Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Ernest Godward Esq (REN 07)

RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND

  1.  I am submitting this memorandum to the committee based upon personal travelling experience on rail services in the North of England over the period July 1998 to the present time. I used the following services to commute to and from work:

    —  Doncaster to Sheffield (services provided Northern Spirit/Arriva Trains Northern, Virgin Cross Country and Midland Main Line).

    —  Doncaster to Manchester/Manchester Airport (services provided Northern Spirit/Arriva Trains Northern, First North Western and Central Trains), and

    —  Doncaster to Leeds (services provided Northern Spirit/Arriva Trains Northern, Virgin Cross Country and GNER).

  During the course of work I have used rail to attend meetings in Liverpool, Hull, York, Wakefield and Blackpool using trains operated by Arriva Trains Northern, Central Trains, Hull Trains, First North Western and Virgin Cross Country. I have made other journeys in the north travelling between Doncaster and Driffield, Dent to Driffield, Manchester to Wakefield, and Leeds to Bradford on trains operated by First North Western, Hull Trains and Arriva Trains Northern.

SERVICES AND OPERATORS

  2.  In general, the franchise controlled by Arriva Trains Northern does not provide good train services. In the past I have experienced services where the trains have had to be refuelled halfway through their journey causing significant delay, journeys that have been cancelled at very short notice particularly due to shortage of staff and rolling stock and journeys that are heavily overcrowded because there aren't enough trains in the timetable or because of cancellations.

  3.  If I can take a longer Inter City type service I will take the Inter City service in preference to more local services. The Inter City services provide a much better standard of seating and space in comparison with regional or local services. Since the new timetable, from 2 June 2002, my normal homebound service will be a Eurostar set. These are the best trains on the system and in my opinion the standards are significantly above any other train set operating in the UK. I believe that in order to attract passengers to the rail system, rail operators in the North of England need to be thinking of providing trains with this standard of accommodation.

  4.  The worst incident that I have suffered during the period since July 1998 occurred on 26 February 2002. The 17:19 Arriva Trains Northern from Manchester Piccadilly to Doncaster was cancelled due to crew shortages. I therefore travelled on the 17:43 Central Trains. The train was halted at Bamford as the 17:09 First North Western Manchester to Sheffield had failed. After a 50 minute delay we were asked to disembark and find our own methods of onward transportation. It was a dark and stormy night and only thanks to some passengers who were familiar with the local bus timetable was I able to get to Sheffield. The total journey time was four hours compared with what should have been one hour 30 minutes. No apologies were given or compensation offered.

  5.  The following table provides an assessment of my personal opinions and assessments of each of the operators and the rolling stock they operate on the most frequently used services and operators.


OperatorRoute StockAmbience Comment

Arriva Trains NorthernDoncaster-Manchester/Manchester Airport Class 158Reasonable but uncomfortable if heavily loaded or you are forced to stand An internal refurbishment is overdue
Arriva Trains NorthernDoncaster-Sheffield Class 142, 143, 144, 150, 153Acceptable for short journeys—can be uncomfortable if heavily loaded Internal refurbishment being undertaken on some classes
Arriva Trains NorthernDoncaster-Leeds Class 3213 + 2 seating is uncomfortable Overcrowding on peak hour services is unacceptable but a fact of life
Arriva Trains NorthernDoncaster-Driffield Class 156Comfortable Acceptable
Arriva Trains NorthernLeeds-Bradford Class 333New trains—very acceptable Public address can be a bit annoying after a while—very high acceleration good for fast journeys but can be disconcerting if you haven't got handhold and you are standing
Midland Main LineDoncaster-Sheffield HSTReasonableAcceptable
Virgin Cross CountryDoncaster-Sheffield, Sheffield-York and Doncaster-York HST and Locomotive hauled coachesSome services can be very overcrowded—particularly at peak times

Timings cannot be relied upon—the problem seems to be losing a path that then subsequently delays the train with worsening effect as the train proceeds
GNERDoncaster-York and further north and Doncaster-Leeds HST, Class 91 plus Mark 4 stock and Eurostar Eurostar very comfortableMark 4 stock becoming in need of internal refurbishment
First North WesternSheffield-Manchester Classic DMU, class 142Both types of rolling stock unreliable. Otherwise adequate Pity there are no services over this route on Bank Holidays
First North WesternManchester-Wakefield Class 142, 150Adequate after refurbishment Uncomfortable if standing
Hull TrainsDoncaster-Hull Class 170Comfortable new trains Acceptable
Central TrainsManchester-Sheffield Class 158, 170Comfortable new trains. After refurbishment 158 are acceptable Overcrowding is a serious problem on peak hour services

FARES

  6.  I own an estate type car but I choose not to drive during the week. I have calculated that our operating costs are less than 8.5 pence per kilometre including tax, insurance and depreciation. This compares unfavourably with some rail fares that are charged in the region. The table below shows a ticket types that are available for journeys within the region and the range of kilometre rates.


Ticket type (all classes)
Range of rates per kilometre travelled (Pence)

CAR (Used as a comparator)
>8.5
BUS (Used as a comparator) Single
23.07
BUS (Used as a comparator) Seasons
16.49-19.23
Seasons
6.33-11.09
PTE Multi-modal cards (Including bus and tram)
6.23-7.57
Day Return
4.86-24.75
Cheap Day Return
4.72-12.56 1
Saver
7.04-7.19
Single
14.56-33.65


  Whilst rail fares compare favourably with bus fares it is only on longer distance journeys that rail fares compare more favourably with car travel. Longer dated season tickets and the multi-modal cards provided by the Passenger Transport Executives provide travel at lower costs that the car but only with a significant up-front payment. With the latter type of cards the boundary problem may arise where journeys cross the boundary between two executives requiring two purchases. eg Doncaster to Leeds is within South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire PTE areas.

  7.  The compensation schemes that currently exist in the industry for delayed journeys are not well suited or acceptable to many travellers. Few operators are inclined to offer passengers compensation forms when services are delayed. For many travellers, who have relatively short journeys, they will not be eligible to claim as the delay will be less than 60 minutes. A delay of more than 10 minutes on a short journey could actually have a worse impact than say a 60 minute delay on a long distance service. Season ticket holders and those holding other longer dated tickets fare worst as they are only compensated if the total service falls below certain punctuality and reliability limits. Where the PTE's negotiated compensation this was limited to rail only cards not the multi-modal tickets. The data presented here are from a personal database of actual trips made in connection with ongoing research on railway privatisation and reform.

STATIONS

  8.  The station provides the access link to the railway system. It is here that the train operators Railtrack and others create the impression of the system. Some of the stations in the area are well designed and suited to current and future needs whilst others reflect the standards of the late l9th century.

  9.  The visible sign that work is being done to the railway is the modernisation of the larger stations, eg Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester Piccadilly. Whilst not comprehensive rebuilds, attention appears to have been given to overall improvement of ambiance. Access is being improved but reliability of some systems- lifts and escalators needs to be improved. Also in the redevelopment of Sheffield little attention appears to have been paid to the improvement of interchange between public transport modes. The South Yorkshire PTE, despite having beacon status for interchange has allowed the redevelopment of the rail station to proceed along its l9th century design rather than taking into account its potential for better interchange. Since the opening of the Sheffield Supertram system passengers have had a very difficult interchange. Bus passengers face a long trek. If the station had been redesigned with a more northerly bridge public transport access would have been significantly improved resulting in lower interchange times between the main public transport modes.

  10.  In Leeds, the bus station is next to the main Leeds to Hull/York line but the nearest station is over 10 minutes walk away. There are longer term plans to build a station in the vicinity. Also the Leeds Supertram system will pass the station but not directly serve the station.

  11.  For smaller towns the legacies of late l9th and early to mid 20th century design are apparent. Towns such as Doncaster and York have stations close to the town centres but access to the station centres principally around car based transport. Access within the station leaves much to be desired. Both York and Doncaster have less than appealing lift accesses and the one at Doncaster is no more than a sop to good access practice being a converted goods and mail lift. I have aged parents and a young family. Using the lift at Doncaster is a positive turn off to travelling by rail. Staff have to be called from other duties which may involve a wait (on one occasion more than 10 minutes) and the decor is appalling. There is good but inadequate car parking (in the sense that there is not enough for rail purposes) at the station which is relatively expensive compared with less convenient car parks. Taxi ranks operate at both stations and the station operator appears to encourage their use by placing in the most convenient location at the main exits of these stations. York has fairly frequent public transport access on the outside of the station. Only one coach service directly serves Doncaster station. All other public transport access at Doncaster involves walks of between five and 12 minutes to access local bus services at the two bus stations or the streets where buses terminate. A new public transport interchange is planned with significantly improved access to the rail station. This is, realistically, some five to seven years away as the planning seems to be bogged down in wrangling over retail floorspace and shoppers car parking provision.

  12.  Smaller stations are not staffed and many lack adequate information provision. Whilst most will have notice boards and timetables few if any have real-time systems indicating the status of train services that are seen in London and the South East. A modern railway system requires this to reassure passengers who travel less regularly. Means of contacting railway controllers/information providers would also be useful (the incident of 26 February 2002 mentioned above comes to mind). Also, I live no more than 150 metres from the Doncaster—Lincoln line and 650 metres from the East Coast Main Line. There are no local stations on either of these lines. I would like to see a local station built but recognise that there are difficulties in both situations, economics being a prime consideration with the former and line capacity in the latter.

PLANS FOR INVESTMENT

  13.  The reform of the railways has brought about the annual production of plans for investment in the railways. They have been as follows:

    —  Railtrack's Network Management Statements.

    —  The Government's 10 Year Plan.

    —  The Strategic Rail Authority's A strategic agenda.

    —  The Strategic Rail Authority's The strategic plan.

  These plans, whilst clear about certain committed large projects are less certain in their assurances on small specific detailed plans. The strategic plan was hyped as the cure all for the rail industry's problems but there are many schemes that appear not to have been included that might make a significant contribution to solving the transport problems of the region, eg reopening of Matlock to Buxton to provide a new strategic freight route from the North West to the East Midlands as well as contributing to the solution of more local freight and passenger problems. Little reference was made to the aspirations of the local PTE's through their emerging Rail Plans which, in comparison with the strategic plan are quite detailed. It was only in the later NMS of Railtrack and the more recent SRA documents that commitments became clearer.

  14.  I think that I may have been lucky to experience some of the benefits that have been included in these documents including:

    —  The remodelling of South Yorkshire Junction, which relieves congestion at Doncaster Station and increases flexibility for services between Doncaster and Sheffield. The effect of this was to remove delays to trains entering and leaving

    —  Doncaster station. A problem still remains at certain key times during the day due to lack of platform space.

    —  The redevelopment of stations at Manchester Piccadilly, Sheffield and Leeds will bring improvements when they are finally completed. During the reconstruction phases there are obvious disbenefits due to longer walk distances because of necessary construction.

    —  New trains between Leeds and the north-western part of West Yorkshire.

    —  Train interior refurbishments.

  15.  Unfortunately I have not benefited from faster or more frequent services. It still takes nearly the same time to get from Doncaster to Manchester (99 kilometres) as it does from Doncaster to London King's Cross (249 kilometres). Service frequencies are much lower compared to what might be expected in the South East of England where 10-15 minute frequencies are the norm during peak hours and 20-30 minute frequencies during the off-peak. Whilst travelling from Doncaster to Sheffield the best service was about 5 trains per hour formed by a mixture of stopping, regional and Inter City services but not on even frequencies. Even where a frequency pattern is established there were variations to the pattern each hour, eg the Doncaster-Leeds local stopping train departure pattern goes as follows:

  Doncaster-Leeds 06:25, 07:16, 07:51, 08:26, 09:14, 10:14, 11:22, 12:14, 13:20 14:14, 15:14, 16:14, 17:27, 18:27, 19:24, 20:34, 21:38 and 22:30.

  The problem here would seem to stem from resource and capacity constraints rather than for any good operational or market based reason.

  16.  In the Leeds to Doncaster direction a more regular pattern exists, departing at 21 minutes past each hour with the exception of three departures per day, 07:26, 2 1:26 and 22:39. Longer distance Inter City services also have similar problems. However, it is not beyond the capability of modern technology and systems to plan for regular departures at the same time each hour. The Swiss and German railway systems accomplish this with relative ease. Both systems also manage to ensure a good set of connections between different sets of services. Unfortunately, the different operators of rail franchises in the UK mitigate against the possibility of this happening easily. Emphasis for the future must be made by the infrastructure operator to ensure that infrastructure is provided to match the traction specifications, eg many classes of traction, of which the Class 91 and Eurostar trains are the best examples, have a much higher speed capability than the current infrastructure allows. A phased programme of infrastructure upgrade is required in order to assist rail operators in meeting the targets set in the 10-year plan.

  17.  Electrification of additional routes may offer some benefits in terms of rolling stock fleets and utilisation, eg Leeds to York and Leeds to Manchester. As an example of rolling stock utilisation, currently, Arriva Trains Northern has to maintain two electric fleets the class 321/9's for Leeds-Doncaster and Class 333's for the Aire Valley Services. Logically, this must add to the cost base. With further electrification fleets could be larger and offer better utilisation.

INFLUENCE OF RAIL SERVICES ON ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

  18.  Econometric modelling work undertaken for London Underground and the European Commission of the impact of investment in rail services and infrastructure shows that regions and areas investing in good rail services have a greater impact on their economy in direct terms than those areas not doing so. Prior to the dismembering of British Rail and in conjunction with the local Passenger Transport Executives significant and positive developments were made to local rail services in the North of England. Some of that impetus has been lost due to railway reform and the diminution of the power of the PTE's.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

  19.  The critical problems affecting the development appear to be:

    —  Poor delivery by certain franchise holders;

    —  Poor station ambiance and quality;

    —  Poor timetabling, and

    —  High fares, particularly for shorter distances. Longer distance journeys and the use of season tickets and multi-modal cards appear to offer rates per kilometre less than either car or bus travel

  These problems can be overcome in part by:

    —  Better accessibility at stations;

    —  Better integration with other public transport services;

    —  A better planning process bringing on board all "interested" parties;

    —  Further electrification allowing better utilisation of rolling stock fleets;

    —  Restart the new stations programme;

    —  Better use of technology and systems to assist with resolution of capacity and other constraints, and

    —  A policy for the railways that clearly defines what is required by whom and by when.

  The railway provides an opportunity to solve some of the many transport problems in the North of England. The solutions to these problems are not "rocket science" but just require a consistent long-term policy, objectives and budget framework. Government in particular needs to bring on board the findings of econometric studies carried out elsewhere. If it does not like the answers that come out of such studies it should say why it disagrees with them.



 
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