Select Committee on Transport Fourth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Economic Impact

1.  A healthy rail infrastructure not only reduces the disadvantages of those without a car, but has the potential to deliver other Government objectives, such as a reduction in pollution. (Paragraph 14)

Targets and Policy Making

2.  Since the Sub-committee took evidence last June, the SRA's investment plans have been curtailed. The new priority is to improve the industry's productivity which has fallen rapidly. Indeed, the rising costs of improvement to the rail infrastructure were drawn to our attention by many of our witnesses. No one could disagree that the rail industry's cost base needs to be brought under control. (Paragraph 16)

3.  The Government has rightly set itself targets for transport which address wider issues than simply moving people from A to B. There appears to be a real danger that the SRA's current targets encourage investment in areas which are already well served, or on long distance routes, rather than where investment may most benefit the wider community. (Paragraph 19)

Appraisal Criteria

4.  The Department should ensure that the railway network sustains the Government's policies on economic regeneration. Our colleagues on the ODPM Committee have repeatedly expressed concern about the difficulty of ensuring that transport is taken properly into account in regional or local strategies; we share their concern. (Paragraph 29)

Smaller Schemes

5.  Central Government should have clear criteria for considering funding rail infrastructure improvements which offer social, economic or environmental benefits or, at the very least, assisting local authorities to do so. (Paragraph 36)

West Coast Main Line

6.  The Strategic Rail Authority is to be commended for its intervention in the West Coast Line Upgrade; it is precisely this strategic view which was lacking in the past and which the SRA should provide. (Paragraph 40)

Other Capacity Improvements

7.  We consider that average speeds are a transparent and useful indicator of performance, particularly where there is evidence of failing services. We recommend that the SRA takes steps to collect and publish such information in the future. (Paragraph 42)

8.  Whereas previously, projects such as the South Manchester hub were identified as priorities, their future is now uncertain. Major projects appear to be demoted with little or no justification. This is wrong. It also makes the task of planning integrated transport strategies difficult for the Local Authorities. The SRA needs to provide certainty and to make a case for funding from Government for such important projects. The outcome of the 2004 Spending Review will be critical for the future size and quality of the regional rail networks. (Paragraph 49)

9.  Major timetable changes should not be announced without consultation with the local bodies affected. If the SRA will not consult willingly, it should be made compulsory for it to do so. (Paragraph 56)

Relationship with Stakeholders

10.  The most recent strategic plan promises better links between national and regional planning, which is intended to contribute to the Government's social inclusion objectives and which will draw on the multi-modal studies. However, it is notable that rather than working separately with particular regions, the SRA will handle these links through a single dedicated team. That may provide improvements, but there must be a danger that the regions will continue to believe the SRA does not properly understand local conditions and aspirations. In the North of England at least, the SRA has forfeited the confidence of the very groups that should have been its partners: it will take more than warm words from the Chairman to put this right. (Paragraph 57)

Franchise Issues

11.  It is entirely unacceptable that passengers should have been given a weekend's notice of passenger service changes which had been foreseen for over a month. (Paragraph 66)

12.  We welcome the Government's lead in establishing a framework of skills for the rail industry; the industry itself must now take responsibility for ensuring it has the trained workforce it needs. (Paragraph 68)

Operation Princess

13.  There are several lessons to be drawn from this episode:

a)  the SRA needs to take a much clearer view of the network capacity before approving timetable changes;

b)  when high quality, frequent, trains are provided overall passenger use grows. This suggests that there may be ways to cut subsidies while improving the service;

c)  the increased demand is for regular short to medium journeys, rather than long distance ones. The Government's target for increasing passenger kilometerage must not be an excuse to provide a service which does not meet customer needs. (Paragraph 74)

14.  We understand that letting franchises can be a lengthy business, and that timetables may not be precise. It is better to change a bad policy than to keep it simply to avoid disruption. However, the SRA has spent two years longer than originally envisaged to let these franchises, and the process is still incomplete. The SRA, quite rightly, wishes the industry to have clear targets, and to be penalised for failing to meet those targets. It must set an example by itself being clear about its own processes, and performing the tasks it sets itself in the timescales it predicts. (Paragraph 76)

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