the NAW.

  Has the Government re-considered its view on these or any other matters covered in its response to the Committee's Report?

  The SRA operates an extensive programme of consultation with local government bodies throughout the UK to ensure that SRA policy takes into account planning and transport strategies. Local government is also consulted on specific issues such as proposed changes to local service provision.


  10.  Selection of the franchise for Wales and Borders

    —  How were the bidders chosen?

    —  What criteria will be used/are being used to select the preferred bidder?

    —  What criteria will be used to assess the proposal and how is value for money/best return from expenditure assessed?

    —  What service improvements on each of Wales's lines are SRA looking for?

    —  To what extent are the following criteria to be applied:—

    (a)  the service reflects demand flows. The through services to Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol will continue as these are important destinations and appropriate Acut off@ points for adjacent franchises

    (b)  the franchise is sufficiently large to be operationally possible and achieve economies of scale, but be managed locally to achieve maximum market growth

    (c)  it creates a market oriented dynamic railway whose primary concern is service quality and an efficient attractive railway, serving customer needs

    (d)  services on several currently peripheral routes (e.g. via Wrexham) will become major services in a Wales-based network improved frequencies lead to increased demand

    (e)  the creation of "hubs" at Chester, Shrewsbury and Cardiff will provide increased main line frequencies on north-south routes serving those stations and Bangor, Manchester and Birmingham.

  Companies bidding for franchises complain that they have not been given sufficient insight into the criteria to be used for selection. The new Draft Directives and Guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority (June 2001) requires that "all bidders ... must be made aware of the criteria upon which their bids are being assessed". Has this guidance been followed correctly?

  All the responses that the SRA received for the W&B franchise were either from existing franchisees or from organisations that had previously pre-qualified for previous franchise replacements. If the SRA had received expressions of interest from other organisations they would have been requested to provide information regarding their corporate structure and governance, management resources, capabilities and skills and advice as to how funding for their proposals funds would be raised. This information provides the basis on which the SRA decides as to whether such organisations would be pre-qualified as a potentially suitable franchisee.

  Criteria applied in selecting the preferred counterparty (bidder) are outlined in the SRA's Instructions To Counterparties (ITC) issued to all who pre-qualify. These are reviewed in the light of any changes to the Directions & Guidance issued to the SRA by the Secretary of State. The SoS issued a draft for consultation in June. This will be reflected in the SRA's revised ITC.

  The ITC also advises the basis on which the value for money of a proposal is assessed. This is in terms of the net present value of benefits per £ of Counterparty Franchise Payment requirements, in line with the SRA Planning Criteria. The ITC also contains advice on how benefits are evaluated, including those that are non-financial.

  The SRA has not prescribed line by line specifications in the process to date, but has encouraged counter-parties to speak with local stakeholders and understand their aspirations.

  11.  What provisions are now being made to ensure railway companies participate in multi-modal travel schemes in areas outside London and the PTE's?

  Are these included in the new contracts?

  Does this include the provision of integrated timetables, seamless interchanges and integrated through fares on buses and trains? If so where is this taking place in Wales?

  The SRA has encouraged potential operators to take into account the aspirations of local authorities in respect of ticketing initiatives, and passenger information. We would generally expect them to co-operate with such schemes.

  The Association of Train Operators recognises the importance of encouraging good practice in this area and has recently engaged consultants to establish a kite-marked scheme (run by Jouney Solutions) to acknowledge achievements. Over 100 of the 500 bus/rail schemes operating throughout Britain have now been kitemarked.

  12.  The Committee is referred to the evidence to be submitted by the Government.

  13.  The Committee is referred to the evidence to be submitted by the Government.

  14.  Specific Rail Services

    (a)  Railtrack has put back the Ebbw Vale freight line development into a passenger service.

    Is the Government intending to fund such a service which the local authority consortium sees as a priority?

    (b)  The introduction of and hourly service from Bangor via Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury to Birmingham together with the existing hourly service from Cardiff to Manchester will provide two vitally necessary improvements to Wales's rail network:

    Wrexham will have an hourly service in both directions.

    A Bangor-Birmingham service integrating with a Cardiff-Manchester service at a same platform hub at Shrewsbury will (with two through Bangor-Cardiff trains per day as at present) provide an hourly Bangor-Cardiff (and possibly Swansea) service over an 18-hour daily period.

    This requires reliability and signalling investment at Shrewsbury. [How and when does the new guidance achieve this?]


  The SRA is continuing to maintain a dialogue with the promoters of the Ebbw Vale line to establish whether there is a robust case for the proposal and to consider whether this would be an appropriate scheme for an SPV. The SRA would expect the capital funding of the scheme to come from other partners since this scheme is being promoted primarily for reasons outside the strategic aims of the SRA, but would consider providing the revenue support in accordance with Rail Passenger Partnership guidelines.

  The development of the Ebbw Vale freight only branch for passenger use is currently the subject of a LA sponsored study. It is the SRA's understanding that the NAW will consider the merits of funding the necessary infrastructure enhancements. The SRA are awaiting the application for passenger service funding under the RPP scheme to be submitted for pre-qualification.


  North-bound passenger and freight services through Shrewsbury are constrained by the availability of only one northbound platform. The SRA has investigated the feasibility of restoring an additional platform. However this is not technically achievable at a reasonable cost. There may well be opportunities for selective improvement of through services arising from the amalgamation of currently converging services through the creation of the Wales & Borders franchise.

  Services to Wrexham have been enhanced in recent timetables, and the SRA would be interested to know what the bidders for the new franchise considered was achievable to serve this market. The step change in service frequency would require infrastructure works, including some track doubling, and in the light of the current supply side constraints, no specific timetable has been programmed for such works.

Strategic Rail Authority

9 November 2001

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