Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Friends of the Earth (REN 24)


  Friends of the Earth (FOE) is very pleased to respond to the Committee's request for evidence. Friends of the Earth believes that an efficient rail system is vital to the economic, social and environmental needs of the region. A high quality rail network should form the spine of an integrated transport system that would play a key role in reducing car use. This is essential if we are to tackle congestion and the health, safety and pollution problems arising from too much traffic on our roads.

  First we present our analysis of the current state of rail services. This is followed by an appraisal of the Government and the SRAs plans for improvements. We conclude with our proposals for change.


  Broadly speaking, rail services in the region can be divided into 3 categories:

    —  Short distance commuter services (ie into the major cities such as Manchester and Leeds).

    —  Inter-regional services (i.e between major population centres such as Sheffield and York).

    —  Rural services (i.e the Esk Valley and Penistone Line)

1.1  Commuter Services

  These are the "bread and butter" services and should play a significant role in enhancing the economic vitality and reducing traffic in the various conurbations. The provision of commuter services in the region is patchy:

    —  some cities have an extensive network of heavy rail commuter routes (eg Leeds and Liverpool);

    —  others have a combination of light and heavy rail (eg Manchester and Newcastle); and

    —  a third group have limited penetration by rail (eg York and Sunderland).

  Most of these services are run by Arriva Trains Northern (ATN), Arriva Trains Merseyside (ATM) and First North Western (FNW), shortly to be amalgamated into the new Northern franchise. Most are operated by two or three car diesel units of the Pacer or Sprinter type with the exception of some electric services into Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. Many of these services receive extensive revenue support from the Strategic Rail Authority and/or PTEs. Both franchises have had their difficulties including strikes, overcrowding, staff shortages, rolling stock shortages, and poor levels of reliability and punctuality.

  For the purposes of this memorandum, FOE has chosen to focus on the ATN franchise because it is that with which we are most familiar. However, many of the comments also apply to ATM and FNW and are further relevant given the possibility that one of the two companies may make a successful bid for the new combined Northern franchise.

  Chief amongst passenger concerns are punctuality and reliability. ATN received only a 62% satisfaction rating for the period September 2001-March 2002.[4] The causes of these punctuality and reliability problems are varied:

    —  reduced capacity and consequent congestion caused by the re-building of Leeds station under the Railtrack "Leeds First" project;

    —  ATN has also had a severe driver shortage which resulted in a summer (2001) of impromptu cancellations followed by a winter and spring (2001-02) of planned cancellations and in some cases, replacement of rail services with buses for lengthy periods; and

    —  rolling stock shortages have also been a contributing factor. ATN has never provided the required number of carriages required in its franchise agreement since the start of the franchise in February 2000.

  The level of passenger dissatisfaction is evident in the SRA figures for the region. The existence and popularity of the website further reinforces this assessment.

  Severe overcrowding has also resulted from this rolling stock shortage. For example, Trans-Pennine Express services are used as commuter services by passengers from Leeds-Huddersfield. These are frequently "short-formed" with only two carriages resulting in passengers being unable to board at Leeds station during peak hours. The quality of some rolling stock is also an issue on some routes. The use of the poor riding Pacer units (which also have no tables) on medium distance services such as Manchester Victoria to York (a journey of two hours 10 minutes) is not appropriate and illustrates the limited availability of suitable rolling stock. ATN has not met the franchise specification on any single day since privatisation due to lack of vehicles. Eighteen new carriages were authorised by SRA in February 2001, Ten are now not likely to arrive until at least May 2003 and the remainder are yet to be located.[5]

  The potential for significant growth in, and therefore modal shift to, commuter rail services in the North is significant. Indeed a recent study by the Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) found that the supply and modal share of public transport in Manchester was the lowest of seven comparable European cities.[6] However, current Government targets for rail use are national and prioritise increasing passenger kilometres. FOE is concerned that these targets could be met simply by an increase in long distance journeys and commuter journeys in London and the South East. There are currently no targets for increasing passenger journeys on the regional networks. These could make a major contribution to achieving modal shift, especially on short and medium commuter journeys into cities. Eighty-five percent of passenger journeys are less than 50 miles in length.

  A major improvement in punctuality and reliability and provision of sufficient rolling stock of adequate quality is required. This view is supported by the steering group which examined rail's potential in the Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study[7]. This found "rail usage below average for major conurbations" and that "very significant capacity could be achieved by operating longer trains". A reference group consulted as part of the study found that service reliability, station and train quality and lack of integration with other transport were significant deterrents to rail use. It is unfortunate that the SRA has insufficient resources to implement this urgently-needed strategy until at least 2010.

  The shortage of resources for the North evident in the SRA's strategic plan has been highlighted by several transport bodies. The nine English regional development agencies wrote to the SRA in March to highlight that 30% of rail projects that they wanted to see implemented were either scheduled for after 2010 or were not in the plan at all.[8] The Transportation Unit Manager for Rotherham MBC commented that "we don't think enough money has been given to areas like South Yorkshire where there are some acute problems that require a lot of investment"[9]. The CfIT report found that investment in public transport per capita in Manchester was less than 20% of that in Munich and less than 10% of that in Vienna[10].

  The relatively high cost of fares and the complexity of the fares system are further causes of concern. Although fares in many of the PTE areas are good value, walk on fares on many routes are amongst the most expensive in Europe. A recent enquiry by CfIT found high fare levels to be one of the main deterrents to greater use of public transport[11]. Schemes that reduce the cost of fares have been proven to substantially increase passenger loadings. Derek Scott of Stagecoach told this committee that in his experience with buses a 50% fares discount led to a 100% increase in ridership[12].

1.2  Inter-Regional Services

  These services are operated by a variety of operators, ATN, FNW, Virgin Cross Country, GNER, Midland Mainline, Central Trains, and Wales and West. The quality and frequency of services is variable with some towns and cities being better served than others.

  Trans Pennine services are frequent but often suffer from overcrowding (see above) and poor time keeping.

  Particularly in comparison to London, many important cities are poorly linked by direct rail services. For example:

    —  Leeds has no direct service to Nottingham, the 74 mile journey can involve as many as three changes and take between two hours and two hours 45 minutes. This is unlikely to make the railway an attractive alternative to using the M1; and

    —  Manchester, England's third largest city has no direct service to Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. Many journeys between these cities are likely to start with a Pacer diesel unit (see commuter services above) and take between three hours 30 minutes and four hours. This is similar to the likely journey time from London to Glasgow once the West Coast Route Modernisation is complete. With electrification of Manchester-Preston, this service could be a stand-alone quality service or an extension of some London-Manchester services.


  These services are generally operated by ATN or FNW and will come under the new Northern franchise. Once again services vary considerably in quality. For example, Windermere is a staffed integrated transport interchange with frequent services, many formed from high quality air-conditioned rolling stock and running through to Manchester. In contrast, the Esk Valley line to Whitby had no winter Sunday service until recently and even the summer weekday service is irregular and slow with long intervals between trains[13].

  Integration with other transport modes is particularly important with rural routes, due to the of scarcity of rural transport. However despite integrated transport being a cornerstone of the Government's transport strategy it seems that many schemes to achieve it are driven chiefly by local authorities and PTEs. For example, Carnforth and Clitheroe stations in Lancashire have been made into key public transport interchanges thanks to the initiative of Lancashire County Council. Carnforth now offers passengers through-ticketing to connecting bus services and staff guarantee to ensure that passengers suffering train delays reach their final destinations[14].


  Broadly these fall under two categories:

    —  Improvements through re-franchising.

    —  Network enhancements.

2.1  Improvements Through Re-Franchising

  The creation of the two new franchises (Trans-Pennine Express and Northern) through re-organisation of ATN and FNW is the SRA's envisaged main driver of improvements.

  It remains to be seen whether the creation of the Trans-Pennine Express and Northern franchises will produce the step change in quality of service that would satisfy existing passengers and attract new passengers to the rail network. What is clear is that the SRA needs to have sufficient funds to support high-quality services through revenue funding and furthermore that the penalty and incentives regimes in the franchises are sufficient to significantly raise standards and are enforced rigorously.

  The prospects for the new Northern franchise are not encouraging. At a recent forum in Manchester[15], the SRA's director for the North and East outlined a service proposition of one or two car trains with "functional" cabins travelling at an average speed of 20-30mph. He defined the market as "low yield-lower growth" and the management style as "directive-focus on efficiency".

  Friends of the Earth has serious concerns that what is proposed is an unambitious, basic service when what is needed is an efficient, quality rail service that will achieve significant modal shift. In contrast to London and the South East, significant extra capacity exists on many lines in the North simply by running longer trains (eg four carriages instead of two). This could increase passenger loadings on existing services at relatively low additional cost. However modal shift is only likely to be achieved if the rail service is made more attractive.

  Making the service more attractive means much improved punctuality and reliability, less overcrowding, comfortable rolling stock and competitive fares. The secrecy that surrounds the re-franchising process makes it difficult to ascertain whether the current bids are likely to achieve the step change in quality of service is required.

  The proposed Trans-Pennine Express franchise is currently planned to run for eight years with a possible five year extension. Friends of the Earth is concerned that this runs counter to the trend of increasing the duration of new franchises—the new Northern franchise is scheduled to last 15 years. The SRA's stated policy is to move towards fewer, longer "enhanceable" franchises[16]. Friends of the Earth believes that fewer franchises will reduce the fragmentation evident in the privatised railway and that longer franchises will encourage longer term planning and investment by TOCs to the benefit of passengers.

  Inaction by the Government in other areas is also not helping modal shift. Current Government policy will perversely allow motoring costs to fall over the next 10 years in contrast to the increasing cost of public transport. Central Government support for local authorities addressing peak hour congestion through fiscal measures is also lacking.

2.2  Network Enhancements

  The SRA's strategic plan contains plans for modest improvements to rail infrastructure in the north of England. The Rail Passenger Partnership and Incremental Output Scheme programmes should also result in improvements. However many much-needed enhancements are not mentioned or are delayed until after 2010. These include:

    —  Infrastructure improvements to the Trans-Pennine routes are limited to speed improvements on the Hope Valley route. Previous proposals to re-open the Manchester-Sheffield "Woodhead" line or provide additional tracks on the busy Leeds-Manchester Piccadilly line are not mentioned in the plan.

    —  The Manchester Capacity Study (which identified £1.5 billion of improvements that are needed to address "rail usage below average for a major conurbation") is listed in the plan as to be implemented beyond 2010".

    —  The "Peak Line" between linking Manchester with Derby via Matlock and Buxton has long been proposed as a candidate for re-opening, with Derbyshire County Council and Railtrack both expressing strong support. The line is not mentioned in the Strategic Plan.

    —  Electrification is almost complete in the South East of England and accepted as desirable in most other European countries. Further expansion in the North is not mentioned in the plan.

  The contribution of the Government's Multi-Modal Studies to the much needed northern rail renaissance are also severely undermined by the SRAs inability to fund rail schemes arising from these studies until at least 2010. Friends of the Earth has serious concerns that consultants conducting the studies will be reluctant to recommend rail improvements that cannot be implemented until the next decade.


  These are under two headings:

    —  national proposals that will benefit the whole of the country; and

    —  proposals that will specifically benefit the north of England.

3.1  National Proposals

    —  Provide more funding.

  Many of the problems faced by rail services in the north of England and other regions can be linked to insufficient Government funding, a failing already noted by this committee's report on re-franchising. Capital investment in the SRA's strategic plan is clearly targeted at London and the South East where the SRA feels the Governments targets for increasing rail usage are more likely to be met. Friends of the Earth believes that rail services in the north can only reach their full potential if properly funded.

  Two possible sources of considerable extra funds are:

    —  Small increases in petrol tax designed to keep overall motoring costs constant, Research commissioned by Friends of the Earth estimates that this would raise between £16.7 billion and £30.2 billion over the period to 2010[17]. This proposal would also at least partially address the Government's current "incomprehensible"[18] intention to let motoring costs fall while public transport costs rise.

    —  Friends of the Earth also believes that £16 billion could be cut from the Governments proposed road-building plans and transferred to the rail budget. Essential road maintenance would remain unaffected.

  Keeping motoring costs constant would also help increase modal shift towards public transport.

    —  Introduce a Multi-Modal Studies budget.

  The Government should also set up a distinct Multi-Modal Studies budget to fund recommendations made by these studies.

    —  Take action on fares.

  The SRA, with Government financial support, must take action to reduce the cost of walk-on fares and especially off-peak fares. Off-peak travel could be increased relatively easily through the introduction of a national off-peak railcard along the lines of that available in several other European countries.

3.2.  Northern Proposals

    —  Introduce regional rail passenger journey growth targets.

  The SRA must produce regional growth targets for increasing passenger journeys instead of the current national target of increasing passenger kilometres, as recommended by this committee in its recent report on the Government's 10-year transport plan. These targets should then form the basis of performance enhancement objectives for the new franchises.

    —  Ensure significant service improvements are secured through re-franchising.

  If the railways in the north of England are to deliver the Government's stated aspiration of significant modal shift then significant improvements in quality of service are needed.

  The new franchises must contain ambitious targets for traffic growth, punctuality, reliability, comfort and overcrowding. These should be backed up a rigorous incentives and penalties regime. Although it is the TOC's responsibility to deliver these improvements, the SRA must ensure that adequate funding measures are in place to ensure that spare trains, staff and infrastructure capacity are there to provide contingency measures when things go wrong as is common practice in other European countries, such as Switzerland.

  The SRA must evaluate inter-regional journeys between major centres. Where rail services are inadequate, and potential growth which will encourage modal shift is possible, changes to current and future franchises should be considered to address these shortcomings.

  The SRA should also investigate the feasibility of increasing the duration of the Trans-Pennine Express franchise to 15 years as soon as possible.

    —  Revise the Strategic Plan to include more vital northern network enhancements.

  The SRA must develop a fully costed and prioritised list of network enhancements and incorporate these in the revised Strategic Plan. The Government must ensure that sufficient resources are in place to fund them.

Richard Dyer,

Rail Campaigner

4   . "On Track" Rail Performance Trends-SRA June 2002. Back

5   . "Rail" magazine-May 15 2002. Back

6   . European Best Practice In Integrated Transport-CfIT, September 2001. Back

7   . Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study-SRA, March 2001. Back

8   . Reported in "Local Transport Today" magazine-March 28 2002. Back

9   . Reported in Yorkshire Post newspaper-February 11 2002. Back

10   . European Best Practice In Integrated Transport-CfIT, September 2001. Back

11   . Public attitudes to Transport in England-CfIT, July 2001. Back

12   . Evidence to Select Committee December 2001. Back

13   . Average Speed Middlesbrough-Whitby is 24mph, source "Microfranchising:towards the community railway"-Transport and Information Network (TRIN) February 2002. Back

14   . R Watts, Rail Officer, Lancashire County Council at TR&IN conference 6 June 2002. Back

15   . Graeme Hampshire, SRA Director, at Transpennine Express Forum 11 April 2002. Back

16   . Strategic Plan-SRA January 2002. Back

17   . "Paying For Rail"-Friends of the Earth, March 2002. Back

18   . 10 Year Plan For Transport-House of Commons Select Committee for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, May 2002. Back

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