Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Rail Passengers Committee for North Eastern England (REN 43)


  In formulating its response to the question as to whether or not the existing franchisees provide satisfactory services the Committee looks to the survey work it has carried out amongst passengers.

  The RPC has held a "meet the passenger" open day every year since 1999. The first was held at York followed by events at Newcastle (2000), Doncaster (2001) and Leeds (2002). The survey forms from the Leeds survey (held on 15 May this year) are still being processed.

  Some of the findings from the York, Doncaster and Newcastle surveys are set out below. The most favourable responses (aspects of the service rated excellent or good) with the previous survey results for comparison are as follows:


Courtesy of Staff
Information on service/fares
Getting a seat
Information at time of travel
not asked
Frequency of trains

  Aside from car parking at Doncaster, which was rated as poor by 44% of the small sample who answered, punctuality, reliability and maintaining connections were perhaps unsurprisingly rated as poor by many more passengers.

  At Doncaster we saw again the same pattern as in previous years of dissatisfaction with station toilets, fares and food. Luggage space was mentioned by one in four as poor whilst the price of food, train toilets, and the quality of announcements both at stations and on trains came in for specific negative comments.

The aspects rated poor were:


Station toilets
Food on trains
Parking in general
Maintaining connections
Luggage space


  The Committee also has information from complaints to help it form its views. The Doncaster survey revealed the fact that 44% of our respondents had made a complaint at some stage about a rail journey, broadly the same proportion as at Newcastle and York. 46% of complainants told us they had received vouchers or less frequently cash from the TOCs involved by way of recompense.

  The Committee also receives complaints direct from rail users and it is interesting to note that last year the number fell from 1,409 (in the year ending 31 March 2001) to 1,253 (year ending 31 March 2002). The year ending 31 March 2001 was beset with many difficulties for rail passengers throughout Northern England. While the national network had to suffer the repercussions of Hatfield the North of England was also subject to severe flooding and Railtrack's failure to deliver Phase IV of the Leeds 1st project on time further disrupted services for months afterwards.

  It would therefore perhaps be more appropriate to compare last year with the year ending 31 March 2000 when the number of complaints received was 1,127. The trend would therefore seem to be upwards, but whatever the trend there is still a huge number of passengers who have cause for complaint and the Committee is of the view that most of those complaints are justified.


  Last year the Committee dealt with complaints involving 21 different service providers. However 790 of the 1,409 complaints involved services provided by Arriva Trains Northern. That that should be so comes as little surprise since "failing" is a word that readily springs to mind when considering the Arriva Franchise.

  In fairness to Arriva it must not be forgotten that the previous franchisee (MTL) became bankrupt and on taking over Arriva inherited a shortage of both trains and drivers which virtually ensured that passengers would have to endure a high level of unreliability. As a direct consequence cancellations were frequent, those trains which ran were often late and many were regularly and severely overcrowded.

  For performance monitoring purposes the Strategic Rail Authority breaks the services up into seven service groups and publishes figures separately for each group. It is therefore difficult to determine a figure for Arriva as a whole. Nevertheless in the year ending 31 March 2001 it would be fair to say that Arriva managed to operate about 98% of its advertised service and of those trains which ran about 90% arrived within five or ten minutes of their advertised time at their final destination. Since Arriva operates around 1,600 trains each day another way of stating the figures would be to say that on a typical day passengers stand around on platforms waiting for 30 or so trains which never turn up. Once on a train they have a one in ten chance of being officially late. The odds against actually being on time (as indicated by the hands of a real clock) are far greater! There can be little surprise that passengers are dissatisfied and feel that they are not being properly served by the existing franchisee.

  Of late there would seem to have been some improvement in some areas. New drivers have been recruited and trained which has enabled the trains that were cut from the timetable in October 2001 to be reintroduced from this month. Introduction of new fourth vehicles into the almost new Class 333 trains which operate on the electrified lines from Leeds to Bradford, Skipton and Ilkley have reduced overcrowding on those popular routes and the quality of the vehicles themselves are much appreciated by the passengers. Nevertheless the continuing industrial action by train conductors is causing much difficulty. Despite Arriva proclaiming that on strike days it now manages to run 70% of the advertised service there are still routes where no trains whatsoever run and neither is there any rail replacement bus service or competing bus service. Passengers are simply abandoned to their own devices.

  The Committee is therefore most concerned by Arriva's apparent lack of urgency to resolve the difficulty. While noting Arriva's statement to the effect that it is available for meaningful discussions with the union at any time the Committee would expect all parties to be actively seeking a resolution. The prolonged nature of the dispute has even caused the Committee to question whether or not the "cost-plus" contract that was set up between Arriva and the SRA in February 2001 provides sufficient incentive for a speedy resolution to the dispute. Unfortunately the Committee has, so far, been unable to discover sufficient details of the contract to enable it to draw any firm conclusion of its own.

  Whatever the truth, there is no doubt in the Committee's mind that any new franchisee must be committed to investing in its staff and committed to maintaining a good working relationship with its workforce. The benefit to passengers of experienced and well-motivated staff cannot be over-estimated, but from conversation with Arriva's front line staff it is quite clear that morale is presently at an all time low. Low morale might go some way towards explaining why there are so many difficulties with the provision of information to passengers.


  From the passenger correspondence we have received, GNER has a much better reputation and it is widely accepted that the level of on-board service on its trains is second to none. However, the Committee has had concerns for some time around the availability of cheaper advance purchase tickets and the size of the quotas of these tickets. Passengers' expectations that they will be able to make their journeys at the attractive prices that are advertised are frequently dashed. The reality is that on some trains the allocation of quota controlled fares is zero and on other trains the number allocated can be as low as 10. Consequently passengers have to purchase higher priced "walk on" tickets such as the Saver.

  It may be thought that since the Saver is a regulated fare its price (in real terms) will reduce over time and in the long term that would seem to be true. However, with the recent alterations to the restrictions on the use of Saver tickets from key stations on the ECML route many passengers who previously travelled to London using Saver tickets are now having to pay considerably more for their tickets. Unless they are able to travel much later in the day they now have to purchase Standard Open tickets. Examples of standard open return fares between Newcastle, York, Leeds, Doncaster and London are, £166.00, £130.00, £128.00 and £107.00 respectively.

  Prior to privatisation of the railways British Rail used to restrict the use of Saver tickets for journeys to or via London, but the restriction was always based on a London arrival time. When the franchises were first awarded, for the purpose of fare regulation, OPRAF defined the Saver as a ticket that had to be available for all journeys commencing after 10:30.

  The Committee urged OPRAF to think again but unfortunately to no avail. Apart from discriminating against those who have longer journeys to make (in that they either have to pay disproportionately more than those people who live further south or accept a much later arrival time in London) it has also provided an opportunity for TOCs to enormously increase the cost of many passengers' journeys. Particularly so since restrictions can now be applied on any route, not just on routes to London.

  There is little doubt that if challenged GNER would point out that it has introduced a "Business Value" ticket that is valid for use on most of the trains on which Savers used to be valid. Furthermore, it only costs £1 or £2 more than the Saver. However, the Business Value fare is not regulated and the concern is that at the next fare "revision" the increase in the cost of Business Value tickets will exceed the amount which would be indicated by the "RPI-1%" formula.

  The franchise replacement programme would seem to provide an ideal opportunity to redress the balance of fares regulation; the present system does not seem to protect the passenger very well.


  Completion of the Leeds 1st scheme should result in benefits for passengers throughout the whole of the North East and some of those benefits are already beginning to be felt. Reduced journey times, improved punctuality and greater reliability plus the removal of capacity constraints in the immediate area are the main benefits but beyond the Leeds scheme there does not seem to be much by way of any further firmly committed funds for investment.

  With respect to TransPennine services the SRA's Strategic Plan identifies new rolling stock and depot facilities together with more frequent services and "the addition of new destinations to the TransPennine network" as being key issues. However, whoever gets the franchise is expected to spend the first two to three years improving "performance reliability and customer satisfaction". It is difficult to see how that can be done without significantly increasing the capacity in terms of both the number of vehicles per train and the service frequency. The chronic overcrowding on the core route at peak times is due to the present inability to do either.

  The Strategic Plan also offers little hope of any improvement for users of other services in the region, speaking as it does of "spin off" improvements from the East Coast Main line upgrade (which itself currently appears to be on hold waiting decisions on the future of Railtrack and the East Coast franchise).

  During the course of the next eight years passengers will hopefully benefit from the introduction of eighteen new vehicles and platform extensions on the Leeds—Doncaster line. There will also be an improved passenger information system on the Newcastle—Carlisle line (RPP funded) and 462 additional cycle parking spaces spread across 21 stations.

  Within five years the aim is to extend the present Newcastle—Hartlepool service to Middlesbrough (thus increasing the service frequency between Newcastle and Middlesbrough to 30 minute interval). Hexham is to gain a new platform to allow terminating trains to stand clear of the through Newcastle—Carlisle lines and by 2006 the goods line at Pontefract Monkhill is to be upgraded to passenger standard to increase "operational flexibility" though there is still no firm plans to introduce any regular passenger services on the line.

  It would, of course, be unreasonable to try to suggest that rail services in the North East have not benefited from any improvement during the last 10 years. Many stations have benefited from much needed improvement but much of what has been achieved has been no more that redressing years of neglect. What is now proposed in the Strategic Plan, if achieved, will be "extra" and is therefore very welcome. The RPC is concerned that it is far too little and much too late. In the North East, particularly in the metropolitan areas, rail has been a success story in recent years. Nevertheless, the strong feeling is that passenger numbers continue to grow not because of any advantages of rail but because of the disadvantages of the road alternative.

  It is essential that sufficient investment is made to achieve the necessary improvement in the quality, accessibility and affordability of the region's rail services but the concern is that present proposals will not see that achieved.


  The following is an extract from Steer Davies Gleave draft report on "The Case for Rail" April 2002.

  "The importance of rail to the urban city-break market is perhaps best illustrated by considering York where over a fifth of all visitors arrive by train—but as they represent most of the high spending visitors they contribute significantly more than one-fifth of the value of this expenditure into the local economy.

  York—Railways and Tourism

York is a major rail hub with all services using the East Coast Main Line, Trans-Pennine and the Scarborough branch line stopping at the City. It is one of the top ten town or city visitor destinations in the UK and 840,000 (21%) of all visitors in 2000 arrived by train. However, rail passengers make a contribution to York's tourism economy that is greater than the simple 21% ratio suggests. An "above average" proportion of the most valuable target groups arrive by train:

    —  33% of overseas visitors (37% of American visitors, 33% of European visitors);

    —  29% of those staying overnight;

    —  24% of those in the AB social groups (but also 26% of DE as well);

    —  32% of first time visitor and 16-24 year olds.

  Given the average spend per visit of an overseas visitor to Yorkshire is £282 (£259 million over 0.198 million trips), overseas tourists arriving in York by train are contributing approximately £78 million to the local economy in 2000-01)"

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