Memorandum by Friends of the Earth (REN
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
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.
1. THE CURRENT
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.
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 www.arrivasucks.com 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
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
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
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
1.3 RURAL 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
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
Broadly these fall under two categories:
Improvements through re-franchising.
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,
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
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 franchisesthe
new Northern franchise is scheduled to last 15 years. The SRA's
stated policy is to move towards fewer, longer "enhanceable"
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
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.
3. FRIENDS OF
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
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
Two possible sources of considerable extra funds
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.
This proposal would also at least partially address the Government's
intention to let motoring costs fall while public transport costs
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
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
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
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.
4 . "On Track" Rail Performance Trends-SRA
June 2002. Back
. "Rail" magazine-May 15 2002. Back
. European Best Practice In Integrated Transport-CfIT, September
. Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study-SRA, March 2001. Back
. Reported in "Local Transport Today" magazine-March
28 2002. Back
. Reported in Yorkshire Post newspaper-February 11 2002. Back
. European Best Practice In Integrated Transport-CfIT, September
. Public attitudes to Transport in England-CfIT, July 2001. Back
. Evidence to Select Committee December 2001. Back
. Average Speed Middlesbrough-Whitby is 24mph, source "Microfranchising:towards
the community railway"-Transport and Information Network
(TRIN) February 2002. Back
. R Watts, Rail Officer, Lancashire County Council at TR&IN
conference 6 June 2002. Back
. Graeme Hampshire, SRA Director, at Transpennine Express Forum
11 April 2002. Back
. Strategic Plan-SRA January 2002. Back
. "Paying For Rail"-Friends of the Earth, March 2002. Back
. 10 Year Plan For Transport-House of Commons Select Committee
for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, May 2002. Back