Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Third Report


VIRGIN CROSS COUNTRY SERVICES

54. In addition to its service between Wales and London, Virgin Trains also operate a cross country service between Wales and England. In November 2002 Virgin introduced a new timetable for services between South Wales and Birmingham, the North East of England and Scotland.[86] That service was contracted to Virgin under the Public Service Requirement. Mr Green from Virgin Trains explained that it had wanted to provide a two hourly service from South Wales, through Birmingham to Scotland, but that it had soon became clear that the railway was too crowded, and resulting in an unreliable service.[87]

55. The service was withdrawn by the SRA in January 2003. Defending its decision, the SRA argued that the service was introduced "against the background of a very congested railway network".[88] Mr Bowker argued that it was clear to the SRA, Virgin and to Network Rail that when the service was introduced, that it caused the railway network to suffer paralysis at certain times of the day.[89]

56. The SRA are under a statutory obligation to consult with the relevant statutory bodies on changes to the Public Service Requirement. We asked Mr Bowker about that consultation. He began by explaining that the timing of any decision on the future of the service needed to be made quickly in order to meet the deadline of mid-January 2003 for the May 2003 timetable:

    "We had two months at most, which included the whole of the Christmas and New Year holiday period, to do all the necessary analysis, recast the timetable, make sure that it worked and then advise Network Rail of any changes they needed to make for the May 2003 timetable. There was not time to undertake a wide consultation exercise, so we did not do it. The decision that we had to take was, was it better to consult on something which would have got us into a huge great debate and run the risk of not being able to do anything until September or was it better to give passengers a better service in May. We took the decision to give them a better service in May".[90]

57. However, the SRA did not consult the Rail Passengers Committee for Wales on this issue, despite the SRA's undertaking to consult the RPC on "all substantive material changes to Public Service Requirements as a matter of course".[91] The RPC while noting the SRA's desire to make decisions quickly, described recent consultation on this and other major issues as "poor or negligible".[92]

58. Under the Transport Act 2000 the Strategic Rail Authority is also obliged to consult the National Assembly for Wales on changes to rail services in Wales. Mr Bowker asserted that the National Assembly had been given advance notice. However, this consultation took the form of a late-night conversation with the First Minister, the night before the decision was taken by the SRA.[93] When questioned, Mr Bowker stated that he was "content that what we did in respect of the service changes was properly done, was within the powers that we have and it was the right thing to do for passengers".[94]

59. While the changes to Virgin Cross country service may well have been necessary to provide a reliable cross country service, the manner in which decisions were made fell well short of what is required. Presenting the First Minister with what was effectively a fait accompli the night before changes to the service were made does not constitute consultation. We conclude that the Strategic Rail Authority failed in its statutory duty towards the National Assembly for Wales and did not honour its own undertaking to consult the Rail Passengers Committee. We recommend that the Strategic Rail Authority review its procedures to ensure that such events do not happen in the future.


86   Q25. Back

87   Q172 Back

88   Q25 Back

89   Q25 Back

90   Q27 Back

91   Q31-33 Back

92   Ev91 Back

93   Q37-40 Back

94   Q40 Back


 
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