Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Yorkshire Forward and the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (REN 05)


  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:

    —  Transpennine Links.

    —  The Leeds to Sheffield Corridor.

    —  Strategic North/South Routes.

    —  Access to Strategic Economic Zones.

    —  Development of Air Transportation.

    —  Strategic Access to Regional Centres.

    —  Ports and Waterways.

  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 further delayed.

  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 Priorities.

    —  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 Forward

Yorkshire and Humber Assembly

June 2002

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