Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Yorkshire and the Humber Transport Activists' Round Table (REN 11)



  YHTAR is the umbrella organisation for pro-sustainable transport campaigners in the Yorkshire and the Humber (Y+H) Region. Part-funded by the Countryside Agency, YHTAR is one of seven regional TARs in England. YHTAR member organisations include Transport 2000, Railfuture, Friends of the Earth, CPRE, WI branches, cycling and walking groups, and bus and train passenger user groups, among others.

  This report was compiled by Steve Broadbent, Lead Officer Rail, and approved be members of the YHTAR committee. It is based on the submission from North East Branch of Railfuture, with which the writer of this report totally concurs.


  The notice announcing the above inquiry implies five questions, the last the being explicit in the notice.

1.  The Government's and SRA's commitment to improving rail services?

  There is no apparent dynamic commitment to improvement; the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is seen as being generally unsupportive of improvement initiatives in the region, where there is minimal investment and minimal progress with much-needed schemes. While the just-completed Leeds station re-build is to be strongly applauded, it stands out as being the only really major scheme facilitating improved services in the Y+H region planned for the 2000-10 timeframe.

  Seen from the region, the SRA remains low on vision and leadership, and has little apparent appreciation of the regions' position or needs. The lack of an SRA regional office in Y+H, or indeed the north as a whole, (for which this writer has personally strongly campaigned) is an omission which should be rectified with urgency. The lack of northern presence or awareness leads only to more emphasis being put on those railways which serve London.

  Both the Trans Pennine and the Northern franchise processes seem to be based on providing a minimum of service and investment. The opportunity has not been taken to develop or expand the service or the network; there is now evidence that increased frequencies, for example, could be sustained and should be provided on many parts of the network.

  The SRA, in continuing with this policy of having two separate franchises for the north, is going against the very strong desire for one single franchise expressed by PTAs, MPs, local authorities, the regional development agency and transport campaigners. The estimated (20 million annual costs of having two, as against one, north of England franchise (which would be a significant sum in regional terms) could far better be spent on investment in infrastructure or other resources. Thus in pursuing two franchises, the SRA can be said to be penalising the north and withholding the possibility of improved services for which there is clear demand.

  Neither the Government nor the SRA appears to recognise the need to invest in and expand the regional rail network in order to achieve the overall transport targets relating to congestion and pollution. Investment in the SE of England may be essential but it must NOT be at the expense of Y+H. Y+H aspirations are modest compared with schemes being developed in the south, yet most, if not all of those aspirations, are not even on the SRA's agenda.

2.  The impact of the Strategic Rail Authority's approach to franchising in the region?

  The SRA is far too insular and fails to recognise the benefit of consultation and engagement with those for whom the passenger railway is there, namely the passengers. While YHTAR, and other campaign groups, have seats on such bodies as the wider reference and steering groups for major road schemes and multi-modal studies, the SRA refuses to engage YHTAR in any debate on its policies or to include it in meetings or presentations to local authorities. It has even required some franchise bidders to sign confidentiality agreements (according to those bidders) to prevent them discussing their proposals for future rail services to the very public they will serve. This is especially to be regretted since we campaign FOR rail developments and are thus on the SRA(s side, while we might be seen to be (anti( road proposals where we are encouraged to be a part of the consultation

  While the involvement of the Passenger Transport Authorities/Executives in the re-franchising process is welcome, the wide difference in opinions between the PTAs and the SRA is alarming. The SRA should endeavour to reflect the PTAs' views, as representatives of the people, not set its policies firmly against those views. At a recent rail conference, the chairman of the Greater Manchester PTA said "we never agree with the SRA, but then they never agree with us." This cannot be right.

  The franchising process is both too slow and too late. What we are getting is second best by far, but we have to live with it. Any more delay—the process has slipped by 30 months in the past 24, will bring only more over-crowding, delays and complaints.

  The separation of the Trans Pennine services from the other services in the north is incomprehensible to most observers when the clear need is for fewer franchises and closer working between operating companies. There is also a demand for a network approach in which the role of branches and roots is acknowledged as an essential feeder for the Inter-City services of whatever brand. The two-year extension to the GNER franchise is deplorable, since it fails to allow the operator, widely acknowledged to be the best in the country, to pursue its investment plans, and it has to divert scarce management resources to continually negotiate franchise terms. Similarly, the delay in allowing Virgin's "Project Omega" proposal to go ahead is denying areas of the Y+H region high-quality services. By delaying processes, the SRA is delaying investment and improvements in rail services across the region

3.  Whether the existing franchisees provide satisfactory services, particularly in relation to safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services?

  I can do no better than to fully support the statement made to you by the North East Branch of Railfuture under this heading. As an example, only last week I travelled from Newcastle to Carlisle, a major cross-country route between two major cities, albeit outside of the Y+H region. My train terminated at Hexham, a bustling market town, at 1.30pm on Bank Holiday Monday. The ticket office and shop were closed, there were no staff of any type, and there was no information, eg screens or public address to announce when the next train was due. All I could do was to sit and wait and hope, and when it did arrive the train was a low-quality, low-speed "Pacer" which gave me a journey to Carlisle more akin to a channel crossing in November.

  The SRA has stated that Pacers will remain in service until around 2018. They are unacceptable now, by then they will be the equivalent of a mule and cart.

4.  Plans for investment in the rail network in the region and whether they meet the needs of additional capacity and other improvements?

  Judged from the visible evidence, plans to meet the need for additional network capacity and other improvements are non-existent. Such plans as there are, seem all to be driven by local authorities, often against seemingly determined opposition from the SRA and all to take an unconscionable time to deliver.

  As evidence, the West Yorkshire PTE recently applied to be able to acquire five new electric trains to help give better services, a move which ironically would have released three trains for use in the south east. The agreement for this order, worth a mere £20 million or so, was announced as a written reply in Hansard in November 2001. The SRA subsequently blocked the agreement, and the PTE is having to spend yet more tax payers' money in re-submitting the bid.

  In February 2000 the SRA gave authority for the West and South Yorkshire PTEs to acquire 18 extra diesel vehicles (eg nine two-car trains), but refused to allow brand new trains to be ordered. There are no "pre-owned" trains which can be cascaded to meet the requirement, which was to meet the demands of the summer 2000, yes 2000, timetable. Meanwhile traffic in the PTE areas grows by 10% a year.

  Two of the 18 vehicles "a Pacer" arrive this summer, two more in autumn, eight in summer 2003 (these are 10 years or more old) and of the remaining six there is neither sign nor hope. Compare this with the many 100s of NEW rail vehicles which have been ordered for the south.

  Many route enhancements are simply off the agenda, eg improvements on the two main trans-pennine routes, including many agreed by the DTLR as part of the PTEs' and counties' Local Transport Plans only two years ago. Up-grading of the ECML gets no closer, while improvements on the vital Leeds-Sheffield corridor go backwards. It is a national disgrace that two such important cities have such an appalling railway line between them

  Much-needed rail re-openings, which would cost a small fraction of the cost of some of the projects in the south, do not even appear in the SRA's "Strategic Agenda", eg the Spen Valley, Harrogate-Ripon-Northallerton, Malton-Pickering, Skipton-Colne, the Otley and Cudworth routes to name but six that would transform the Y+H rail map.

5.  Influence of rail services on the economic and social development in the region?

  Car ownership in the region is low compared with the national average, as is per capita income. Sheffield has EU Objective One status. The best in railways services are needed to enable the region to prosper, whether in terms of business development, social inclusion or environmental reasons. (The TAR believes that it is self evident that enabling more commuter journeys into cities of the north to be made by rail will ease congestion on the roads and benefit the economy.)

  It should be an objective of the SRA within the overall transport plan, not to reduce car ownership but to reduce the need for car use to make rail-appropriate journeys. At present, it appears to be part of the SRA agenda to ensure that the availability of rail services is marginalized. The policy of focus effort on increasing passenger kilometres rather than passenger journeys is basically mis-placed, and is one which biases rail development to the south.

  The low quality of many inter-city routes, the lack of any infrastructure investment in the Strategic Pan, the minimum investment in new rolling stock being allowed in the Trans Pennine Franchise, the zero investment and the lowest possible vision for the Northern franchise all combine to hold back the economic development and personal mobility of people and businesses in the Y+H region which has been ignored by the SRA thus far.

  In short, the lack of targeted investment in the railways of the region represents a lost opportunity for both economic and social development


  The SRA, as a non-departmental governmental body, is seen as pro-south, with a low vision and aspiration for improved railways in the Y+H region, the very area where investment is most needed. It is insular, allowing no debate of its policies, and it excludes even pro-rail campaigners from its workings.

  Its policies, in as much as they are public, are opposed by local and regional authorities, MPs, PTEs and campaigners alike, yet they are set in stone and are doing real harm to the region. The policies are fundamentally flawed in many resects.

  The near-zero investment in the Y+H region's railways planned for the next 10 years, when compared with the billions being spent in the south-east, can only lead to further over-heating of the south(s economy and impoverishment of the Y+H region and the north as a whole.

Steve Broadbent

Lead Officer, Rail, YHTAR

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