Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive (REN 19)


  1.  Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA) is responsible for setting public transport policy within the Greater Manchester area. The Authority comprises elected representatives from the following ten authorities; the City Councils of Salford and Manchester, and the District councils of Bury, Bolton, Wigan, Trafford, Stockport, Tameside, Oldham and Rochdale.

  2.  The strategy developed from this policy, covering all forms of public transport, is set out in the Local Transport Plan which has been endorsed by the Department for Transport.

  3.  Greater Manchester Passenger Executive (GMPTE) implements the policy set by the Passenger Transport Authority. In recent years there have been many innovative and successful public transport schemes introduced within Greater Manchester including the Metrolink tram system which originally consisted of two under performing sections of the heavy rail network. A number of successful new stations have been built, most recently Manchester Airport with its associated rail links and Horwich Parkway to serve an adjacent major sport, retail and residential development. Work is in progress to implement a major project, funded by public and private sector money to more than double the existing size of the Metrolink system. This project is at the tender evaluation stage, the concession is due to be awarded in 2003 and the construction phase will last approximately five years. GMPTE and GMPTA are concerned that there is an urgent need to improve all modes of public transport in the Greater Manchester area in line with the Local Transport Plan but that the way forward in regard to the potentially very attractive heavy rail network is far from clear at present.

  4.  Your new inquiry is seen as both timely and relevant to issues in the Greater Manchester area.


  5.  The Greater Manchester local rail system is extensive and serves most parts of the conurbation with a total of 107 stations. Most trains are formed of two coaches and frequency levels in the off peak range from 10 minutes to hourly. They are predominately operated by First North Western with some services in the northern part of the conurbation operated by Arriva Trains Northern.

  6.  In 1992 the Metrolink system began operation following the conversion of two existing heavy rail routes to Altrincham and Bury which were linked by a section of city centre street running. The system has now been extended to serve the Salford Quays redevelopment area and Eccles. In addition, Greater Manchester has rail links to London and many other national and regional destinations provided by the following train operators: Virgin West Coast, Virgin Cross Country, Arriva Trains Northern, First North Western, Central Trains and Wales and Borders.

  7.  GMPTA recognises the importance of the contribution of local railways to the overall public transport mix in Greater Manchester. Under the terms of the Railways Act 1993. GMPTE is co-signatory to the two franchisees which provide local services in the Greater Manchester area, currently these are operated by First North Western (FNW) and Arriva Trains Northern (ATN). In preparation for the franchise replacement process both franchises are currently operated on a management contract basis with the "cost plus" financial arrangements guaranteed by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). This situation will continue until the new franchises become active. The SRA's forecast for the start of the Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchises, which will replace the two franchises currently operating, is mid 2003.

  8.  It is considered that because of this situation the usual incentives provided by performance payments, penalties and commercial gain are for the time being negated or missing. This has been a major source of frustration to GMPTA/E, which has yearly set aside funding for collaboration with private sector operators and Railtrack. Horwich Parkway was built entirely with GMPTA, local authority and developer funding, (and has proved to be highly successful) and major frustrations has been experienced with assembling schemes for Stockport and Ashton-under-Lyne (where GMPTA is the major funding partner), railway stations.


  9.  The following responses relate to the bullet points set out in the press notice number 65 of 9 May.

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


  10.  There is no reason to believe that train operators in the Greater Manchester area are operating trains in an unsafe manner. Regular reports are received on such matters and clearly efforts are being made to reduce the risk of accidents.

  11.  However, there is a perception amongst passengers that using stations and travelling by train compromises their personal security. On the Greater Manchester Metrolink light rail system each station, although unstaffed, is monitored by CCTV and each platform has emergency passenger help points linked to a central control room. In addition, Metrolink staff and Greater Manchester Police, specially assigned to Metrolink, patrol the system. This contrasts with the situation on heavy rail where the original franchisee made a commitment to improving passenger security and information at all the stations in the franchise and GMPTA were willing to make a financial contribution towards the cost of this much needed improvement. Regrettably, following the takeover of the franchise by First Group, the original aspiration was scaled down to the point where the franchisee has now interpreted his commitment as only needing to provide a telephone at each station which has the dual use of enabling passengers to summon assistance and obtain train running information.

  12.  This is far from satisfactory and it is hoped that some stations can now be made safer using the Strategic Rail Authority funded "Modern Facilities at Stations" initiative.

Punctuality and Reliability:

  13.  In the Greater Manchester area the level of performance has been far from satisfactory. Occasional improvements have not been sustained as the lack of rolling stock and infrastructure capacity limitations make the situation fragile and susceptible to minor incidents.

  14.  It is also regrettable that industrial disputes have recently affected the services provided by FNW and ATN. Passengers using ATN services continue to suffer withdrawals of service because of on-going action by conductors to seek a pay award comparable to that provided to drivers. ATN decided to increase the rate of pay for drivers considerably above the rate of inflation as a means of encouraging them to stay with ATN following a period when many ATN services were cancelled because of driver shortage.

  15.  This situation has not been completely resolved and the significant differential in pay rate has created an issue which will have to be resolved when the Northern franchise is created as this will then have two sets of drivers performing similar duties at considerably different rates of pay.

  16.  It is considered that to attract passengers back to rail in significant numbers and retain them there needs to be a consistent and significant level of improved performance. Unfortunately this has not yet been achieved.


  17.  This is taken to mean the quality of passenger facilities generally and not just those on tram.

  18.  A number of services, particularly on the key rail corridor from Manchester through Salford and Bolton to Wigan are regularly overcrowded. In itself, this is a symptom of success in attracting passengers but we are frustrated that there is no immediate solution to the overcrowding coming from the operator and there is a strong risk that new passengers will not be retained. The amount of rolling stock available in the short term is finite. Although the original franchisee committed to providing a number of new trains these have only recently been introduced into regular service and their reliability is far from satisfactory and compares poorly with the older trains in use. This has meant that older trains, some dating back to the mid 1950's continue in use although a successful Rail Passenger Partnership fund bid was made to retain a number of "Pacer" trains, which should have been returned to the lessee. These factors have led to a situation where passengers experience discomfort because of overcrowding and the continued use of substandard quality trains.

  19.  Again, it is not likely that new passengers will be attracted or retained if these conditions continue. Inevitably travellers will compare their rail journey experience with the comfort levels readily available in car or in the many modern buses currently being introduced.

Frequency of Services:

  20.  Frequency of services generally is not satisfactory and fails to meet Local Transport Plan (LTP) aspirations. Current options are limited by availability of rolling stock and physical constraints of infrastructure.

  21.  It is accepted that, should more rolling stock become available, it would be possible to lengthen trains relatively easily. However, it is considered essential to introduce a higher frequency of service on some routes if patronage increases comparable to those witnessed on Metrolink are to be achieved.

  22.  Current service levels are generally those which applied in 1995 and effectively for many years before that date. They do not reflect current work and leisure needs. There is a particular disparity between the general increase in activity in the evenings and on Sundays and the paucity of rail services at those times.

Plans for Investment in the Rail Network in the region and whether they meet the needs of additional Network Capacity and other Improvements.

  23.  There is major disappointment in both Greater Manchester and the North West as a whole that generally the Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan, issued earlier this year, clearly states that there is little prospect of significant infrastructure investment in the North of England within its ten year timeframe.

  24.  With seven million people and 11% of the capitals UK GDP the North West is a big player in the national economy. It's economy is heavily dependant on two key routes, north-south via the M6 and east-west via the M62 and Trans Pennine routes. There is serious concern that growing congestion will stall the region's recovery. Scaling back proposals for the West Coast Main Line and the lack of major investment from the SRA will have a major impact on the regions prospects for growth.

  25.  In 2001 a joint study, led by the SRA but co-funded by the GMPTE, Railtrack, Manchester Airport and the Highways Agency was completed. This examined the potential of the rail system in Greater Manchester and identified the need to invest in infrastructure if future potential was to be achieved. Many of its finding were endorsed widely and have been incorporated into the Greater Manchester Local Transport Plan. Furthermore, the core aspiration, to free congestion in the hub area of Manchester, has been adopted as the highest transport infrastructure priority by the North West Regional Assembly and its constituent authorities together with Manchester Airport plc. The SRA's apparent prioritisation for investment funding on routes which serve the South East has meant that another means of funding must be identified. The SRA have countered our objection to their prioritisation by citing their commitment to provide continuing high levels of revenue subsidy for the Northern franchise. In our view, this will merely perpetuate the present situation, in which the local rail system is very expensive to operate, unreliable, unattractive and underused.

  26.  The "Network Vision" set out in the Strategy adopted the Greater Manchester LTP targets of a three to four fold increase in patronage on local and regional services so as to enlarge the role of rail as a major element of a fast and frequent high capacity spine for the public transport network in Greater Manchester.

  27.  Moreover capacity problems in and around the conurbation are such that it is difficult to see how improved West Coast Main Line services, Cross Country services and Trans Pennine services can co-exist with the requirements of the suburban rail network whose improving health will be essential to the relief of congestion.

  28.  Neither GMPTA nor GMPTE would argue that the South East and Inter City routes require substantial investment. The SRA argues that the major levels of investment in these areas is offset by the considerable degree of spend on subsidy in the North of England and cites statistics to support its case. In value for money terms, however, subsidy and investment are inextricably linked. It makes no economic sense to heavily subsidise under-utilised routes where investment will increase the attractiveness of the network, increase patronage and reduce subsidy. In short, GMPTA/E feels that current policies will perpetuate a "vicious circle" rather than stimulate a "virtuous circle" of investment and reduced subsidy.

  29.  The relationship between subsidy and investment is, of course, complex. It is recognised that the success of Metrolink cannot be repeated across the whole of the local rail network without major levels of cost. Conversion of certain lines (for example Marple/Manchester) to Light Rail would reduce pressure on the conurbation core and attract major additional patronage — indeed this has been recognised in the Greater Manchester Rail Strategy Study and the Government's South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study. In GMPTE's view capacity issues need to be urgently tackled in the conurbation core alongside measures such as Light Rail and Tram/Train etc which secure reductions in the level of congestion. This combination of measures will both enhance the cost effectiveness and attractiveness of public transport in Greater Manchester and reduce subsidies and maximise the payback from investment.

The influence of rail services on the economic and social development of the Region.

  30.  Rail massively under performs in Greater Manchester. In 2001, the whole of the local rail network carried only 14 million passengers compared with 18.3 million carried on two Metrolink lines. Failure to implement the measures in the Strategic Rail Study so as to achieve required levels of growth on the rail network will hinder the achievement of the objectives and targets in the Local Transport Plan with regard to modal shift, integration and road traffic reduction. In fact if current trends are allowed to continue, the rail network will significantly decline as a force in delivering these objectives.

  31.  GMPTA has established key objectives for public transport. Within these there is an aspiration that rail will provide a frequent, reliable and secure rail as part of an integrated local transport network, so as to contribute to all aspects of local economic and social regeneration. In this context, the Committee should appreciate that all the points raised in earlier sections of the evidence will be crucial to achieving these objectives. This also applies to the longer distance services providing key interurban and other national linkages.


  32.  The original franchising process which culminated in the final award of franchises in 1996 failed to achieve most of the promised improvements for rail services in the North of England.

  33.  For local services this has been particularly apparent. In the relatively short time which has elapsed since 1996, the original franchisees for both the North West and North East franchises have been replaced. This process was accompanied by a sustained cost cutting campaign, mainly affecting the quality of passenger services. Eventually, it was accepted by the SRA and the franchisees that there was no prospect of the original financial projections being met. Agreements were reached which enabled the franchisees to avoid further losses and enabled the SRA to increase the funding levels to at least maintain the resultant poorer levels of service until the new round of franchising could be completed.

  34.  There is a danger of repeating some of the earlier problems now apparent in the first round of franchising. If services are to be procured on a lowest cost basis, because of the subsidy involved, there is a very real danger that the perpetuation of the "status quo" will undermine levels of quality.

  35.  An example of this is the SRA opposition to the PTE's insistence that a basic requirement should be for the franchisee to adhere to a quality monitoring regime similar to that which currently applies. The SRA view is that the less specific national customer satisfaction surveys are adequate and will encourage the bidders to inflate their bids. The PTE view is that the operator is only being asked to maintain facilities to the level which a competent operator would naturally provide. In this situation there should be no justification for additional funding.


  36.  In summary, GMPTA/E feels that the perpetuation of the "status quo" will not deliver the step change in public transport required to combat increasing levels of congestion. Indeed, it believes that it will be more cost effective in the medium and long term to solve the capacity issues in the North West (especially around Manchester Piccadilly) together with a proactive approach to the needs of the urban commuter network building on existing facilities and, where appropriate, considering conversion to Light Rail where this will be, transparently more cost effective.

  37.  GMPTA/E look forward to a dialogue with SRA on these issues, which is both concerned with maximising the availability of resources and/or redeploying them in a more cost effective manner.

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