Memorandum by Yorkshire and the Humber
Transport Activists' Round Table (REN 11)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
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
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
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
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
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 delaythe 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.
Lead Officer, Rail, YHTAR