Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Lancashire County Council (REN20)



  1.1  Lancashire County Council welcomes this opportunity to make a submission to the Transport Sub-Committee's inquiry into rail services in the North of England.

  1.2  The passenger rail network in Lancashire consists of a mixture of inter-city, inter-urban, local urban and rural services and is presently provided through five franchisees. These are:

First North Western

  This franchisee is the principal provider of inter-urban and local services within Lancashire.

Arriva Northern

  This franchisee provides TransPennine Express services between Blackpool and York/Scarborough via Preston and East Lancashire. Local services are also provided between Morecambe and Leeds via Lancaster and Skipton.

Virgin West Coast

  This franchise provides intercity services to/from London on the West Coast Main Line. Only Preston and Lancaster are served.

Virgin Cross-Country

  This franchise provides express services linking Lancashire with Scotland, the West Midlands, the South West and Central Southern England.


  This franchise provides services between Ormskirk and two other stations in Lancashire and Liverpool. Under present plans Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority will become the franchising body rather than the Strategic Rail Authority.

  1.3  The Lancashire local rail network covers routes primarily radiating from Preston and Lancaster. A mixture of commuter, business, education, shopping and other forms of leisure uses the local and inter-urban network. Service frequencies vary significantly depending on the primary purpose of each route and the sizes of communities served. There is a major market between Blackpool/ Central Lancashire and Manchester for both commuting and leisure purposes. The County Council has estimated that about 3.7 million rail passenger journeys per annum are made presently to and from stations in Lancashire.

  1.4  Although most lines in Lancashire are twin track, there has been significant rationalisation of infrastructure on many routes. This has led to some long sections of single track eg Kirkham to Blackpool South and Gannow Junction to Colne, simplified signalling systems, the removal of passing loops and the creation of single-lead junctions. As a consequence there are significant infrastructure barriers to be overcome if services along these routes are to be improved for both passengers and freight.

  1.5  There are 51 stations in Lancashire. Of these only 14 are staffed for all or part of the day. The remainder are un-staffed. In some areas this has led to heavy vandalism problems and a public perception that parts of the network are of poor quality.


  2.1  The County Council has welcomed the prospects of the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line and the major initiative of Virgin Trains to significantly improve both London based and Cross-Country services through the County.

  2.2  We are, however, very concerned about the slippage and overspend on this project and the very real prospect that many of the benefits as originally envisaged might not be delivered. Although it is regrettable that this position has been reached, the County Council welcomes the lead that the Strategic Rail Authority is now taking in its review of the modernisation project and in formulating a capacity utilization strategy for the route.

  2.3  The County Council has major concerns regarding the capability of the Northern parts of the route to handle the service aspirations of both train operators (passenger and freight) and local authorities. We are equally concerned that these capacity issues have only come to our attention over the last eighteen months or so through our pursuit of new stations and services.

  2.4  Clearly Railtrack are contractually committed to accommodating the level of service proposed by Virgin Trains on the existing West Coast Main Line infrastructure. However, this commitment is already placing blight on improvements to the local network. The County Council has submitted bids to the Strategic Rail Authority under the Rail Passenger Partnership Scheme (RPP) for improvements to the Blackpool to Manchester and Morecambe to Leeds services. Both these proposals have pre-qualified but have run into subsequent difficulties due to Railtrack being unable to guarantee the "paths" where the services have to use the West Coast Main Line.

  2.5  Similarly, the County Council has aspirations to re-open the station at Coppull and restore the main line platforms at Carnforth. Both of these projects are central to the County Council's rail strategy in the Local Transport Plan. Both projects are stalled due to West Coast Main Line capacity issues.

  2.6   The County Council recognises that the Strategic Rail Authority will almost certainly have to make compromises but hopes that the role of expanded local rail services will be fully recognised. We look forward, hopefully, to a clear strategy from the Strategic Rail Authority that both rescues as many of the benefits of the original upgrade but also allows us to fulfil much of our vision for the local network given that most local rail services in the County use or cross the West Coast Main Line at some point.


  3.1  Whilst the County Council has sympathy with and understands the need for major rail investment in London and the South East, it is concerned that the Strategic Plan seems to have little if any focus on the need for major investment in the North West of England outside the West Coast Main Line. The County Council acknowledges the high level of financial support that is to be given to regional networks but notes that this will be mainly to maintain service levels (important in itself) rather than to develop new infrastructure.

3.2  Greater Manchester Capacity Study

  The County Council is particularly concerned that the Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan did not appear to bring forward any proposals to address the very real issues of infrastructure constraints and capacity enhancement in the Manchester area. This is despite the considerable amount of work that has now been undertaken by the relevant authorities, including the Strategic Rail Authority, to develop solutions.

  Capacity constraints in the Manchester area considerably limit the scope for enhanced services, both passenger and freight. The County Council is keen to see enhanced services operating into Greater Manchester, particularly on the Preston and East Lancashire corridors. The County Council would not wish to see capacity enhancements required to achieve this placed into the "beyond 2010" category as has been suggested by the SRA.


  4.1  The County Council is not opposed to the creation of separate Trans-Pennine and Northern Franchises although we do believe there will be additional costs through reduced economies of scale eg the probable loss of the efficient utilisation of train crew at depots such as Barrow in Furness. We do, however, have some significant reservations about the way the TransPennine Express Franchise itself is being organised and its relationship with the Northern Franchise.

  4.2  The original proposals from the Strategic Rail Authority for the Trans-Pennine franchise included the Blackpool to Leeds-York-Scarborough route. However, this route was subsequently deleted from the proposal and the Manchester Airport to Barrow-Windermere group included instead. The Strategic Rail Authority has given the reason for this change as a desire to only include services with no more than two or three stops per hour in the franchise. As a consequence, the Blackpool to Yorkshire via East Lancashire service is now intended to become part of the proposed Northern franchise.

  4.3  The deletion of the Blackpool to Yorkshire service from the proposed Trans-Pennine franchise was a very disappointing development. It is widely anticipated that the Trans-Pennine franchise will be investment led, even if this ambition has been toned down somewhat following the Railtrack problems. This was confirmed in the SRA Strategic Plan published on 14 January, where it is stated that whilst the new franchisee will initially be expected to concentrate on improving performance, reliability and customer satisfaction, the SRA sees new rolling stock, better frequencies on key routes and the addition of new destinations as key issues.

  4.4  The County Council's aspirations for this service include both service frequency improvements and journey time reductions. The relegation of this service to the Northern franchise might well reduce the scope for the kind of operator led investment we would wish to see in the service.

  4.5  Conversely, the County Council finds the inclusion of the Manchester Airport to Barrow/Windermere group of services in the Trans-Pennine franchise by the Strategic Rail Authority difficult to comprehend. The inclusion of this service group in an investment led franchise would be welcome. However, the problem of including this service group on its own within the TransPennine franchise is that this group only represents (at present) less than one third of the First North Western services on the Preston to Manchester corridor. Under the SRA proposal as it is presently understood, these other services on the (Blackpool) Preston to Manchester corridor will be part of the Northern Franchise ie almost certainly provided by a different train operator.

  4.6  This is a very important corridor for the North West of England. It carries significant commuter flows into Greater Manchester, Preston, Lancaster and Blackpool. It is an important link with Manchester Airport. It needs to play a growing role in catering for tourism to both the Fylde Coast and the Lake District National Park. The route also has a major role in providing local communities with regular services.

  4.7  Given that the route covers a wide variety of transport needs there is a strong argument for the route and the much-needed investment in it being planned through one franchisee. The splitting of the route between two different operators could well lead to a fragmented approach to service planning. This might make the planning of fast and frequent services to/from the major towns and Manchester Airport difficult to reconcile with, for example, the need for frequent local services for the smaller communities if two competing operators are providing services. It is interesting to note that the approach the Strategic Rail Authority is adopting for this corridor is the converse of its policy towards the main line stations in London where it is intended to reduce the number of franchisees operating into any one terminal. This, we understand, is to ensure effective planning of local and longer-distance services together with maximising the use of available capacity.

  4.8  The County Council has discussed these issues with representatives of the Strategic Rail Authority but has yet to receive satisfactory assurances to these concerns.

4.9  Northern Franchise—Business Units

  Approximately eighteen months ago, the Strategic Rail Authority and Passenger Transport Executives commissioned a study into the structure of the Northern Franchise, particularly the number of separate business units. It is understood that the chosen franchisee will be required to set up a separate business unit for each Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) area to give a strong management focus to service development in those areas.

  The County Council understands and supports the need for business units for PTA areas. However, we considered that we were able to make a strong case at that time for a business unit to be established to focus on the needs of Lancashire and Cumbria. We considered that to be covered by a business unit covering either Greater Manchester or the Merseyside PTA areas would lead to a loss of management focus outside these areas as both PTAs will be co-signatories to the franchise agreement. Disappointingly, the County Council has received no further information from the Strategic Rail Authority on the proposed business unit structure of the Northern Franchise


5.1  Safety

  The County Council is not aware of any operational safety issues with any rail company providing services in the County. The County Council is, however, concerned that there are issues of personal safety at un-staffed railway stations, particularly after dark although these issues appear to be more perceived than real.

  The County Council is pleased to have been a partner in the Secure Transport Route project, which was established as a pilot project in June 2001 and involves a wide range of partners. This project has been looking at the Manchester Victoria to Clitheroe route and is piloting a number of schemes at individual stations. These schemes not only include the rail journey but other modes of transport which a passenger might use to access a station, including walking. The County Council would like to see this project built on and extended to cover the whole of Lancashire and the North in due course.

5.2  Punctuality and Reliability

  As with the rest of the mainland UK, the punctuality and reliability of services in Lancashire suffered as a result of the precautionary measures instigated by Railtrack following the Hatfield accident.

  In addition, Arriva Trains and, to a lesser extent, First North Western has suffered from staff and rolling stock shortages. In the case of Arriva Trains the shortage caused by what is understood to be a combination of the recruitment of their drivers by other rail companies able to offer higher salaries and insufficient attention to driver recruitment by Arriva management, has meant severe disruption through late 2001-early 2002 to both of the County's Trans-Pennine services.

  First North Western has faced severe difficulties with the introduction of their new Class 175 units. Although availability now appears to be improving it is understood it is still below planned levels.

  It is understood from discussions with train operators that delays to Lancashire services attributable to Railtrack through equipment failure, over-running engineering works etc are still significant although the present proportion is not known.

5.3  Comfort

  There is a wide variety of rolling stock in use on the local Lancashire rail network although in age profile there is now little in use that is older than about fifteen years with the exception of the Merseyrail Electric stock. Standards of passenger amenity, however, vary widely with the Class 142 units in particular offering poor ride quality, particularly on non-continuously welded track. The new Class 175 units introduced on some services by First North Western are highly regarded by passengers for their standard of comfort.

  Passenger facilities at most of Lancashire's un-staffed railway stations leaves much to be desired with the standard of security and waiting facility being particularly poor. The County Council is extremely concerned that the Strategic Rail Authority's Modern Facilities at Stations (MFS) programme will not be extending to un-staffed stations. This means that only fourteen stations in Lancashire will benefit from the programme as it presently stands.

  Of particular concern is the lack of customer information about train running in real time at un-staffed stations. Information is the key to confidence in the use of public transport yet at most un-staffed stations in Lancashire the user is required to seek out the nearest public phone to find out about any delays or cancellations. This is often some distance from the platform in question. The County Council believes that un-staffed stations should not be excluded from the customer information element of the MFS programme but should have such facilities provided as a priority. The presence of a distant phone is inadequate as the passenger has to make a choice between going to the phone, during which time the train might arrive, or waiting on the platform without information.

5.4  Frequency of Service

  As has been mentioned above service frequencies vary significantly in Lancashire depending on the primary purpose of each route and the sizes of communities served. The County Council believes there is considerable scope to improve services on the network should there be investment to overcome capacity constraints. A few local services, however, already operate at a level that is slightly higher than the SRA Passenger Service Requirement.


  6.1  The County Council considers that the rail network is vital to the economy of the County. It provides for locally significant commuter flows and provides a means of access to employment in the economic centres of both the County and the regions. It is also vital to tourism notably bringing visitors to the Fylde Coast.

  6.2  On most indicators, East Lancashire is a socially deprived sub-region. A partnership has been established in East Lancashire to address these problems. Work undertaken by the Partnership has demonstrated conclusively that significantly improved public transport will play a major role in transforming East Lancashire and that central to this will be significantly improved rail services. The rail network, developed as part of a rapid transit system covering the sub-region will attract development along the corridors, increase land values and enable a wider body of people to benefit from improved employment and other opportunities.

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