Memorandum by Cumbria County Council (REN
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
1. The Transport Sub Committee has decided
to undertake an inquiry into rail services in the north of England
and has invited memoranda from witnesses before 10 June 2002.
The committee will consider the governments and Strategic rail
Authority (SRA) commitment to improving rail services and the
impact of the SRA approach to franchising in the region. This
paper is intended to inform the Transport Sub Committee of the
views of the County Council in relation to rail services in the
region and particularly in Cumbria. These views are approved by
the Council's Cabinet Member for Economy and Infrastructure.
2. Train services in Cumbria are provided
by four train operators: Services between Manchester Airport and
Barrow in Furness, Manchester Airport and Windermere, and between
Barrow and Carlisle via Whitehaven and Workington are operated
by First North Western (FNW). Arriva Trains North (ATN) provide
services between Leeds and Carlisle via Settle and between Newcastle
and Carlisle via Hexham (ScotRail also operate some of the latter
services which continue to Stranraer). ScotRail provide services
between Carlisle and Glasgow via Dumfries. Virgin Trains provide
the sole service on the West Coast Main Line linking Oxenholme,
Penrith and Carlisle with the rest of England and Scotland.
3. Under the SRA proposal for franchise
replacement the FNW and ATN services will be replaced partly by
the new Transpennine Express franchise and partly the new Northern
franchise. Although this will alter the boundary division between
service providers, it is the view of the Council that the continued
split between two operators will not improve coordination or integration
4. The over-arching issue for the Committee
to recognise is the importance of subsidy to the Northern Franchise.
The franchise covers a socially necessary railway with few services
that would be provided on a strictly commercial basis particularly
in rural or economically disadvantaged areas. Therefore any franchise
needs to specify closely what is required and allow for public
investment in development of non-commercial services, in the understanding
that any franchisee is unlikely to be motivated by market forces
to innovate or speculate. This characteristic does not seem to
be recognised by the approach of Government or the SRA to investment
in the regional rail network as an integral part of their overall
5. Responding to the SRA Strategic Plan
earlier this year the Council made the following points relevant
to this inquiry: "Members were very concerned about the emphasis
on the South East as principal recipient for SRA funds as this
would divert funds away from the regional network . . . They are
also concerned about the emphasis on PTE areas in the Northern
and Transpennine franchises which does not take account of important
role the Shire County authorities have to play in the delivery
of the government's 10 year plan. We seek your assurances that
the County Council will be properly engaged by the SRA in specifying,
evaluating and monitoring delivery of the outputs of the Northern
Franchise . . . In relation to strategic development of the rail
network we welcome the revised guidance and increased allocation
for the Rail Passenger Partnership fund and aim to exploit this
but we are concerned that this piecemeal and locally generated
approach to network enhancement may not result in a clear, strategic
and prioritised view of the needs of the regional network."
6. Perhaps more importantly the Council
has been concerned that the level of consultation by the SRA with
County Council's concerning franchise replacement has been poor.
The focus has been on the PTEs who, while important co-funders
of rail services in the North have little interest in services
in Cumbria or the more remote parts of Lancashire. We have pressed
for the establishment of a Business Unit within the franchise
for Cumbria and north Lancashire to give a senior and empowered
management presence in the sub region. The SRA approach to managing
the franchise could usefully reflect the non PTE interests.
7. The concerns of the Council are set out
under the headings set out by the Sub Committee in its call for
memoranda. The Council also endorses the response to the Inquiry
made by the North West Regional Assembly into which it has had
8. Safety: The Council is not equipped to
judge the operational safety of the train service provided by
the existing franchisees. However under a broader safety heading
there are concerns about personal security of passengers and intending
passengers, which are not being adequately addressed through staffing
or systems at some stations and on some trains.
9. Punctuality and Reliability: The punctuality
and reliability of most services in the region have been adversely
affected by the precautionary effects of recent railway accidents,
by planned and emergency engineering work and by unplanned over-runs
of these works, for example Leeds First. Staff and rolling stock
shortages have impacted upon service reliability, as has recent
and continuing industrial action. Generally however service reliability
and punctuality are reasonable and mirror the unpredictability
of road travel. Some of these issues could be resolved by increasing
the availability of spare resources to give a margin to cover
failures and raises the question of whether the current approach
of Government and the SRA puts efficiency before effectiveness.
10. Frequencies: The frequency of train
services in Cumbria is basic or poor. There are no local services
at frequencies greater than one train per hour. This is not attractive
for local and sub-regional trips to potential users who have access
to a car. On the Carlisle to Leeds service there are only five
trains each way per day, on the Carlisle to Barrow line there
is no Sunday service other than the three trains a day provided
with support from the Council (the Council has repeatedly sought
the inclusion of these Sunday services in the franchise specification).
There have been marginal additional services provided by the train
operators over and above the Passenger Service Requirement (PSR)
set by the SRA but no substantial investment in growth. The opportunity
for the SRA to encourage development of the rail network was missed
at the original round of franchising and this should be addressed
in the franchise replacement process.
11. Comfort: Comfort on trains is improving
steadily as new rolling stock is introduced and existing stock
is refurbished. The new class 175 trains operated by FNW on ManchesterCumbria
services are a good example of new high quality trains suited
to their current role. FNW have also eliminated the class 142
trains from the Carlisle-Barrow services, progress long campaigned
for by the Council and widely welcomed. The elimination of these
units from all other services in Cumbria is sought as they are
unsuited to long distance travel. There is some localised over
crowding of trains, for example between Lancaster and Barrow and
to Sellafield which still needs to be addressed by the train operators
by the provision of longer trains at specific times.
12. Comfort at stations remains poor. Since
the inception of the current franchises Railtrack have done backlog
maintenance, which in some cases has made noticeable improvements
to the station environment. Virgin Trains have made modest improvements
to the WCML stations and are working in partnership with the Council
to further improve interchange. Arriva have contributed to partnership
schemes to improve waiting facilities on the Leeds-Carlisle route
and have initiated a partnership scheme to extend a public address
system between Carlisle and Hexham. FNW have found it difficult
to implement their elements of agreed partnership schemes. Investment
in facilities remains low and delivery of improvements through
partnerships has been difficult to achieve due to a lack of resources
allocated to this work by the train operators and Railtrack.
13. The Council believes that the investment
proposals of the Government and SRA via train operators and Railtrack's
successor are not adequate to develop a network of services and
facilities which will meet the aims of providing an attractive
alternative to car travel or road haulage in the region.
14. Specifically, the Council seeks investment
in increasing the track capacity of the Windermere Branch line
as part of the Lake District Transport Strategy, increasing service
frequencies to half hourly between Carlisle and Whitehaven and
improving the frequency, day length and days of operation and
regularity of services throughout the network of local and regional
services. Investment is also sought in passenger and interchange
facilities at stations to be provided via franchisees or Railtrack's
successor to complement funding bids through the LTP.
15. The Council receives representations
about new stations and station re-openings together with service
calling pattern changes to assist in improving access to the network.
There is a view that RPP criteria are too restrictive and prevent
investment in such non-commercially viable schemes. There is a
demand for better cycle carrying capability on train services
in the County to support tourism development and more sustainable
commuting. New rolling stock design should account for this demand.
16. The Council has welcomed the publication
of the SRA Strategic Plan as a long awaited framework for the
restoration of confidence in the railway. However Members also
considered that the Plan had some weaknesses. Firstly, that the
full upgrade of the West Coast Main Line as originally proposed
will not be implemented. Its completion is as an essential element
in connecting Cumbria and the Region to the national and international
transport network. The proposal for developing a new North-South
high-speed rail route is welcomed and details are keenly anticipated.
17. A related matter is that of the accommodation
of local services on the WCML north of Crewe, as may be needed
to fill gaps left by Virgin Trains' service revisions, The Council
would like to be assured that investment plans will ensure sufficient
capacity for these services and for growth in freight traffic.
18. As referred to above the Council is
pleased to see extension of the Rail Passenger Partnership (RPP)
fund and will make bids into the fund. However we are concerned
that our experience of RPP to date is that this approach requires
the County Council to take sole responsibility for development
of the rail network in Cumbria, which the Council is not resourced
to do. Since the inception of RPP the railway industry has shown
limited ability, interest and resources available to make a useful
input into network development through the RPP process. A further
concern of the Council is that a piecemeal and locally generated
approach to network enhancement may not result in a clear, strategic
and prioritised view of the needs of the regional network. The
Council's position is made clear in the LTP but development needs
the active support of the railway industry an its funders.
19. The issue of rolling stock availability
for enhancements to services funded through RPP is critical as
at present there appears to be no additional rolling stock available
to resource any enhancements. This may then result in the reintroduction
of the class 142 units on inappropriate routes.
20. Current proposals for investment in
stations are inadequate. Stations are the first point of visual
and physical contact passengers make with the railway network
and service. It is important that this first impression is a favourable
one. Modern travellers have high expectations of public services
and buildings. If the railway is to attract new travellers making
a purchase of choice, not last resort, then stations need to be
brought up to a good modern standard. This is central to the achievement
of the aims of the railway industry and of national and local
government, to increase rail patronage and modal share.
21. The rail industry, local authorities
and local communities are able to work together to generate and
fund schemes to improve facilities at stations. One of the major
failings of the present local franchises has been the lack of
staff and funding resources within the TOC to devote sufficient
time to working effectively in partnership to address local issues;
for example work on Rail Passenger Partnerships and station and
interchange improvements. There is a need to ensure that these
activities are coordinated within the rail industry and therefore
Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and Railtrack's successor must
show themselves to be adequately resourced to play a full part.
(see Railtrack and ATCO document Partnership in Railway Development)
22. The SRA has recently produced a station
categorisation list based on the Railtrack report Developing
Modern Facilities at Stations. Stations have been assigned
to one of six categories (A-F) in descending order of size and
importance with a summary of facilities expected at each station
type. The resultant on-going SRA Stations Incremental Outputs
initiative aims to improve overall standards at stations by ensuring
that the standard is met at many more stations than at present.
Unfortunately only staffed stations in Categories B-E are being
improved. It is estimated that more than 80% of stations in the
Northern Franchise area are immediately ruled out as they are
unstaffed (Category F). The needs of passengers at unstaffed stations
must be addressed as part of the new Northern Franchise.
23. The transport network in Cumbria is
a core requirement of economic activity and competitiveness and
of social inclusion due to the County's location on the periphery
of the North West Region, UK and Europe.
24. Unlike many other areas of the UK, Cumbria's
rail infrastructure still provides effective links between almost
all the centres of population and those of employment and education
and training facilities. It provides for locally significant commuter
flows within the County. It also provides a means of access to
employment in the economic centres of the region from communities
in Cumbria by linking communities with the main North-South corridor
and the West Coast Main Line. In particular the railway serves
areas in need of regeneration in West and South Cumbria, where
the economic base has declined, These are Regeneration Priority
Areas in draft Regional Planning Guidance.
25. The rail network plays an important
role in improving the sustainability and attractiveness of tourism.
In particular it provides an important mode of access to the Lake
District via the Windermere Branch line and has great potential
to expand tourism in west and south Cumbria via the Cumbrian Coast
line and Furness Line. The Settle-Carlisle line has developed
to provide an attraction in its own right as well as access to
rural East Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales.
26. The council has commissioned recent
studies into the improvement of the rail network which focus on
the role played by rail in the local economy and social inclusion.
(Penrith-Keswick Rail Study 1997, Cumbria Rail Freight Study 1998,
Windermere Branch Line Study 1999, Cumbria Coast Line Study 2000,
Tyne Valley Rail Study 2001, Furness Line Study 2002) The studies
draw attention to the importance of rail in the transport network
where distances are relatively large and the road network is relatively
poor. This is recognised in the strategic vision provided by the
Local Transport Plan (LTP Chapter 4 Public Transport and Chapter
10 Freight)). The studies have consequently also lead to the preparation
of RPP bids by the Council.
27. It is imperative that the Government
recognise the importance of public investment in the rail network
in the north of England and subsidy to the Northern Franchise.
The network in Cumbria serves local social and economic needs
with few services that would be provided on a strictly commercial
basis. It provides the local links essential to the success of
the regional and national network for longer distance travel.
Investment is unlikely to be motivated by market forces for innovation
28. The mechanisms for investment (franchise
payments, RPP, LTP and major rail projects) need to be adequately
resourced in terms of staff and preparation funding and a clear
lead given to the potential partners on the role of each in managing
and developing the rail network. This is an area in which integrated
Government guidance is lacking.
29. The railway in Cumbria never the less
provides for both for the needs of people without access to cars,
a real, if not attractive, alternative to car travel and for freight
movements. The County Council is a strong supporter of the County's
rail network and wishes to continue to take an effective part
in its development.