Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Merseytravel (REN 42)



  Merseytravel thanks the Transport Sub-Committee for the opportunity to give evidence to this important inquiry, and trusts that its evidence will be of assistance to the Committee.

  2.  Merseytravel is the Passenger Transport Authority and Executive for Merseyside. Its aims are to provide a high quality, fully integrated and sustainable public transport network for Merseyside, supporting economic, social and environmental regeneration and ensuring good access for all in the community.

  3.  Rail services are of great importance to Merseyside. Historically, low levels of car ownership and the comprehensive local rail network lead to heavier usage of rail than in other conurbations.

  Long distance rail links are particularly important also, due to motorway congestion and the lack of direct air services to London and Scotland and the heavy volumes of freight generated by the Port of Liverpool and local industry, which have long been major users of rail freight services.


Arriva Trains Merseyside Ltd (Merseyrail Electrics)

  For much of the franchise period this operator has failed to meet its targets for punctuality and reliability. It has suffered from Railtrack's poor infrastructure maintenance and delayed renewals, which are now being addressed by a series of lengthy blockades to renew the worst sections of track on the network. However, other causes of poor performance have been shortages of train crews and rolling stock, both of which are Arriva Trains Merseyside's own responsibility, but are finally being addressed.


  On Merseyside this operator has tended to perform above its company-wide average and better than Arriva Trains Merseyside. Serious technical problems with new class 175 diesel units built by Alstom have led to shortages of rolling stock and an inability to cascade more modern units to interurban and commuter services within the region, leading to overcrowding at peak times and the retention of life-expired and unreliable trains.


  Merseytravel welcomes the investment being made by Virgin Trains in new trains for both West Coast and Cross Country services, and notes the steps taken by this operator to improve present standards of service. The Cross Country timetable improvements are generally welcome, and in particular the increase in services between Liverpool and Birmingham, but Merseytravel must register its concern at the withdrawal of the remaining through services between Liverpool and Scotland from September 2002.


  Merseytravel has no detailed information on current performance for unsupported operators, but is concerned at the performance of Transpennine services operated by both Arriva Trains Northern and Central Trains, and in particular the practice of both operators in time of service disruption to terminate late running services from the east at either Warrington Central or Manchester Oxford Road. This can lead to successive cancellations of services between Liverpool and Manchester, together with overcrowding on local services. Many of the problems experienced by Arriva Trains Northern can be traced back to the over-ambitious bid by MTL Trust Holdings, which was accepted by OPRAF, and occurred in a more acute form on this franchise than on the Arriva Trains Merseyside franchise.


  Merseytravel does not have a direct involvement in rail freight, but is working with the Merseyside District Councils through the Merseyside Local transport Plan to encourage the growth of rail freight and modal shift to rail. Key issues affecting rail freight growth are the current disruption to Channel Tunnel traffic arising from the failure to control the movement of asylum seekers, which has led to diversion of traffic to road by major forwarders, the shortage of capacity on the West Coast Main Line and Transpennine routes, and the restrictions applying to the movement of standard maritime containers with a height of 9'6".

Franchise replacement


  Merseytravel is working closely with the SRA on the replacement of both of these franchises, including the proposed local concession for Merseyrail Electrics, to secure the best value for Merseyside's rail passengers and council tax payers and the implementation of the relevant parts of the Local Transport Plan.


  Merseytravel has serious concerns about the decisions taken by the Strategic Rail Authority for the new Transpennine Express franchise. The concept of a high speed InterCity operation linking the main cities and towns in the North of England is attractive, but the route strategy adopted, and the manner in which the concept has been applied to detailed service planning, are seriously flawed. It appears to Merseytravel that the approach has been to define rigid criteria for Transpennine Express services and then adjust the physical and economic geography and consequent train service patterns of northern England to make them fit these criteria. There are four specific examples:


  The creation of the Wales and Borders Franchise gives the opportunity for development of services between Liverpool and Cardiff, and between Liverpool and north Wales, provided funding is available for service expansion. Merseytravel's investment in the Allerton Interchange scheme, which will create a major transport interchange in south Liverpool with a high-quality direct link to Liverpool Airport, enhances the opportunity for this operator to develop new services to and from Liverpool. It is also hoped that the operator will consider means of improving access to the Deesside Development Zone from north west England.


  As noted above, Merseytravel is firmly of the view that the current Central Trains South Transpennine service between Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and East Anglia should have been included in the Transpennine Express franchise, at least between Liverpool and Nottingham, to facilitate the development of a unified network of InterCity services between the main cities in the north of England. It does not make sense to exclude half of the express services between Liverpool and Manchester, and between Manchester and Sheffield, from the Transpennine Express franchise. The SRA's plans to extend the current Central Trains franchise by two years are noted. While this may well be the correct decision overall, it does have the effect that there will be little incentive for the operator to make any significant improvements to its services for the remaining duration of the franchise.



  Merseytravel has consistently given strong support to the West Coast Route Modernisation project, as the West Coast Main Line is vital to the Merseyside economy, for both long distance passenger and freight movements. It is Merseyside's rail link to London, the south coast ports and the West Midlands, and also to Scotland. There are no air services between Liverpool and either London or Scotland. However Merseytravel notes that the project concentrates on renewing the fast lines between Euston, Crewe and Manchester on the existing alignment for higher speeds, rather than eliminating the constraints imposed by that alignment. As a result, even after completion of West Coast Route Modernisation, the route will still be operating at the limit of its capacity.

  13.1  The failure to incorporate the present Central Trains Liverpool to East Anglia service within the Transpennine Express franchise, which 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. There has been little interest from any of the existing three operators in developing or marketing services between these cities, simply because no one operator can guarantee to maximise the return on its own expenditure.

  13.2  The decision to incorporate within the Transpennine Express franchise the present First North Western services between Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly and Barrow in Furness or Windermere, which do not cross the Pennines, 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. This appears to be because existing passenger demand requires some trains on this axis (currently those to Blackpool, but market research by Gibb in 1998 suggests it should be those to Barrow and Windermere) to stop more often than allowed by the SRA's criteria. This also extends the disaggregated service concept presently applying between Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield to the Manchester-Preston route. There are further concerns at the impact on local services in the Furness, which are currently at levels above the PSR and are partly provided by calls in the services to be transferred to Transpennine Express; there is a real risk of a serious reduction in local services on this line, which is ill-suited to a split between InterCity and local operations.

  13.3  The decision to exclude from the Transpennine Express franchise the section of the Scarborough-Bradford-Blackburn-Blackpool North service west of Leeds, effectively relocating the Pennines into the Vale of York, with the outcome that Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn and Blackpool, four of the largest towns in northern England, are not deemed worthy of InterCity-standard train services although many smaller settlements will receive these.

  13.4  The decision to split the through service between Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes at Doncaster, depriving north Lincolnshire of InterCity-standard services and through services to Sheffield, Manchester and Manchester Airport, for no other reason than the need to stop these services more frequently than the criteria allow to meet the demand for local travel within north Lincolnshire. This appears to contrast with the approach taken on the Furness line.

  The only flow between the region's biggest cities which will be served exclusively by Transpennine Express is that between Manchester and Leeds, and Merseytravel is concerned that this will result in the new operator concentrating its resources on this flow to the detriment of those flows which it must share with others. The whole process of disaggregation to form separate Transpennine Express and Northern Trains franchises may lead to more focussed management but will also lead to diseconomies of scale, unless either one operator is allocated both the Transpennine Express and Northern Trains franchises or there is an agreement on inter-working between the two operators chosen.

  Merseyside will benefit less than other regions from the new services to be introduced by Virgin, as it will retain an hourly service to London rather than receive the increased service levels offered elsewhere. The overall impact of the new services on the north west is still not clear, as no combined timetable showing both West Coast and Cross Country services north of Crewe has yet been made public, and the effect on regional and local services cannot be judged. This directly affects the aspirations of Merseytravel and other PTEs and local authorities along the northern part of the West Coast Main Line for increased services within the north west and between the north west and Scotland, provision for which is made in the relevant Local Transport Plans.


  The most important constraint affecting the development of rail services in northern England is the lack of capacity in central Manchester. This was studied most recently by the Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study, which proposed converting certain local services to Metrolink trams but did not consider whether the tramway infrastructure in central Manchester could accommodate those services. It also stated that extra heavy rail capacity was likely to be necessary in the medium term. Despite this, the SRA's Strategic Plan has chosen not to address the issue of additional capacity until after 2010.

  Enhanced Transpennine rail services and greater capacity for both passenger and freight trains are a priority for the region. The Transpennine Express franchise as presently structured does not incorporate plans for major investment other than in replacement rolling stock, and as noted previously excludes key Transpennine services and fragments other regional express services between the Transpennine Express and other franchises. The benefits from the investment in new Transpennine rolling stock will not extend to the routes excluded from the Transpennine Express franchise. Equally, Transpennine infrastructure enhancement will not be worthwhile unless the capacity issues in central Manchester are dealt with.

  Merseytravel must express its concern at the SRA's lack of urgency to resolve these issues, which could lead to stagnation on the region's rail network at a time of increasing highway congestion.


  15.1  The Merseyside Local Transport Plan provides for major investment in the Merseyside rail network, and gives support to the development of regional rail linkages. A copy of the Local Transport Plan is enclosed as background information.

  15.2  The major rail scheme is the development of a new public transport interchange at Allerton. This will serve the Speke/Garston regeneration area in south Liverpool and plays a central role in delivering the objectives of Liverpool Airport's Surface Access Strategy, which seeks to increase the proportion of employee and passenger journeys to and from Liverpool Airport made by public transport. There will be a high-quality direct link between the Airport and Allerton Interchange, which will have a bus/rail interchange serving local, regional and national markets and a 300 space park and ride site. It will give improved public transport connections between Liverpool Airport and Manchester Airport.

  15.3  Other plans are for a rolling programme of improvements to passenger facilities at stations, including access and security, the enhancement of interchange and park and ride facilities, construction of a new station at Carr Mill (on the St. Helens-Wigan line), refurbishment of the five underground stations, and major improvements to Lime Street Main Line station.

  15.4  Merseytravel recognises that heavy rail services cannot always provide a cost-effective solution. It is promoting a three-line tramway network to serve areas remote from existing rail services, thereby complementing the heavy rail network.

  15.5  The Committee may be aware that Merseytravel is promoting the Tunnels Bill, which, if passed, will provide for the index-linking of tolls and generate £2.5 million annually for investment in the region's public transport network, together with additional borrowing resources.


  The Merseyside Freight Study, completed in 2000, set out a plan to develop a strategic freight rail and road network with intermodal terminals to improve access for freight to and from Merseyside while minimising environmental intrusion. The LTP makes provision for its implementation. To do this requires investment in rail.

  The rail enhancement most important for the local freight network on Merseyside is the Olive Mount chord, which is the reinstatement of a short section of line to allow freight trains to and from the Port of Liverpool to gain access to the national network without reversal at Edge Hill. This is one of the SRA's highest priority freight schemes nationally, but an implementation date is still awaited.

  Local network enhancements will be insufficient if the national network cannot accommodate Merseyside's rail freight. The key issues here are loading gauge enhancement, to allow the carriage of 9'6" containers on standard wagons, and network capacity, above all on the West Coast Main Line and Transpennine routes, including the capacity for east-west freight movements through the Manchester area.


  This private sector proposal is to build a new line, primarily for freight traffic, between the north west and the Channel Tunnel. It will be built to a much larger loading gauge than the conventional network, using a mixture of existing and disused railways and some new alignments. The Merseyside authorities have reserved their position on the Central Railway project until the promoters produce more detailed information. Particular items of concern are whether all existing passenger and freight trains can continue to operate over the routes used by Central Railway, and the detailed alignments to be followed, especially in urban areas. This project by itself would not resolve the infrastructure constraints affecting the development of passenger services on the West Coast Main Line, as noted in paragraph 3.6 below.


  It is now clear that the upgraded West Coast Main Line will not meet all the aspirations of train operators and funders after 2005. It may not even be able to accommodate all of the existing services of freight and local passenger operators alongside the expanded high speed services, let alone provide for expansion of freight and local passenger services. Diversion of West Coast Main Line freight services onto other routes, or the construction of the Central Railway project, would release capacity on the West Coast Main Line for additional passenger services, especially local and regional services at the southern end of the route. However, the alignment of the West Coast Main Line will not allow further increases in express passenger train speeds or service levels beyond that proposed for 2005 without extensive investment, including new construction to avoid the most constrained route sections. Diversion of express passenger services onto a new high speed line would release existing West Coast Main Line capacity for expansion of both freight and local passenger services. It should be noted that this is the justification used by the French Railways for the construction of the TGV network. In view of this, Merseytravel recently expressed its support for the SRA's proposal for a High Speed Line between London and the north, on condition that the chosen alignment maximises the benefits to the West Coast Main Line, which is both the busiest main line in the UK and the one with the most constrained infrastructure.


  Much of Merseytravel's investment in rail in recent years has been in support of initiatives to regenerate the Merseyside economy and provide access to employment, particularly for residents of the areas of the county suffering from the highest levels of deprivation. This investment has included four new stations, at Brunswick, Conway Park, Wavertree and Lea Green, and continues with the Allerton Interchange project. All have been supported by grants from the EU Objective One programme, which is designed to aid Merseyside's economic recovery. The Merseyside LTP is intended to continue the support given to regeneration by the provision of a first class public transport network.

7 June 2002

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