Memorandum by the Rail Passengers Committee
for North Eastern England (REN 43)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
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||73%
|Information on service/fares||54%
|Getting a seat||54%
|Information at time of travel||53%
|Frequency of trains||46%
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:
|Food on trains||31%
|Parking in general||29%
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
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
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%"
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
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 LeedsDoncaster line. There
will also be an improved passenger information system on the NewcastleCarlisle
line (RPP funded) and 462 additional cycle parking spaces spread
across 21 stations.
Within five years the aim is to extend the present NewcastleHartlepool
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 NewcastleCarlisle 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 trainbut 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
YorkRailways 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)"