Memorandum by the Institute for Transport
Studies, University of Leeds (REN 18)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
ATN RAIL SERVICE
1. I am submitting this Memorandum as an
individual user of ATN's services, but also as an expert in urban
and regional transport policy. I have served as an adviser to
the Sub-Committee's predecessor, and would be happy to appear
before the Sub-Committee if called upon to do so.
2. I have limited my submission to the response
to ATN's driver shortage in 2001, including the process whereby
ATN's services were cut in October 2001, and the SRA subsequently
imposed penalties on ATN. I have concentrated on these events
the disruption caused was far more
serious than that from the present industrial action;
the way in which the SRA dealt with
it raises serious questions about their commitment to an integrated
transport strategy; and
it is important that lessons are
learnt so that any future serious failures by train operators
can be handled more effectively.
3. I have avoided burdening the Sub-Committee
with detail, and concentrate instead on the implications, and
recommendations for the ways in which the SRA should deal with
similar failures of operators in the future. I can provide the
Clerk with further detail, and copies of correspondence with ATN,
the SRA and NYCC if required.
4. Lack of Warning: It had become
clear by mid 2001 that ATN was unable to offer a reliable service
with its depleted number of drivers, and that the situation was
becoming worse as other operators tempted ATN's drivers away with
better conditions of service. I am not sure when consultation
on a reduced service started, but I know from my colleagues in
the PTEs that they had been involved for some time before the
announcement. Despite this, passengers were only advised on the
Friday of the serious service reductions to be imposed the following
5. Lack of Consultation: My own local
transport planning authority, North Yorkshire County Council,
was not consulted at all, despite the fact that its area suffered
some of the most severe cuts and, in its role in supporting local
bus services, it could have been expected to contribute to reducing
the impact of the cuts.
6. Scale of Reduction: The overall
reduction, for services from my local station, Thirsk, was just
under 40% on a service which was previously only hourly. Key commuting
services to Darlington and Newcastle, to and from York and homebound
from Leeds were withdrawn. The only alternative for commuting
journeys to Newcastle was a bus with a three minute connection
at Darlington. As a result some commuters from Thirsk were forced
to change jobs. Many more will have had to switch to car use,
and many will not have returned to the trains since.
7. Inadequate Replacement Services: The
replacement bus service from York was scheduled to add 25 minutes
to journeys from Leeds to Thirsk. However, buses initially took
a 34 mile route to travel the 27 miles to Thirsk and the additional
journey time was thus nearer to 50 minutes. In the early days,
before passengers gave up using the bus, there was often standing
room only at peak times. ATN claimed in correspondence that these
inadequacies were solely the responsibility of its subcontractor.
8. Failure to Consider Rail Alternatives:
ATN themselves could have reduced the inconvenience to passengers
by stopping their occasional through services at Thirsk. They
did elect to stop one service, but it did not appear in the timetable,
and they claimed that negotiations with Railtrack had delayed
its announcement. ATN had still not taken action three months
after they offered to investigate the possibility of stopping
9. Inappropriate Penalties: The SRA
announced in October that they planned to impose Enforcement Action
on ATN and sought views on their proposals. Their chosen indicator,
the number of fully productive drivers, was a measure of input
rather than output, and took no account of the resulting level
of service. Their proposed penalty, of £5,000 per driver-month
of shortfall, was based solely on the cost of recruitment to ATN
rather than on the disbenefits to passengers. A simple calculation
based on the extra travel time caused to passengers affected by
cuts in the Thirsk services, and using the Department for Transport'
s standard values of time, suggests that the penalty should have
been in the range of £15,000 to £25,000 per driver-month.
When delays are caused to road users, the disbenefits are assessed
in this way, and SRA's failure to adopt a similar basis sends
inappropriate signals to both operators and users. When SRA finally
announced its Enforcement Action in March 2002 they acted precisely
as they proposed in October, and made no reference to the consideration
of other approaches.
10. It is clear that the ways in which the
SRA and ATN implemented their service cuts and replacements paid
inadequate regard to the impact on passengers and on the transport
system more generally. It is also a matter of concern that neither
body, in its correspondence, suggests that it could have done
more or acted differently. There is little point now in a detailed
post mortem into these events, but it is important that lessons
are learnt. It is inevitable that other train operators will from
time to time fail significantly to meet their franchise commitments,
and it is important that the SRA adopts improved procedures in
situations where the problems can be anticipated and are likely
to have a long term impact.
11. I hope that the Sub-Committee will consider
including the following recommendations in its report:
(i) The SRA should consult with all concerned
bodies, including local transport planning authorities, when considering
agreeing to cuts in services.
(ii) The SRA should ensure that adequate
warning of long term cuts in services is given to passengers.
A minimum of two weeks' warning would be desirable.
(iii) Where cuts need to be made, they should
avoid commuting journeys wherever possible, since users of those
services are far less able to make short term changes to their
(iv) Consideration should be given to changes
to existing train services, including those of other operators,
to reduce the impact of service cuts, before considering bus replacements.
The SRA should be expected to demonstrate that this has happened,
and Railtrack should be required to respond rapidly to requests
for approval of such changes in service patterns.
(v) Replacement bus services must be specified
both as to timetable and to capacity, and it must be the responsibility
of the train operator to ensure that they are provided as agreed.
(vi) Where the SRA imposes penalties on operators,
they must be based on output indicators of the service actually
run, rather than simply on input indicators of drivers or trains
(vii) Any penalties imposed must be calculated
based on the cost incurred by users of the transport system, using
the procedures set out in Department for Transport guidance.
Professor A D May FREng.
5 June 2002