Memorandum by CPRE North East Regional
Group (REN 39)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
The Government's and Strategic Rail Authority's
commitment to improving rail services?
1. To date, the Strategic Rail Authority
has played a very low-key role in relation to improvements to
rail infrastructure and services within the North East region.
Rail infrastructure schemes have been left very much in the hands
of local authorities and the regional assembly to lead on and
drive forward. In our view, much of this lack of a northern focus
arises because the SRA has no northern office.
2. Both the TransPennine and the Northern
franchise renewals seem to be based on providing a minimum service.
There is a clear demand for increased frequency of service on
some local routes and the need for improved local rail services
across the region has been identified in multimodal studies and
the emerging Regional Transport Strategy. However, it does not
appear that the opportunity to develop or expand the service or
the network is being grasped.
3. Neither the Government nor the SRA appear
to recognise the need to invest in and expand the rail network
in order to achieve the overall transport targets relating to
congestion and pollution. Investment in the SE of England may
be essential but it must not be at the expense of the North. A
modest funding switch from highways to rail would adequately meet
the need of northern rail projects.
The impact of the Strategic Rail Authority's approach
to franchising in the region?
4. The extension of the existing franchises
because of the slow and cumbersome nature of the franchising process
has blighted development of the rail services, both the InterCity
services on the ECML and the local services.
5. As advocated in the recent Al North of
Newcastle Multimodal Study, the existing GNER and Virgin train
timetables could be adapted, with negligible real cost, to give
a good service between the towns in Northumberland and also providing
practicable connections both to Edinburgh and to stations south
of Newcastle. However, neither operator appears prepared to consider
such changes with franchise pending.
6. In some circumstances, the franchise
process has developed a financial structure in which it is profitable
for the operating company not to operate trains, for example during
the current spate of Arriva strikes. This deplorable state of
affairs must be avoided in the proposed new franchises and the
SRA should engage now with Arriva and its Unions to help resolve
the current disputes.
7. We believe that such issues could be
averted if SRA took a more active interest in the implementation
of franchises after they have been issued. This should not be
merely a matter of monitoring compliance, but should involve a
lively awareness of how the franchise is generating customer satisfaction.
8.The separation of the TransPennine services
from the other services in the North is incomprehensible to most
observers when the clear need is for fewer franchises and closer
working between operating companies. But, whatever the franchise
arrangement, the services provided should form an integrated network
with seamless connections between the local services and between
the local services and InterCity routes regardless of operator.
9. The Northern franchise must be let on
the basis of best value not minimum service, 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 TransPennine
Express franchise, and ECML InterCity services (GNER, Virgin)
Whether the existing franchisees provide satisfactory
services, particularly in relation to safety, punctuality, reliability,
comfort and frequency of services?
10. Local rail services in the North East
have been very much the "poor relation" of the rail
network: inadequate investment has left us with a poor rail infrastructure
off the ECML and a lack of diversionary routes and facilities.
The investment strategy of successive train operators has led
to a lack of staff and a lack of trains, resulting in chronic
unreliability and unpunctuality. The quality of trains is poor
with a heavy over-reliance on "Pacer" units with little
evidence of the promised higher quality trains.
11. We are concerned that SRA has not used
its franchising powers to effect improvements in this area.
12. The timetables generally make inadequate
provision for early and late services, and the frequency, improved
in some areas by successful Rail Passenger Partnership bids, is
generally inadequate to develop a thriving service even in areas
where the potential demand for services is high.
13. The service offered is disjointed and
the opposite of integrated. Connecting services between local
trains and between local and InterCity trains should be the lifeblood
of a networked, integrated rail system.
14. Information provision at stations is
desperately poor, in many cases non-existent. Public address systems
at even major stations such as Newcastle Central are often incomprehensible.
Marketing of the rail alternative is at best patchy.
15. The train operators have started consultation
exercises involving their customers. However we feel that the
SRA could usefully develop a programme of route by route consultations
involving the TOCs, Railtrack and all user and supporting agencies
along the lines of the Route Management Strategy studies carried
out by the Highways Agency.
16. Ideally, a regional rail development
plan should be established for the region linked to similar plans
in the other northern regions and Scotland. This plan should be
developed by regional partnerships of the railway industry, local
and regional authorities, and business/community interests with
the SRA taking the lead.
Plans for investment in the rail network in the
region and whether they meet the needs of additional capacity
and other improvements?
17. We are unaware of any SRA-led plans
to meet the need for additional network capacity and other improvements,
even though this need has been identified in multimodal studies
and in the emerging Regional Transport Strategy. Such plans as
there are all seem to be driven by local authorities (g Ashington-Blyth-Tyne,
Leamside) and, without active support from the SRA, are taking
a very long time to materialise.
18. The Durham Coast line which serves major
centres of population such as Sunderland, Hartlepool, Stockton
and Middlesbrough has been starved of investment and hence over
a million people are denied a realistic alternative to road travel.
At the other extreme, sensible branch line projects such as the
re-opening of the line from Alnmouth to Alnwick to provide direct
access to mainline services is faltering for want of less cash
than is currently being spent by the Highways Agency from its
own budget, to provide an extra carriageway for the Al Alnwick
19. The number of diversionary routes and
lines is inadequate. Usually buses are used to provide a (inadequate)
substitute service whenever there is a problem. The SRA should
ensure that disruptions are increasingly overcome by the use of
alternative rail services, not by the use of buses.
Influence of rail services on the economic and
social development in the region?
20. Car ownership in the North East is low
but rising. It should be an objective of the SRA within the overall
transport plan, not to reduce car ownership but to reduce the
need for car use to make rail-appropriate journeys. This is particularly
the case in rural areas. Improved local rail services together
with improved, cost-effective car parking provision at rural stations
could make a significant contribution to modal shift.
21. Reliable, cost-effective rail services
are potentially attractive across the social spectrum and provide
a better opportunity for a socially-integrated modal shift than
bus services or road pricing schemes. The demand is there for
local rail services in the North East to replace commuting by
car to provide feeder services to the InterCity services on the
ECML and to form part of an integrated transport system for the
rural areas. Under current franchise operation, these demands
are not being met, and in our view, the new franchise arrangements
are missing an opportunity too.
22. More bus-rail links should be developed,
possibly by bus operators being given incentives to serve railway
stations. More through ticketing and interavailable tickets covering
not only rail and normal buses, but also postbuses, taxis and
other rural schemes, and possibly combined parking and rail tickets
at rural stations.
23. The relatively simple recommendation
(in the A1 North of Newcastle Multimodal Study) to have ECML InterCity
services stopping more frequently at stations between Newcastle
and Edinburgh would dramatically enhance the social, cultural
and economic life of the Northumberland towns along the ECML.
In particular, it would provide a significant boost to tourism
in the county.
24. In short, the lack of targeted investment
in the railways of the region represents a lost opportunity for
both economic and social development.
Regional Policy Officer
CPRE North East Regional Group