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Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Greater Manchester Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (REN 40)

RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  The Institute of Logistics and Transport (ILT) is the leading professional body for transport, logistics and supply-chain management. Members are involved in all sectors of transport. The Greater Manchester Branch has over 600 members employed throughout the transport and logistics industries in one of the north of England's key economic and transport hubs.

THE RAILWAY INDUSTRY IN GREATER MANCHESTER

  2.1There is a general perception amongst the transport and logistics professions in Greater Manchester that the local rail network significantly under-performs in terms of its share of the overall travel market, as well as failing to capture as much freight traffic as it might—especially on the Trans-Pennine corridor between Manchester and Leeds, parallel to the very busy M62.

  2.2  This is confirmed by analysis in the Greater Manchester Local Transport Plan (LTP), produced jointly by the ten district highway authorities and the Passenger Transport Authority, which suggests that "while there are capacity constraints on some services, particularly at peak times serving Manchester City Centre, there is considerable spare capacity on other parts of the network and further investment and improvements in reliability are likely to be rewarded with further increases in patronage". [Investing in excellence: Greater Manchester LTP 2001/02-2005/06, p24.]

  2.3  Data collected for the Annual Progress report on the LTP confirms that rail patronage continued to rise in 1999-2000, returning to a level some 14% above that in 1991—a rate of growth of over 16% in the previous two year, reversing a decade of slow decline up to 1997-98.

  2.4  However, the question now raised is what shape will the network—and its franchises operators—be in to cope with, and continue to generate, continued growth in rail patronage. In this context, the Greater Manchester ILT Branch has serious reservations about progress in three main areas:

    —  the current performance of First North Western and the other existing franchisees;

    —  the process of re-franchising to date and its effects on future local rail services; and

    —  the ability of all rail stakeholders to generate the necessary investment in the local network to overcome infrastructure constraints on the potential for improving services.

3.  PROBLEMS WITH EXISTING FRANCHISES:

  3.1  The experience of First North Western as the areas local rail franchisee has not been much of an improvement on its failed predecessor, NorthWest Trains—reflecting the poor economic sense of the 1995 franchise contract, which led to it being one of the largest loss-makers of all franchises.

  3.2  We do not wish to go into great detail regarding the specifics of service performance. However, in terms of developing the local rail market, the franchise remains deficient in several areas. It is:

    —  underinvested: with late delivery of new rolling stock—the introduction of Class 175s on express services is now over 18 months behind schedule and 30-year old Class 101 stock remains in service on some local lines awaiting the resulting rolling stock cascade;

    —  unambitious at management level. FNW has delivered few service improvements over the life of the franchise, lacks a positive attitude to route enhancements through Rail Passenger Partnership bids—as a consequence, no bids wholly within Greater Manchester have been submitted—and has a poor working relationship overall with the PTE and local Councils;

    —  providing low levels of passenger service, with reduced station staffing in some places and a legacy of unfulfilled commitments: eg. passenger security measures (help points, phones and CCTV) which were promised in the franchise but have not been delivered to date; and

    —  delivering services with little synergy with, and poor access to, other operators' services—eg poor connections to late-arriving long distance trains—and to other modes of transport, despite cross-ownership with one of the two major Greater Manchester local bus operators.

  3.3  In many ways it remains an open question as to whether the operator has a positive attitude to rail passenger market growth—as witnessed by disproportionate and well above inflation fare rises on those services not controlled by agreements with PTEs at times when the franchisee has suffered financial stringency. This attitude must have affected rail's share of a vitally-important commuter market for travel into city-centre Manchester from parts of Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire.

  3.4  Arriva Trains also has problems in terms of its performance in serving Greater Manchester, where it runs Trans-Pennine services eastwards to Leeds and the north-east, Sheffield and Cleethorpes.

  3.5  It has proved unreliable due to both poor industrial relations and rolling stock failures—with its operational efficiency hindered by having no base west of the Pennines. (This caveat goes even more so for the other Trans-Pennine service, Central Trains' Norwich-Liverpool route). This east-side bias leads to a notably worse service pattern on westbound services—with the last departure to Liverpool as early as 22.10 compared to the more reasonable 23.22 from Manchester to Leeds.

REFRANCHISING TO DATE—TRANSPENNINE EXPRESS:

  4.1  We are greatly concerned at the separation of TransPennine Express into a separate, and first-to-be-let, "TPE" franchise. We consider separation from Northern is bad for operational efficiency, synergy and integration between local and express services across the north's main conurbations.

  4.2  Along with the limited scope of current plans for West Coast Main Line upgrades into south Manchester, we fear the creation of a "three-tier railway" while infrastructure constraints remain—with a clear danger of "cherry-picking" the best train paths and departure times for the two more profitable inter-urban operators, first Virgin, then TPE, with only the worst left for local services.

  4.3  The potential letting of a TPE contract before the Passenger Service Requirement for a Northern franchise has even been finalised cuts against LTP aspirations for clockface departures and more cross-Manchester services, which have already been submitted in the PTE's Section 34 statement.

  4.4  We consider the best result now would be for both franchises to be won by the same bidder, and maintained as separate business units within one company. Within this structure, all Manchester local services should be included, but across the entire Greater Manchester travel-to-work area—thus including the "country" end of lines like Buxton, Macclesfield/Alderley Edge, local routes to Preston, Blackburn, Clitheroe and Calder Valley—so they can be better timetabled and managed.

  4.5  We are also concerned that the TPE franchise design lacks coherent logic in train service terms, with the inclusion of Manchester Airport services from Windermere and Barrow (which do not cross the Pennines) but the exclusion of the Central Trains South TransPennine route (Norwich-Liverpool) and Leeds-Blackpool via Blackburn and Calder Valley "trans-Pennine" local services.

  4.6  The effect is to create a Manchester Airport-centred service west of the Pennines. This could create problems by generating service aspirations that will impact on the most congested parts of the Manchester Hub—especially at Slade Lane junction (where the line from the airport joins the West Coast Main Line into Manchester) and on the approaches to Manchester Piccadilly station.

The process

  4.7  The TPE franchising process appears flawed and has undermined stakeholders' confidence. The decision to start with a "blank sheet" approach, asking bidders to generate ideas for new service aspirations led initially to a perception that the (then Shadow) SRA did not know its own railway.

  4.8  However, this decision appeared vindicated when some bidders (notably Arriva—before the later industrial problems reached crisis point) produced proposals that suggested significant potential existed for expansion of services and subsequent development of infrastructure enhancements. In the course of the initial process, options like a Parkway facility at Guide Bridge; a Leeds-Airport via Stalybridge/Stockport service and a study of reopening the Woodhead route garnered support.

  4.9  Yet the SRA then stopped this momentum dead by announcing that the three short-listed bidders would be asked to resubmit on the basis of the least ambitious submission—believed to be that of Connex—which worked entirely within the existing constraints of the Manchester Hub network. To what extent this generates a pattern of service based on the (less popular) city centre station at Manchester Victoria, rather than the greater interchange potential at Piccadilly, has yet to be seen.

5.  INFRASTRUCTURE AND INVESTMENT NEEDS TO DELIVER ENHANCED SERVICES:

  5.1  The Northern franchise needs to be able to meet key local service aspirations contained in the PTE Section 34 statement referred to above (para. 4.3) As well as the regular departure pattern, this includes aspirations for 15-minute frequencies across the local rail network and additional links to allow travel between all of Greater Manchester's ten district centres (all of which are served by local rail or Metrolink) with no more than one change of service and maximum one hour journey.

  5.2  Lack of investment remains our greatest fear for the local rail network. The SRA's Strategic Plan proposal that investment should be concentrated in the South-east ignores the enormous potential for expanding rail-based commuting into the major centres of employment in the north—where it will have the same environmental benefits and, arguably, greater economic ones than in London.

  5.3  The Greater Manchester transport authorities have developed a clear vision of the role rail could play—supported by the Strategic Rail Study, undertaken in partnership with Railtrack in 2000. The same themes have been taken up by a further study commissioned by the SRA, which has not reported publicly but informed the re-franchising process and Strategic Plan. The key issues are:

    —  the capacity constraints across the "Manchester Hub", between Piccadilly station approach and Castlefield Junction, where the Warrington-bound and Bolton-bound routes diverge This affects three sets of services—(a). the TransPennine routes from Leeds to Warrington, which must cross the entire station approach layout, including south- and east-facing local lines and the West Coast MainLine, to access the only through platform (14) at the extreme west of the layout, where they then meet congested paths and major boarding time delays; (b). freight services to Trafford Park terminal, which share with the passenger services; and (c). trains to and from the north west (across the Windsor Link to Salford) out of Piccadilly;

    —  stretches of line with restricted capacity, including single tracks between Blackburn and Bolton; a two-track stretch between Adswood and Cheadle Hulme where Virgin and local trains share line, the lack of more than two working tunnels through Standedge and speed restrictions at Guide Bridge and Stalybridge on the Manchester-Leeds TransPennine route; and

    —  further constraints will be created by Virgin's aspirations for more paths to and from the south, under the PUG I agreement for the West Coast Main Line. The extra fast trains will create crossing conflicts at key junctions which are not gaining additional capacity under West Coast Route Modernisation: Slade Lane, Heaton Norris and Cheadle Hulme will all have restricted paths for local services due to WCML expresses. PUG I will also impact on the capacity of the West Coast Main Line between Crewe and Preston to handle local train services that provide important links between Wigan, Warrington and Newton-le-Willows.

  5.4  Because the local train operating franchises are being designed before the solutions to all these problems have been fully evaluated and identified, there is a grave danger that no account will be taken of them. This could result in franchise agreements that freeze into place the shortcomings of the present network for a further 15 years, constraining the industry's ability to deliver any enhancement schemes because all the costs would be loaded onto the specific enhancement itself.

  5.5  Without a process that will deliver local operators willing and able to share the revenue risks and potential income from new services that could result from infrastructure enhancements, all risks will remain with the SRA through the Rail Passenger Partnership bidding process. Because the agreements with train operators could be based on a fixed level of subsidy, they may have little or no incentive to join in with future bids—as indeed the present operators appear not to have now.

  5.6  There is a danger that local aspirations for the Northern franchise will not be delivered for reasons other than the problem created by TPE. In particular there is a danger attaching to both franchises that the PTEs will not wish to be co-signatories to the agreements—thus safeguarding local fare structures, inter-ticketing and service synergy—due to uncertainty over their continued ability to finance local rail services without creating a significant additional burden on Council taxpayers, since the Government has provided no guidance on the future of Metropolitan Rail Grants. These have been paid since 1995 through Metropolitan authorities' Standard Spending Assessments to cover the cost of local rail services under the franchise regime, where the loading of infrastructure costs on to Train Operating Companies (through track access charges) caused a rise in the price of "Section 20" agreements for enhanced levels of service and lower fares regimes in the PTA areas.

Investment needs and service aspirations:

  5.7  While the Greater Manchester PTE Section 34 statement on the Northern franchise concentrates on service standards—the need for clockface departures, frequencies and local stopping patterns to be maintained, more investment in stations and passenger facilities—they and other local rail stakeholders also have particular service enhancement aspirations which impact on infrastructure.

  5.8  These were comprehensively catalogued in the Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study written by Gibb Rail Consulting for the PTE and others in 2000. Key service elements identified include:

    —  the need for four trains per hour Manchester Piccadilly to Preston via Bolton—constrained by capacity to Castlefield Junction west of Piccadilly, across the "Windsor Link" in Salford (which allows access to the north Manchester network for trains departing Platform 14 at Manchester Piccadilly) and on the West Coast Main Line from Euxton Junction to Preston;

    —  services could be expanded on the Calder Valley line to Leeds via Halifax from Victoria—which could grow into an alternative TransPennine route from Liverpool to York, using the Chat Moss route, thus avoiding the constraints between Castlefield Junction and Piccadilly;

    —  increased TransPennine services to Manchester Airport—these presently reverse out of bay platforms on the eastern side of Piccadilly, with consequent waiting delays for through passengers from the west, and then cross West Coast Main Line and local tracks to reach the Styal (Airport) line approach to Slade Lane junction, on the extreme west of the layout;

    —  an alternative TransPennine route could be provided by bypassing the Manchester Hub via Stalybridge and Stockport—however, this would fall foul of crossing conflicts at Heaton Norris junction north of Stockport where, again, westbound trains would have to cross the West Coast MainLine and all local lines to reach the west of the layout for the Chester line;

    —  South TransPennine services could be enhanced across the Hope Valley line to Sheffield, while the proposed reopening of service to Derby via Buxton and Matlock would impact on levels of service between Manchester and Chinley/Hazel Grove. This may create new pressures on the Hazel Grove chord, across Stockport viaduct and at Slade Lane junction.

  5.9  Some significant infrastructure solutions were identified to address many of these problems, such as: a flyover on the Piccadilly approach to allow TransPennine trains direct access to westbound through platforms; two additional through platforms to expand passing and waiting capacity at Piccadilly; an "Ordsall chord" to allow Liverpool-Manchester Victoria trains to run to Piccadilly Platform 13 and on south to the Airport; a western link to the Airport from Chester and an eastern link on to Cheadle Hulme, allowing south and north TransPennine routes to reach the Airport via Stockport (without accessing the Manchester Hub at all); and reinstating a Partington-Cadishead link to allow freight trains access to Trafford Park from Chat Moss, avoiding central Manchester.

  5.10  The Local Transport Plan also suggest a case for new stations at around 20 sites, some of which could be developed as strategic Park-and-Ride facilities, with the potential for taking thousands of peak hour car journeys off the network However, appraisal of the proposals is being hindered by negative assumptions in the standard methodology, which it is not clear apply in a PTA area.

  5.11  For example, although some sites have significant regeneration benefits, they "score" low when evaluated because the local catchment area does not have a demographic profile typical of rail commuters—broadly, insufficient numbers in socio-economic categories ABC1. This raises the question of how any facility giving socially-excluded people access to rail will ever be justified. Similarly, each new station evaluation is assumed to draw passengers from existing stations in the vicinity, and is deemed only to generate new traffic from areas which were previously more than one kilometre from any station, also militating against new station provision in dense urban areas.

  5.12  Elsewhere, the artificial boundary in the fares structure created by the PTE Section 20 area has caused difficulties in provision of Park and Ride. Sites at the edge of the PTE area would simply encourage railheading by commuters anxious to get the cheaper fares offered inside the boundary. A strategic approach is therefore likely to require extension of the ticketing arrangements—which will restrict a future franchisee's ability to raise uncontrolled commuter fares, as FNW has done.

  5.13  Other issues include the urgent need for higher-capacity rolling stock to alleviate overcrowding on some lines—notably Manchester-Bolton-Preston—more modern trains on key Trans-Pennine routes and a rolling stock cascade to local lines, eliminating unpopular Class 100 and 150 stock.

6.  CONCLUSION:

  6.1  The above concerns result from a desire by ILT members of the transport planning and logistics profession in Greater Manchester to see rail play a greater role in personal travel and movement of goods around our county. We worry that this is not being achieved, even in the context of a period of passenger growth, and that if this opportunity is missed another may not come quickly.

  6.2  Refranchising presents an opportunity to address the key constraints that will limit the potential for growth in services and extension of links on the network. However, unless a vision of the key improvements is quickly developed, new longer franchises could become a barrier to that growth.

  6.3  We therefore hope that the Select Committee's work will contribute to overcoming these obstacles and making clear the way to achieve a vision of a greater role for local rail at this crucial point in its development. We are willing and happy through our work to support other stakeholders in the development of proposals for rail in Greater Manchester and links with our region and beyond.

Bruce Allan

Branch Policy Officer



 
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