Memorandum by Yorkshire Forward and the
Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (REN 05)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
1. This memorandum is a joint written submission
to the Sub-Committee's Inquiry into Rail Services in the North
of England by Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency
for Yorkshire and the Humber, and the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly,
the Regional Planning Body.
2. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly, in
consultation with regional partners, have recently agreed seven
common Strategic Transport Priorities for our Region. These have
been agreed following extensive consultation and set out the key
themes where investment is required. These priorities are consistent
with Regional Planning Guidance, Regional Transport Strategy and
are fully consistent with the review of the Regional Economic
Strategy currently being undertaken. Regional partners are therefore
clearly speaking with one voice in adopting a common set of priorities.
3. The Strategic Transport Priorities for
Yorkshire and the Humber are:
The Leeds to Sheffield Corridor.
Strategic North/South Routes.
Access to Strategic Economic Zones.
Development of Air Transportation.
Strategic Access to Regional Centres.
4. The submission of Yorkshire Forward and
the Assembly to this Inquiry is based on how rail services in
the North of England impact on our agreed priorities.
5. Passenger rail services have a key role
to play in delivery of our priorities, and partnership working
with and appropriate investment by the Strategic Rail Authority
(SRA), Train Operating Companies and the two Passenger Transport
Executives is essential. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly are
key Regional stakeholders but do not have direct influence over
rail services; however, we are keen to work with appropriate partners
to deliver better rail services for the Region.
6. Yorkshire Forward and the Yorkshire and
Humber Assembly have expressed their disappointment with the SRA's
Strategic Plan published on 14 January 2002. This was mainly because
there is a focus of investment in the early years of the Plan
period in London and the South East. We do not dispute that there
are real needs for such investment in those areas, but are concerned
that the infrastructure needs of the Regions, particularly the
North of England, are being neglected. In Yorkshire and the Humber,
essential projects such as the badly needed upgrade to the East
Coast Main Line and improvements to the Transpennine routes were
not given sufficient priority. Both of these are Strategic Transport
Priorities. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly remain seriously
concerned that the Region's rail network, which is a national
asset, will continue to suffer from unreliability and a lack of
investment. Whilst welcoming very worthwhile improvements made
by train operators serving our Region, for example Great North
Eastern Railway and Hull Trains, these cannot hide the fact that
major investment in infrastructure is urgently needed.
7. Arriva Trains Northern is the principal
train operator in Yorkshire and the Humber. Yorkshire Forward
and the Assembly do not wish to enter into the debate caused by
the current extensive disruption caused by ongoing industrial
action. We would however like to point out that the level of service
provided by Arriva Trains Northern has fallen seriously short
of acceptable levels, largely as a result of staff shortages as
a consequence of poor management by the previous franchise holder.
Having said that, the efforts made by Arriva Trains Northern to
recruit and retain additional drivers are welcome and have led
to a noticeable improvement in service reliability recently, further
helped by the substantial completion of major engineering work
at Leeds station.
8. The SRA is currently in the process of
procuring new franchises for Transpennine Express and Northern
Trains. The SRA state that Transpennine Express will be a high-quality
"inter-city" type service bringing a step-change in
quality to that corridor. Northern Trains is intended to be a
local social railway covering a very large and diverse area, but
concentrating on short distance local commuter and leisure markets.
9. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly have
concerns about a number of aspects of the franchise processes
in Yorkshire and the Humber:
The SRA has drafted the specification
for both franchises without consultation with Yorkshire Forward
and the Assembly. This has meant that both organisations have
had to engage franchise bidders to set out regional aspirations,
with varying degrees of receptiveness.
Transpennine Links are a Strategic
Transport Priority, meaning that a need for significant investment
in that corridor has been identified. We are therefore concerned
that the SRA has instructed bidders not to propose significant
infrastructure measures in bidding for the Transpennine Express
Franchise. This means that projects such as the North and South
Transpennine upgrades are unlikely to start before 2011 at the
earliest. These upgrades are important; not only to increase capacity
for passenger services, but also to release badly needed capacity
for additional freight trains. We note that a Transpennine rail
strategy has been in existence for a number of years but little
progress has been made.
It seems surprising that the Transpennine
Express Franchise is proposed to last 8 years, whereas Northern
Trains is to run for 15 years. Given that the level of investment
needed is probably greater for Transpennine Express even without
major infrastructure projects, it would seem sensible to make
this the longer franchise.
It is understood that the SRA intends
both franchises to start on the same day, currently believed to
be in Summer 2003. We note that the start date for the franchises
has slipped several times, leading to delays in real improvements
for passengers. We hope that this sub-Committee Inquiry will not
lead to a further delay in the franchise appointment, or be used
as an excuse for such a delay.
Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly
do not wish to enter the debate on the wisdom of separate Transpennine
Express and Northern Trains franchises. However we do feel it
is essential that the two franchisees complement and co-operate
with each other fully and in no way are seen to be in competition
on routes where there is duplication.
Current practice is for franchises
to be awarded on a value for money basis based on lowest levels
of Government subsidy required. Whilst recognising that the Government
has a responsibility to make best use of public funds, we do feel
that some account of value added to the Region could be considered
as part of the franchise replacement. This would allow an element
of quality rather than minimum standards to be included and may
lead to greater innovation by franchise bidders.
Northern Trains is seen by the SRA
as a social railway. A 15 year franchise provides a stable platform
and should allow real opportunities for investment rather than
a minimum cost operation. It is hoped that lessons from local
rail lines in continental Europe can be applied, where investment
in high quality new trains has led to large increases in patronage.
10. Recent research commissioned by Yorkshire
Forward has established that the Leeds-Sheffield corridor has
a very poor level of rail service compared to other analogous
city pairs in the UK and Europe. This corridor is one of our Strategic
Transport Priorities. The research also found that the poor image
and level of service might well have consequences for the continued
under-performance of the South Yorkshire economy. Journey times
by even the fastest trains are barely competitive with road, and
stopping trains take upwards of 70 minutes to cover the 35 mile
journey. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly believe that urgent
improvements to provide more fast trains are necessary, with infrastructure
measures as necessary. We note the plans of Virgin Trains and
Midland Mainline to provide additional fast trains by 2006. However
these are trains travelling long distances and are likely to suffer
from unreliability and overcrowding on their journey between Leeds
and Sheffield. Yorkshire Forward and the Assembly do not consider
such a service to meet regional aspirations and would like to
see dedicated fast services between the two cities as currently
operate between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
11. The SRA Strategic Plan indicates that
recommendations in respect of investments in heavy rail will not
be delivered within a ten-year timescale. This means that although
the multi-modal studies have looked at opportunities across all
modes, it is unlikely that balanced programmes of investment will
be possible. Also the underlying problem of car dependency will
become more deeply entrenched when acceptable alternatives are
12. The sub-Committee will be aware that
South Yorkshire is in receipt of EU structural funds through its
designation as Objective 1 status. Rail access has a key role
to play in unlocking South Yorkshire's regeneration. The Strategic
Transport Priorities in the Leeds-Sheffield Corridor and Access
to Strategic Economic Zones, together with Strategic Access to
Regional Centres are of fundamental importance in achieving this.
We would particularly urge the SRA to welcome and support Rail
Passenger Partnership proposals for a limited stop service on
the Leeds-Barnsley-Sheffield route being developed by South and
West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executives. This is a key Objective
1 project and its early implementation is key to the regeneration
of South Yorkshire.
13. This submission has so far concentrated
largely on passenger rail issues, which it is understood are the
Inquiry's prime area of interest. However Yorkshire Forward and
the Assembly would like to make the Sub-Committee aware of the
real need for investment to cater for freight traffic. Yorkshire
and Humber contains the UK's busiest Port, Immingham, which currently
handles 54 million tonnes of cargo per year. The route between
Immingham and Doncaster is believed to carry over 20% of UK railfreight.
Upgrading is urgently required in this corridor, as a first step,
removal of the considerable number of temporary speed restrictions
would be a positive move. Rail access to the Port of Hull is similarly
constrained, with access being via a single-track branch line
with very restricted capacity. Major investment is needed in improved
rail, and road, access to the Ports, which is a Strategic Transport
Priority. The Ports and Waterways are also closely linked to the
Transpennine corridor where lack of suitable paths for freight
trains is also an issue. In addition, there are also issues of
gauging constraints restricting the conveyance of shipping containers
by rail on these routes.
14. In conclusion, Yorkshire Forward and
the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly would like to stress that:
Regional partners have agreed common
transport priorities which highlight the main needs for investment
to support our region's continue prosperity.
Research commissioned by the RDA
is underlining the potential economic impact of investment in
these priorities, to assist in a more comprehensive cost-benefit
analysis of the investment needs of the region.
We are disappointed with the SRA's
Strategic Plan in its failure to commit investment to our Regional
We are concerned that a balanced
programme of delivering transport investments, now emerging as
recommendations from the multi-modal studies, will not be possible
because rail investment is being held back by under-resourcing
of the SRA.
Performance of Arriva Trains Northern
has been poor, although has recently improved.
We have concerns over the lack of
infrastructure investment in the Transpennine franchise.
We feel there is an urgent need for
a better service on both routes between Leeds and Sheffield.
The needs for investment to cater
for current and additional freight traffic cannot be overlooked.
Yorkshire and Humber Assembly