Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Association of Community-Rail Partnerships (REN 23)


  1.  The Association of Community-Rail Partnerships (ACoRP), a federation of over 35 community-rail partnerships across the UK (including nine in the North of England), welcomes the Sub-Committee's decision to hold an inquiry into rail services in the North of England. We hope the following points will assist the sub-committee in its work, and would welcome the opportunity to give evidence.

  2.  ACoRP's primary concern is with the regional rail network, particularly those lines serving rural and semi-rural communities. The North of England has a significant number of such lines which perform a valuable service for local residents, businesses, and visitors to these areas such as the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Pennines, Peak District and the east and west coasts. However, regional rail is currently not meeting its full potential to achieve social inclusion, regeneration and sustainable development and sustainable tourism because of problems we outline below. There are several examples in the North where investment in regional rail has brought real benefits. To highlight just one, the re-opening of the Ribble Valley Line to Clitheroe has helped regenerate Clitheroe as a market town, and helped reduce long-distance car commuting to Manchester. It has also opened up opportunities for sustainable tourism, bringing visitors into the Ribble Valley by rail and connecting bus services at the new Clitheroe Interchange.

  3.  We believe that the work of community-rail partnerships, in bringing together rail companies with local authorities, businesses and community organisations, has made a substantial difference to the fortunes of rural lines. They have helped increase passenger numbers on some lines by as much as 30% a year, and have worked with all relevant bodies to improve services and facilities. We would be happy to supply examples of successful projects from various community-rail partnerships in the North, including the following ACoRP members:

    —  The Penistone Line Partnership (Huddersfield-Sheffield)

    —  Hope Valley and High Peak Transport Partnership

    —  Yorkshire Coast Community-Rail Partnership (Hull-Scarborough)

    —  West of Lancashire Community-Rail Partnership (Preston-Ormskirk and Wigan-Southport)

    —  Esk Valley Railway Development Company (Middlesbrough-Whitby)

    —  Friends of Handforth Station (south Manchester)

    —  Ribble Valley Rail (Blackburn-Clitheroe)

    —  Co. Durham Rail Partnership

    —  Leeds-Lancaster Rail Steering Group.

  4.  Whilst each of these organisations has had notable successes, ACoRP believes that much greater success in attracting new passengers to rail, promoting regeneration and sustainable development and helping overcome social exclusion in rural areas could be achieved. This requires more resources being made available for the regional network of the North through the new franchises for Northern and Trans-Pennine. The future development of rail services should be addressed through regional rail development plans for each of the three regions within the North as a whole.


  5.  The regional network in the North currently suffers from problems of inadequate frequencies, a lack of appropriate rolling stock, often inadequate station facilities, poor connections with other forms of transport, particularly local bus services, and often inadequate connections into the InterCity network. There are increasing fears about personal security at unstaffed or partly-staffed stations. There is also a lack of fit with local and regional planning, particularly in relation to location of housing and employment centres. In addition, many substantial towns such as Ripon, Keswick, Market Weighton, Hawes, Ashington, Washington, Peterlee, Bakewell, Skelmersdale, Fleetwood and elsewhere are not served by rail. There is a growing problem of enhancements to regional passenger services not being implemented because of capacity constraints, particularly on the West Coast Main Line. In some cases other operators have "bought slots" for their trains but do not use them—but stop other services from being provided.

  6.  The root cause of many of these problems lies in the cost-cutting approach to regional passenger franchises which was a feature in the first round of franchising in the 1993-97 period. Particular difficulties were inflicted on the franchises for North Western and North East because of the unrealistically low level of subsidy agreed between what was then the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the companies which were awarded the contracts. To some extent these issues have been addressed by the Strategic Rail Authority through re-negotiating the contracts and bringing additional resources to the franchises. However, considerable damage to passenger confidence was done during the late 1990s when many services perceptibly worsened in quality and we currently have a regional network with frequencies which have remained static since the mid-1980s when BR cut frequencies on many regional lines. These service reductions have been enshrined in the PSR, resulting in a service which meets very few of the needs of communities served by these lines.

  7.  The level of reliability of regional services varies across the North of England, and the causes of poor reliability and punctuality are numerous. They include congestion at key pinch-points on the network, lack of capacity on some rural lines (eg single lines which provide very limited capacity for existing train services), lack of sufficient staff to operate services, rolling stock unreliability and external circumstances such as vandalism.

  8.  The quality of rolling stock used on regional services is often inadequate. The "Pacer" fleet used on many regional services does not meet the rising expectations of today's travellers. We recommend the Sub-Committee looks at the high quality modern trains in use on rural services in Germany, France and Sweden to see what our European neighbours are enjoying, and compare that with the trains—inadequate when introduced in the 1980s—that passengers have to put up with today. There is a pressing need to develop new designs of trains for regional and rural services, which offer much-improved passenger facilities which will attract people out of their cars.

  9.  We believe that the rail network, despite alarmist reports in the media, is fundamentally safe. We are concerned that ever-increasing safety regulation of the railways risks driving people away from rail and on to the more dangerous roads.

  10.  Integration between bus and rail services in the North, particularly in more rural areas, still leaves much to be desired—though the situation is improving in some areas, which we highlight below. Integration between regional rail and InterCity services has worsened since privatisation, and it is common for passengers trying to make connections from regional to InterCity services to find that their connection is not held.


  11.  The new North of England franchise offers an opportunity to fully redress this legacy of under-investment, and many of the above issues. We hope the SRA will encourage bids which offer both value for taxpayer's money and progressive improvement in quality. This may mean that the lowest bid may not be the one which offers best value for money. The SRA must recognise rail's role in promoting regeneration and in reducing social exclusion and such criteria should be included in bid evaluation processes. The priority must be to provide a reliable service which makes best use of the existing network. Over the period of the franchise there should be progressive enhancements in the capacity of the network, with a co-ordinated programme of line and station re-openings, new rolling stock and enhanced station facilities.

  12.  We would like to see a major increase in service frequencies, which in some cases will involve infrastructure improvements to provide additional capacity. On all lines with the exception of the most rural, where two-hourly would be justified, there should be a presumption in favour of a minimum hourly frequency. On most regional lines the current hourly service should be increased to half-hourly.

  13.  To meet these demands it is vital that an on-going programme of investment in new rolling stock should begin, with trains designed specifically for operation on the regional network. A working group of SRA, manufacturers, train operators, rolling stock leasing companies and the RPC should be convened to develop a programme. ACoRP's sub-committee on rolling stock design has helped bring together interested parties, including train operators and manufacturers, to discuss these issues but the reality is that new trains for rural lines will only happen if there is external funding from the public sector.

  14.  The quality of stations needs substantial improvement, with good quality information, staffed facilities wherever possible (including encouragement of small businesses to provide facilities at the smaller stations), and good access by ramps or lifts for all potential users. ACoRP's Station Design Group has been developing some imaginative approaches to smaller stations, with the involvement of Railtrack, train operators, and architects. At all unstaffed stations there should be CCTV and help points for passengers. There should be an on-going programme of station re-openings, or entirely new stations which would be highlighted in the suggested regional rail development plans. In addition to stations on new lines noted below, we would argue for new stations on existing lines at appropriate locations. ACoRP is working with a number of local authorities who are actively seeking resources from the SRA and LTP sources to encourage many such developments and would be glad to supply details to the Committee.

  15.  Some of our member organisations have been involved in innovative schemes which bring staff back to stations, and we would recommend the "One Stop Travel Shop" at Whitby station as an example of what can be achieved. The travel shop covers both bus and rail services and is staffed by Arriva Buses employees, who can provide all public transport information and sell rail tickets. Clitheroe Interchange, staffed by Lancashire County Council staff, is another exemplary case of good quality interchange facilities with well-trained and committed staff. Good quality, small-scale interchanges have been developed at stations such as Clitheroe, Menston, Guiseley, Denby Dale, Carnforth and elsewhere in the region, mainly as a result of local authority or PTE intervention. There is a small but growing number of dedicated rail link bus services which offer a high level of integration between bus and rail, with buses which wait for delayed trains, and through ticketing. Examples include the Holmfirth Branch Line rail-link bus from Shepley to Holmfirth, operated by trained volunteers of the Penistone Line Partnership. Otley Town Council sponsors a rail-link bus from Menston to Otley and Lancashire County Council supports the Silverdale Shuttle, linking the station with the village. However, there is scope for doing much more, with bus links highlighted in rail timetables and information being available on the internet and through NRES. The Hope Valley and High Peak Transport Partnership has brokered an arrangement whereby bus and rail tickets are inter-available between both the train operator and local bus companies.

  16.  There is a need to apply appropriate safety standards to the rural network. Where speeds are low and traffic is light, group standards should allow for less onerous standards than those applied to a 125 mph railway. Tramway operation in Manchester and Sheffield shows that some long-held sacred cows are not necessary for a relatively low-speed rail-based transport system. A new set of standards for "secondary railways" would allow a much better return on investment in infrastructure. This should also include an acceptance by the Health and Safety Executive that short platforms at new stations with small passenger numbers (ie platforms which do not cover the full length of the train) are justified and safe providing the train is equipped with individual door opening systems. The experience of Beauly station, Scotland, where HSE reservations on safety nearly led to the station not opening, should never be repeated. Belford, Northumberland, is a prime example where a short platform would make sense.

  17.  There is considerable scope for re-opening several disused lines in the North of England, which would help meet objectives for regeneration, encourage sustainable tourism, reduce social exclusion and minimise traffic congestion. Regional rail development plans should identify priorities, with those lines which would help create a "network effect" (eg Skipton-Colne; Malton-Pickering, Clitheroe-Hellifield and the Leamside Line) having priority. Suitable lines for re-opening in addition to the above for the period 2002-10 include: Garsdale-Hawes-Northallerton; Bishop Auckland-Stanhope; Newcastle-Ashington; Alnmouth-lnwick; Penrith-Keswick; Harrogate-Ripon-Northallerton. Two major re-openings, essential for regional and inter-regional development, are Manchester-Sheffield via Woodhead and Matlock—Buxton. Both of these require substantial resources and would bring substantial social, economic and environmental benefits to the North and Midlands.

  18.  Electrification brings a range of benefits including energy efficiency, faster acceleration, reduced noise levels and a strong perception of quality. An on-going programme needs to feature in regional rail development plans. Suitable lines for electrification in the short term (2004-2010) include: Manchester- Chorley-Preston and Preston-Blackpool; Bolton-Wigan; Leeds-York; and the freight priority routes being developed by the SRA for the East Coast Main Line, including Yarm-Ferryhill and the Leamside Line.

  19.  A medium-term electrification strategy (2010-15) should include: Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool York-Scarborough; Northallerton-Middlesbrough. If the Skipton-Colne lines did re-open, it would make sense to electrify this, as an extension of the Leeds-Skipton electrification scheme which has proved highly successful. Continuing the wires beyond Colne to connect into the West Coast main line would help regenerate North-East Lancashire towns including Nelson, Burnley, Accrington and Blackburn.

  20.  We would like to see capacity improvements at a number of locations. On the more rural network there should be a programme of installing additional passing loops to improve capacity, eg Huddersfield-Barnsley and Middlesbrough-Whitby. On busier lines, it is essential that modern signalling and extra capacity is provided, notably on the Sheffield -Manchester via Hope Valley route and—in the case of track capacity—Leeds-Manchester via Huddersfield. In some cases capacity can be improved by increasing the number of signal sections, eg on the Durham Coast Line.

  21.  There should be many more examples of dedicated rail-bus links, as well as greater effort to integrate existing bus services with rail. This can often be achieved through modest alterations to routes and timetables. There is considerable scope for developing links with community transport operations and we are involved with the Community Transport Association in progressing a number of initiatives. Extension of through ticketing to off-rail destinations, as well as more "zonal" systems, should be strongly encouraged. We support the development of smart cards being promoted by the DTLR which simplifies allocation of revenue between bus and train operators.

  22.  The regional and InterCity networks must be integrated, with regular interval timetables and guaranteed connections between feeder and longer distance services. It is particularly important that the new Trans-Pennine Express franchise is closely integrated with the new Northern franchise, with operators given strong incentives to co-operate on connections, information, station facilities etc. Better information is vital. We support the Transport Direct programme which is establishing a network of regional travel information centres. However, these are mainly but not exclusively focused on bus users; rail travel must be included.

  23.  The way in which the regional and rural network is managed is of critical importance. In many European countries, particularly Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, local management—and in some cases ownership—of rural lines has brought enormous benefits through clearly focused management with close knowledge of the local market and a team which puts the interest of particular rural lines at the top of their agenda, rather than the bottom. This has led to a positive spiral of investment, more passengers, and further improvements not least good interchange with buses. We are supporting a pilot project for promoting local management of the Middlesbrough-Whitby line. The Esk Valley Railway Development Co. has developed an imaginative strategy for the development of the line, based on a local company working in partnership with the parent train operator (Northern franchise). This approach could work on other lines in the North, including Barrow-Carlisle; Huddersfield-Sheffield; Darlington-Bishop Auckland; Leeds-Carlisle-Lancaster; Hull-Scarborough

  24.  We would stress this approach is not about further fragmentation of the network, but bringing local management back to running local railways, under the protection of a parent franchisee. There is scope for the local company to be structured on not for profit lines, as a co-operative or mutual company.

  25.  The involvement of local communities in their rail services and facilities has been one of the successes of community-rail partnerships. Examples such as Handforth station, where local people have transformed the appearance of their station through community adoption, arts projects and gardens, should be encouraged. On the Penistone and Hope Valley Lines, live music on scheduled trains services have created a positive image for rail and encouraged more people to use the train. There is considerable scope for local communities to take over responsibility for redundant railway buildings. At Moorthorpe in West Yorkshire, the town council is negotiating with Railtrack to take over the lease of the station building and transform a derelict shell into a community centre and travel shop. Greater encouragement for local groups wishing to take over redundant station buildings should be offered. We hope that the new not-for-profit company (Network Rail), if it becomes owner of the railway infrastructure, will take a positive approach towards community initiatives such as these.

  26.  The current short-term funding of many community-rail partnerships is a major problem, and the new franchise should include a commitment from the operator to funding 50% of the costs of such initiatives. Very often one of the principal beneficiaries of rail partnerships is the train operator, through additional revenue generated by extra passengers as a result of partnership projects.

  27.  One of the biggest challenges for the future will be regional government. The recently-published white paper gives elected regional assemblies a modest role in transport. We believe this should evolve gradually, with the regions taking an increasing degree of responsibility for strategic transport policy and planning, ensuring a strong linkage between transport, land-use planning and regeneration. The German model, where the regions are responsible for franchising local rail and bus services should be adopted here. The example of Merseyside PTE, which will soon become the franchising body for the Merseyrail network, suggests that this approach could make sense for the entire regional network in the North of England. If there are three regional assemblies for the North, this could be achieved either through each region taking lead responsibility for local rail services (loosely defined as those covering a distance of 50 miles or less) or through a tripartite body involving the three regions. This would allow the SRA to focus on developing the strategic rail network for passengers and freight, as well as providing guidance and support—and common standards—to the regions which would take lead responsibility for local passenger networks.


  28.  The next 12 months will be critical for the long-term future of the North's rail services, as new franchises for Trans-Pennine, and Northern regional services, are let. Our key concerns are set out below. We strongly suggest the creation of regional rail development plans for the three regions, which complement each other particularly in relation to inter-regional links. These should be developed by regional partnerships (possibly through the appropriate regional assembly) of the railway industry, local and regional authorities, and business/community interests.

  29.  The Northern franchise must be let on the basis of best value, with clearly defined improvements in services over the period of the franchise. This must include a commitment to new rolling stock on all parts of the network, improved frequencies, and clearly identified capacity improvements. Close integration of services with the new Trans-Pennine Express franchise, and other InterCity services (GNER, Virgin) are essential and should be written into the franchise agreement.

  30.  The quality and accessibility of stations must be improved, with encouragement for local business initiatives at stations and community adoption of station buildings where appropriate. More stations should be staffed, throughout the period of train operation.

  31.  More bus-rail links should be developed, and bus operators should be given incentives to serve railway stations. More through ticketing, interavailable tickets, and zonal ticketing systems should be introduced, backed up by an effective public awareness campaign.

  32.  Government should encourage innovative approaches to the management and operation of the more peripheral rural services, learning from the successful examples of local management in other parts of Europe.

  33.  The development of new community-rail partnerships will assist the development of services and encourage extra patronage in the North of England. The operator of the new Northern franchise should make a significant contribution to the costs of such community-rail partnerships with match funding coming from local and regional sources. This will help make the railway a vital part of local communities in the North of England, helping rail play a fuller and more positive part in the social, economic and environmental life of the region.

7 June 2002

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