Memorandum by the North West Regional
Assembly (REN 25)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
1. A high quality transport system is essential
to support the competitiveness of the North West's industry and
commerce, and to facilitate the Region's social and recreational
needs. It is also an essential component for attracting new investment,
particularly in areas where declining traditional industries need
replacing by new development.
2. For the past three years the North West
Regional Assembly has worked closely with a wide range of regional
stakeholders to develop a Regional Transport Strategy (RTS) as
an integral component of draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG).
The RTS is directly linked to the region's spatial development
framework and principles of sustainable development which focuses
development on major cities and towns along the Mersey Belt and
regional towns and cities. This creates the opportunity to reduce
journey distances and provide for more sustainable and integrated
patterns of development and movement. Local rail services in Greater
Manchester and Merseyside, therefore, have a particularly important
role to play. The rail network also has an important role in providing
a more sustainable alternative to the car for longer distance
trips, and policies have been developed in draft RPG to encourage
a greater use of this network. A summary of the main components
of the region's rail strategy is set out in Appendix A.
3. The Assembly is not aware of any operational
safety issues with any of the train operating companies in the
region. There are, however, a number of stations throughout the
region which suffer from security problems such as vandalism.
This is a particular problem for unstaffed stations. Unstaffed
stations can also be attractive as a location for groups of young
people to congregate. Such incidents act as a deterrent to passengers
using the rail network, particularly the more vulnerable groups
such as the elderly and women travelling alone. Improved security
features such as Close Circuit Television could help to reduce
the incidents, as could more staffed stationsthough obviously
these have financial implications. It is suggested that the Department
of Transport commission a study to assess the effects that different
types of security measures at stations could have on passenger
patronage, and hence identify which of the measures could are
cost effective. One Department of Transport study which may be
able to provide some answers is the secure transport project which
is looking at ways of improving security along the Manchester
Victoria to Clitheroe rail route.
Punctuality and Reliability
4. Most routes in the North West consistently
fail to reach their target for punctuality, a significant portion
being delays caused by Railtrack, but an equally significant portion
being delays under the control of the Train Operating Companies
5. 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, on a large number of occasions over-run on weekend engineering
work has affected services in the morning peak in to Manchester
on Mondays. Engineering works have also adversely impacted on
the reliability of journey times on the West Coast Main Line.
6. Staff and rolling stock shortages have
also impacted upon service reliability, as has recent and continuing
industrial action. Train cancellations have been especially problematic
on the Transpennine services operated by Arriva Trains Northern
due to problems with shortage of drivers, which can be traced
back to the under-resourcing of this franchise in the original
bid from MTL Trust Holdings accepted by OPRAF. Another practice
which inconveniences passengers is the termination of a service
part way along a route, for example both Arriva and Central Trains
have terminated late-running services at Warrington Central or
Manchester Oxford Rd, leading to long gaps in the Manchester-Liverpool
service in each direction.
7. Some difficulties have also been experienced
with the introduction of new rolling stock, for example First
North Western's Class 175s have suffered a significant number
of teething troubles and are still failing to achieve the planned
levels of availability. However, investment in rolling stock is
to be welcomed, and the new Virgin rolling stock does not appear
to be suffering from many teething troubles.
8. The rail industry needs to improve its
management capabilities across a wide range of disciplines. Better
project management is needed for both infrastructure maintenance
and improvement schemes. It is essential to minimise disruption
and ensure that reasonable alternatives are in place for passengers
to mitigate any disruption which is unavoidable. Improved management
of track maintenance is needed to reduce the numbers of incidents
which affect train operating companies. The train operating companies
need to better manage their recruitment and retention of staff
and the maintenance of rolling stock.
9. Rolling stock quality varies across the
network. There are a significant number of Class 142 Pacers, which
though only approximately 10 to 15 years old, offer relatively
poor standards of passenger comfort compared to new rolling stock.
They particularly suffer from inferior ride quality when travelling
on poorly maintained track. Other trains such as the Merseyrail
Electric stock are ageing and in need of refurbishment and ultimately
replacing. Comfort on some routes, however, is improving as new
rolling stock is introduced and existing stock is refurbished.
10. A recent survey by the Rail Passenger
Committee for the North West covered eight routes, of which seven
showed various degrees of overcrowding. There have also been a
number of instances over the last winter where trains were so
full that they did not pick up passengers at booked stops (eg
Atherton). Similarly in the evening peak, there been examples
of trains being delayed in Manchester while passengers are asked
to leave overcrowded trains. Some of these incidents have resulted
in the British Transport Police having to become involved.
11. Comfort at many stations remains poor.
The Strategic Rail Authority's Stations Incremental Outputs initiative
aims to improve overall standards at stations, however, currently
only staffed stations are being improved. It is estimated that
less than 20% of stations in the Northern Franchise area are staffed.
The needs of passengers at unstaffed stations should be considered,
for example the lack of customer information has an even greater
impact than lack of information at staffed stations.
12. The re-franchising process offers the
potential for addressing the above issues, but the degree to which
the problems will be alleviated will be dependent upon the amount
of funding made available.
13. The frequency of train services in rural
areas tends to be basic or poor, with few local services 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.
Sunday services tend to be lacking, and though there have been
some additional services provided by the train operators over
and above the Passenger Service Requirement (PSR) set by the SRA,
there has not been significant investment for growth. In the metropolitan
areas, there are aspirations for higher frequency local services,
but capacity constraints, particularly around Manchester prevent
these plans from being realised. There are also aspirations for
increased frequencies of service in the Shire areas, where capacity
constraints may be less of an issue, but where for example an
increase from an hourly to half hourly service could make a significant
difference to the attractiveness of the service.
14. The re-franchising process offers the
potential for addressing some of the issues, particularly the
rural services, but infrastructure investment will be needed to
deliver improvements in the metropolitan areas. The main constraint
will be the likely levels of funding available.
15. Given the need for Regional Planning
Bodies to work closely with regional stakeholders in producing
a regional transport strategy it is disappointing and frustrating
that the SRA have not seen fit to date to work closely with or
consult stakeholders on either the Strategic Plan or the refranchising
processes. To date the SRA has left consultation on the franchises
to the discretion of the franchise bidders. The SRA has then tended
to undertake seminars telling stakeholders what they will or will
not get rather than undertaking a consultative process.
16. The Assembly welcomes the funding provided
for the various small-scale programmes by the SRA which enhance
the network, but is concerned about the focus of major infrastructure
improvements in London and the South East for the 10-year plan
period. This becomes even more of a problem because the new franchises
will be shorter term than originally envisaged with little opportunity
or requirement for infrastructure improvements to be delivered
through the franchise process. Draft RPG and the recently published
draft Government modifications identify regionally significant
rail priorities and the recently completed West Midlands to North
West Conurbation and South East Manchester multi-modal studies
have also recommended major rail infrastructure investment. These
are set out in Appendix B. The problem is that there seems to
be no clear mechanism in place for securing anything other than
minor network improvements before 2010 at the earliest.
17. Another proposal that concerns the Assembly
is the West Coast Main Line Passenger Upgrade 2 (PUG2), which
it seems unlikely to proceed as originally envisaged. The West
Coast Main Line is a main artery for the North West and the completion
of the upgrade is seen as an essential element in connecting the
Region to the national and international transport network. The
MIDMAN multi-modal study was predicated on the delivery of the
full PUG2 upgrade. Any downgrading of the scheme will, therefore,
impact on the MIDMAN strategy. It is also vital that freight and
local passenger services continue to be accommodated on the route,
and indeed further capacity enhancements should be sought to cater
for longer-term growth. Hence the proposal for developing a new
North-South high-speed rail route is welcomed and details are
keenly anticipated. New links for freight which connect the North
West to the Channel Tunnel are also desirable. In both cases it
is vital that final proposals have an alignment which gives maximum
benefit to the North West whilst mitigating any environmental
18. Transpennine rail routes form part of
the region's main passenger and freight arteries and have the
potential to act as a key route in the North European Trade Axis,
providing an alternative to the region's dependence on North-South
routes to Europe. The need for improvement of these routes has
been highlighted in draft RPG.
19. Current proposals for investment in
stations will not address the needs. Stations are the first point
of visual and physical contact that passengers make with the railway
network and service. It is important that this first impression
is a favourable one. If the railway is to try to attract people
out of their cars then stations need to be brought up to a good
modern standard. This will require improvements to comfort, security,
access for disabled groups and provision of reliable and up-to-date
20. The regional transport strategy recognises
the importance of the rail network for the movement of freight
and highlights capacity problems as being a major constraint.
Loading gauge enhancements to the network to accommodate 9'6''
sea containers are needed to facilitate the developing demands
of the freight industry if road haulage is to be avoided. Currently
only the West Coast Main Line and the Ports of Garston and Heysham
are cleared to this standard (though there are currently no facilities
for handling rail freight at Heysham). Improvements to the links
to other ports (both within and outwith the region) and freight
terminals are needed as is upgrading of the Transpennine routes.
There is currently no commitment from the SRA to these improvements.
21. Problems are also being experienced
in delivering relatively small-scale freight schemes. At present
whilst most improvements (eg Olive Mount Chord) are a priority
in the SRA 10 year plan and are programmed for early delivery,
Railtrack advise they cannot deliver due to a lack of signalling
resources until 2007. It is essential that sufficient personnel
are recruited into the industry and trained as quickly as possible
to facilitate the implementation of these schemes.
22. The North West's rail infrastructure
provides good links between most of the regions towns and cities.
It provides for locally significant commuter flows and provides
a means of access to employment in the economic centres of the
region. It also serves the Regeneration Priority Areas identified
in the Regional (Economic) Strategy and draft RPG.
23. The rail network also 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.
24. There are, however, a number of key
constraints in the network:
Manchester Hubcapacity constraints
in Manchester limit the potential for improvements for both passenger
and freight services. Resolving this issue is a top priority for
West Coast Main Lineone of
the region's main arteries for passenger and freight traffic suffers
from congestion and unreliability. Proposed upgrades are likely
to be reduced in scale and hence constrain economic growth for
the region. Improvements in capacity will be essential, not only
to facilitate the high-speed passenger traffic but also local
stopping services and freight.
Transpennineanother of the
region's main passenger and freight arteries and which has the
potential to act as a key route in the North European Trade Axis,
providing an alternative to the region's dependence on North-South
routes to Europe. Capacity improvements will be needed to facilitate
growth in both passenger and freight flows.
Manchester Airport Western Rail Linkthis
is another regional priority for which there is no commitment
within the SRA Strategic Plan. The airport is a major economic
generator and improved access by rail will facilitate more sustainable
economic growth. The scheme also has the potential to improve
access between the airport and Chester and North Wales and facilitate
other benefits such as a potential route for bypassing Manchester.
This scheme is also supported by the MIDMAN and SEMMMS multi-modal
25. Two new franchises (TPE and Northern)
are being developed by the SRA. It is understood that there will
be a "base" franchise bid with an option for it to be
"enhanced" if and when additional funding is available.
It is essential that additional funding is made available so that
a programme of enhanced services and station improvements can
be agreed that will support RPG/RTS and LTP objectives.
26. The Transpennine Express (TPE) franchise
offers the opportunity to provide Inter-City quality services,
and is welcomed by the Assembly. There are, however, some concerns
in parts of the region:
Separate Transpennine and Northern
franchises reduce the scope for economies of scale and cross-subsidy.
An alternative structure that has been suggested by the Rail Passenger
Committee is for one operator to be awarded both franchises, but
operate with separate business units to cover day-to-day activities.
The omission of the present Central
Trains Liverpool to East Anglia service within the TPE franchise
means that two different operators will continue to provide InterCity
services over the key Transpennine axis between Liverpool, Manchester
and Sheffield, with a third operator (Northern Rail) providing
both fast and stopping services.
The decision to incorporate within
the TPE franchise the present First North Western services between
Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly and Barrow in Furness
or Windermere, but not the similar Manchester Airport to Blackpool
North services which inter-work with them to provide a co-ordinated
Express service between Manchester Airport and Preston, which
extends the disaggregated service concept presently applying between
Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield to the Manchester-Preston
route. It also risks a reduction in local services in the Furness
area, which are currently at levels above the PSR and are partly
provided by calls in the services to be transferred to Transpennine
The decision to exclude from the
TPE franchise the section of the Scarborough-Bradford-Blackburn-Blackpool
North service west of Leeds, results in Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn
and Blackpool, four of the largest towns in northern England,
not receiving Transpennine InterCity-standard train services.
The decision to split the through
service between Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes at Doncaster,
which deprives north Lincolnshire of InterCity-standard services
and through services to Sheffield, Manchester and Manchester Airport.
There is a concern that the successful
franchisee for TPE will concentrate efforts on the Manchester
Leeds market to the detriment of other markets served by
more than one operator, simply because this is the only market
in which it can guarantee it will achieve the full return on its
27. The proposed Northern Franchise covers
a socially necessary railway with a significant number of services
that would be difficult to provide on a strictly commercial basis,
particularly in rural or economically disadvantaged areas. Franchisees
are unlikely to be able to economically justify innovative or
speculative services over and above the base franchise. It would
be useful for Government to allow public sector bodies to invest
in the development of non-commercial services to allow for innovation,
for example schemes resulting in wider social inclusion.
28. The proposed extension of the Central
Trains (CT) franchise for two years means that there will be a
two-year delay in any real investment in the services operated
by CT, in particular the key Express links between Liverpool-Manchester-Sheffield-Nottingham-East
Anglia and Liverpool-Birmingham-East Anglia.
29. Fare structures can also be detrimental
to the economic and social progress of the North West. This is
particularly an issue for the large part of the region which falls
outside of the Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) areas. This
difference in regime encourages car commuting to stations within
the PTA boundaries to benefit from a cheaper fare structure.
30. For longer distance trips the "walk-on"
costs for Virgin train tickets to London has increased disproportionately
over the last few years and provides a big dis-incentive to business
to use the network. This counteracts the Assembly's policies which
seek to encourage more people to use the rail network for longer
31. The key constraints on the North West
rail network arise from an historical lack of investment. If the
problems are to be addressed then more resources (staffing as
well as financial) will need to be found. It is suggested that
the Government consider the needs and benefits of improvements
to the railway system as part of the process of undertaking the
current three-year spending review. Other means of creating revenue
streams should be considered, ranging from road pricing with hypothecation
of revenue, to deriving increased revenue from improved efficiency
and then re-directing these revenues to new infrastructure. Better
management and control of infrastructure projects should be pursued
to deliver schemes more cost-effectively.
32. Greater co-operation of stakeholders
is needed to ensure the development of complimentary strategies,
for example, to develop practical measures of increasing passenger
patronage, as again this could raise additional revenue streams.
The traditionally poor level of joint-working and consultation
undertaken by the SRA with stakeholders needs to be significantly
improved, particularly by working with stakeholders rather than
dictating to them.