Memorandum by RPC North Western England
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
The Rail Passengers Committee North Western
England represents passengers using train services provided, in
the main, by First North Western, Virgin Cross Country and VirginWest
Coast, plus to a lesser extent Arriva Trains (Merseyside) and
Arriva Trains (Northern). There are also a smaller number of services
provided by Central Trains and Wales and the Borders.
1. Whether the existing franchisees provide
satisfactory services, particularly in relation to safety, punctuality,
reliability, comfort and frequency of services.
First North Western (FNW) is the provider of
the majority of commuter services in North Western England, especially
in the Greater Manchester travel-to-work area.
1.1.1 First North Western have reduced incidences
of Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs) but trespass and vandalism
remain a concern together with engineering materials and construction
debris left by the trackside.
1.1.2 FNW punctuality and reliability has
improved but with wide disparity between particular routes. In
April 2001, six of the eight service groups were performing around
the Passengers Charter target of 90% of trains arriving at their
destination within five minutes of timetabled time (or 10 minutes
in the case of Long Distance and North West Inter-Urban services).
This followed a serious decline in performance between October
2001 and January 2002.
1.1.3 The cause of delays divides 50/50
between Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and Railtrack. Infrastructure
problems have impacted on performances with track circuit problems,
failed signals, faulty track or points and leaves on the line.
1.1.4 The increase in the number of services
using routes which were "rationalised" during British
Rail cutbacks, has resulted in serious pathing problems and knock-on
delays. Route capacity into and out of Manchester is severely
1.1.5 First North Western's 27 new trains,
the 100mph Class 175 Coradia Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs),
have contributed towards performance problems. The Class 175s,
commissioned by FNW from Alstom, have been generally well received
in terms of carriage lay-out, seating arrangements, leg-room etc.
However the Coradias were launched with unproven reliability
having been delivered six months late by Alstom. FNW planned to
have all 27 trains in service, yet the maximum number has been
around 18. Reliability has been 10,500 kilometres per train casualty
(ie causing a delay of more than three minutes or a cancellation)
as opposed to a projected 70,000km.
1.1.6 FNW ordered a mix of three and two-car
units for its new fleet and this, plus the move away from corridor
rolling stock (meaning a front end connection is not possible
and thus reducing operational flexibility), has not helped alleviate
overcrowding. In addition, the late delivery and poor performance
of the Class 175s has delayed FNW plans to phase out, or cascade,
older rolling stock. There is an industry-wide shortage of rolling
stock but no apparent industry-wide plan to cascade displaced
stock to relieve overcrowding. Class 101 slam-door DMUs still
operate on some routes and there is continued overcrowding in
the Manchester travel-to-work area during peak times notably on
the following routes: Bolton corridor, North Cheshire, Ashton-under
Lyne, Hope Valley, Buxton and Rochdale-Oldham.
1.1.7 The success of the Metrolink light
rail network in Greater Manchester indicates that service frequency
is key to building patronage. Where the train (or in this instance
the tram) runs every 15 minutes or, better still, every 10 minutes
or less, passenger confidence grows. Clearly, reliability becomes
less of an issue if a cancellation only results in a short wait.
Infrastructure improvements to enable more frequent train services
are desperately needed. In the meantime, progression to three-car
trains as standard (or four car where there are overcrowded three
cars at present), would dramatically reduce overcrowding and attract
1.2.1 Virgin Trains operate the West Coast
and Cross Country franchises. Both have suffered from poor punctuality
1.2.2 West Coast performance has struggled
to return to pre-Hatfield levels and the continuing West Coast
Mainline (WCML) upgrade, and associated engineering blockades,
have had a detrimental impact. Fleet reliability of the ageing
electric locomotives has deteriorated and, when diversions are
necessary, diesel power is required as alternative routes are
not electrified. Key bottlenecks on the West Coast route, which
will see more traffic on completion of PUG 1, also contribute
to performance difficulties.
1.2.3 Work continues to upgrade the WCML
for 125mph running. The final cost has escalated massively during
the project, the most recent estimate being £l0billion. Virgin
has commissioned newPendolino tilting trains which will
be capable of running at 140mph should PUG2 go ahead. This should
improve performance but, in the meantime, West Coast performance
remains below Charter Standard.
1.2.4 Virgin's West Coast fares regime is
highly unsatisfactory. Virgin has increased the unregulated Open
fares at an alarming rate, in order to suppress demand for journeys
during peak times. For example, the cost of a Standard Class Open
ManchesterLondon return ticket rose by 67% between 4 January
1998 and 20 March 2001. It now stands at £172. In addition,
the "window" during which passengers can use regulated
Saver tickets has been further restricted. It is now not possible
to reach London from North Western England by train before 13.00hrs
using a Saver ticket. The RPC has contended that this policy represents
an abuse of Virgin's monopoly West Coast position, to the Office
of the Rail Regulator (ORR).
1.2.5 Virgin Cross Country train services
suffer from similar problems to the West Coast: infrastructure
shortcomings plus an ageing fleet of locomotives which frequently
fail. Following years of poor performance Virgin has recently
introduced new diesel Voyager DMUs. These are a step forward
but we have concerns about seating layout and capacity, lack of
luggage space, provision of toilets and excessive engine noise.
Yet these units are to be used on some of the longest journeys
on the British railway network.
1.2.6 Early indications are that Voyagers
are proving more reliable than the Class 175s, perhaps because
they have undergone a more rigorous testing regime, resulting
in improved performance on Virgin Cross Country.
1.3.1 Arriva Trains (Northern) operate Trans
Pennine Express and more local services. The dominant feature
affecting performance has been train crew shortages. The lack
of drivers led to widespread cancellations during 2001 and ATN's
mitigation plan dealt with this by cancelling many services and
replacing them with buses. The Leeds-Morecambe route was deprived
of many of its train services during this period, and Settle-Carlisle
was also affected. ATN is still suffering driver shortages although
the acute phase of this crisis has passed with the training and
recruitment of additional drivers. The shortage is partially caused
by driver poaching between train operators, including the freight
1.3.2 In order to solve the driver shortage
ATN has increased wages. ATN guards are currently involved in
a long-running industrial dispute, causing widespread train cancellations,
seeking pay parity with ASLEF drivers. This dispute remains unsolved
at present, and impinges seriously on performance.
1.4.1 Arriva Trains (Merseyside) (ATM) operates
the Merseyrail network on Merseyside. Performance has suffered
a decline this year. This follows two crisis periods caused by
excessive wheel wear in recent years and a lamentable failure
to deal with this problem quickly. Other factors contributing
to poor performance include train crew shortages (which have been
largely addressed) and fleet reliability problems, owing to lack
of spare capacity. With increased station dwell times necessary
to allow sufficient time for door opening and closing, a new more
realistic timetable (involving longer journey times) has been
introduced. This should result in an improvement in performance.
1.5.1 Quality of stations: the majority
of stations in the North West are unstaffed and, of these, the
majority are run by FNW. However stations in the Merseytravel
(PTE) area are staffed seven days a week, from first train to
1.5.2 Outside the PTE areas the management
of stations leaves much to be desired with little or no CCTV,
information posters often out of date, no help points, public
telephones sometimes located outside stations, cleaning and tidiness
poor and inadequate car parking facilities.
1.5.3 The SRA's Modern Facilities at Stations
investment programme applies to staffed stations only and there
is no similar scheme for unstaffed stations, which include large
towns such as Frodsham and Kendal.
1.5.4 Many staffed stations (eg Ellesmere
Port and Morecambe) are only staffed until lunchtime during the
week. A significant increase in the number of staffed stations
and a general improvement in facilities, and the way they are
managed, are required to provide a satisfactory service and attract
1.6.1 Information outside PTE areas information,
whether it be posters on stations (sometimes out of date or missing),
lack of help points or announcements on trains, is often of a
very poor standard.
2. Plans for investment in the rail network
in the region and whether they meet the needs of additional network
capacity and other improvements.
2.1 Recent major investment in railways
in North Western England has been largely confined to the West
Coast Mainline upgrade (PUG 1). The costs have been astronomical,
and the delivery of the contract has been dogged by problems,
calling into question value for money. It appears that whatever
investment eventually does come the way of the North West will
be dependent on the final cost of PUG 1. Additional works may
be necessary to address capacity/freight balance issues and other
possible pinch points such as Preston-Lancaster. The absence of
urgently needed Euxton Junction improvements (grade separation
of fast and slower services) is a critical omission, not only
for West Coast services, but also for Trans Pennine services which
require access to this stretch of WCML.
2.2 As a means of bringing investment into
the railways, the Rail Passenger Partnership (RPP) has not been
a conspicuous success in the region. Very few bids have been implemented,
partly because of the lack of resources to develop such bids.
The RPP together with the new Rail Performance Fund (RPF), whilst
valuable in terms of enhancing services, cannot address the major
infrastructure works which are required to increase operational
flexibility, improve line speeds and eliminate bottlenecks.
2.3 The Greater Manchester Strategic Rail
("Hub") Study outlined the key improvements which are
necessary to address capacity issues and unlock the potential
for rail, and yet it barely rates a mention in the SRA's Strategic
Plan. The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive
(GMPTE) has announced its intention to draw together a cohesive
programme for improvements to the local rail network. This will
be outlined in the Greater Manchester Local Transport Plan Progress
Report to be submitted to central Government in August 2002.
2.4 Railtrack's Network Management Statement
of earlier years gave some indication of schemes which Railtrack
wished to progress to enhance the network, but there is precious
little of this detail in the Strategic Plan.
2.5 The Strategic Plan places undue
emphasis on strategic routes (ie the former inter city routes)
as a means to achieving the 50% increase in passenger kilometres
required by the 10 Year Plan, to the exclusion of the rest of
the network. This could further distort investment priorities
towards London and south eastern England, where the problems of
overcrowding etc are said to be at their most acute. The regions,
by contrast, lack any systematic recording of information to establish
the extent of overcrowding.
2.6 The SRA emphasis is also in danger of
creating a "two tier" railway in Northern England with
the Trans Pennine Express/Northern Rail franchise split. This
involves extracting certain key Trans Pennine routes (plus others,
some of which are North-South rather than East-West) and aggregating
them into a new franchise, with the remainder of the services
forming the Northern franchise. We remain to be convinced of the
merits of this approach but accept that the SRA intend to go ahead
2.7 The Strategic Plan states that
one of the tests to which industry reforms will be subject is:
will they simplify the overall structure of the railway? Clearly
in the case of TPE/Northern reform this will not simplify matters
in any regard (be it manpower and rolling stock deployment, timetabling
etc), especially given that it will create additional interfaces
inside an already fragmented rail industry. Moves towards greater
timetable integration could be set back under this new proposal.
2.8 Given the SRA strategy towards consolidation
of franchises we would contend that this logic should apply to
services radiating from Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds. Instead,
the TPE/Northern separation will mean a loss of economies of scale
and that more will have to be invested, merely to keep services
at their present level. The Trans Pennine Express franchise budget
leaves few resources for development once the additional operating
costs of running these services as a separate entity has been
taken into account. If there are to be separate franchises, why
not go ahead with one common operator? If not, we strongly urge
that any contract must compel the respective TOCs to work together.
2.9 It could be said that the industry has
reached the stage where the "soft" targets in terms
of low cost solutions to operational problems have been, to a
greater extent, addressed. The desperate need is to eliminate
infrastructure pinch points, those key deficiencies in the region's
rail infrastructure which seriously impact on performance, and
also to develop medium and long term strategies for expansion
of the network. There is little evidence, as yet, that the SRA's
approach will assist delivery of the necessary improvements. There
is little, if any, indication of how such proposals are to be
developed, or where the funding might come from given that such
schemes will require major capital investment, above and beyond
what is likely to be available via RPP and RPF finances.
2.10 For example, the proposed Western rail
link to Manchester Airport would mean better rail access from
Cheshire, North Wales, Northern England and Merseyside. It does
not feature in current SRA thinking despite the stated commitment
to improving surface links to airports and the growing regional
importance of Manchester Airport. A further indicative list of
some infrastructure improvements which have been proposed in our
region, none of which appear to feature in current SRA thinking,
is provided at Appendix 1.
3. The influence of rail services on the economic
and social development in the region.
3.1.1 Commuter travel: rail plays a crucial
role in sustaining the economy and settlement patterns of major
cities, and in particular the health of many city centres. Without
a strong rail network there will be enormous pressure for dispersed
lower density development, increasing pressure on the Green Belt.
3.1.2 Manchester (which has the most developed
rail network in Britain outside of London) and Liverpool could
not function as major cities without their railways. Manchester
could not accommodate an expanding workforce without the ability
to bring in commuters from outside the city by rail.
3.1.3 In the PTE areas, where fares are
kept lower, rail plays a key role in social inclusion by providing
low cost access to jobs and services.
3.2.1 Business travel: rail makes a major
contribution to sustaining regional economies by enabling businesses
in the region to access each other and London.
3.2.2 Especially where rail delivers business
travellers directly into the city centre there is a journey time
benefit compared to road. This has direct economic consequences
as longer journey times mean less productivity of labour. It also
provides relief to the road networks in the cities concerned and
reduced requirement for the use of valuable city centre land for
3.2.3 It is possible to work whilst travelling
by rail, a key benefit making rail travel more productive.
3.3.1 Leisure and Tourism: one in three
trips on the regional networks are for tourism and leisure purposes.
The rail tourist spends more per head than those visitors who
arrive by car or other modes. Rail is the preferred choice of
the majority of overseas visitors who, again, have a higher per
capita expenditure. Rail therefore brings tourism benefits for
many rural and seaside destinations and the further development
of services (eg the limited service on the Cumbrian Coastal route
is reduced further on Sundays and there is no service at all between
Greater Manchester and the Yorkshire Dales).
3.4.1 Social inclusion: around 30% of the
UK population does not have access to a car and thus improvements
to the road network will have little or no direct benefit for
them. However, rail travel is, in principle open to all, and particularly
in areas where the Passenger Transport Executives subsidises fares,
3.4.2 The lack of links to the national
rail network (or sub-standard links), restrain economic development
in many rural and former industrial areas such as Northern Lake
District and North East Lancashire. The absence of railway stations
on existing rail routes, contributes further to isolation and
3.4.3 Equally, given the above points, direct
and quick rail access to London, and Europe, is a key factor assisting
regional development. The RPC NW fully supports proposals for
a new North South high speed rail link. It could open up a new
route from the North West to the Capital and potentially beyond.
The continuing suppressed demand for rail travel, which the present
North-South routes cannot relieve, clearly makes this a key proposal
in the growth of passenger rail transport.
3.4.4 The proven benefits of electrification
in terms of creating the opportunity for modal shift, and reducing
pollution and road congestion, need to be positively embraced
in any future thinking. The absence of such a strategy has resulted
in each individual train operator effectively "going it alone",
and ordering diesel trains. Not only is the prospect of increased
electrification of the rail network receding, but also in the
here and now less use is being made of those limited parts of
the network which are electrified.
10 June 2002