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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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