Memorandum by Lancashire County Council
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
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.
First North Western
This franchisee is the principal provider of
inter-urban and local services within Lancashire.
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
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. THE WEST
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
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
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
4. THE STRATEGIC
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
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 FranchiseBusiness 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. SERVICE PROVIDED
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
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
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.
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
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
6. THE ROLE
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.