Performance against the rail
53. The original Spending Review 2002 PSA for
rail was dropped when the Spending Review 2004 target was set.
As we have noted previously, this was regrettable given the need
to encourage modal shift away from the car in order to address
pollution and congestion problems. Rail use continued to grow
in 2006-07, though not on the scale that would be necessary to
achieve the 2002 Spending Review target. Further growth is likely
to be problematic, as capacity constraints are asserting themselves
on ever widening sections of the network, especially at peak times.
The recent announcements of Crossrail and improvements to Thameslink,
together with the plans to introduce longer trains, give us hope
that there will be improvements in this area, at least in the
London area. We acknowledge that the 2007 White Paper on rail
set out to address the capacity problems on the railways for the
next thirty years, and our views on the Government's approach
will be published as a separate report.
54. The Spending Review 2004 target had two elements:
to improve punctuality and reliability of rail services to 85%
by 2006, and to ensure that additional improvements were made
by 2008. The first element of this target, measured by the 'Public
Performance Measure' (PPM), was met on time. The second element
was only fixed precisely in the 2007 Autumn Performance Report:
to increase the Public Performance Measure (PPM) further, to at
least 89.4 per cent by March 2008.
This element has been assessed as being 'on plan' in 2007. There
are limitations to this measure, as it considers trains to be
on time provided that they arrive within 5 minutes of schedule
- with the margin rising to 10 minutes for long-distance rail
services. Even with the extra margin, the long-distance sector
is still not meeting the 85% target. Long-distance trains achieved
a PPM of 84.9% by August 2007.
This is anything but impressive.
55. The failure to achieve the target for
punctuality and reliability on the railways suggests either that
the Department is not sufficiently pro-active in driving up standards
among train operating companies and other partners, or that it
does not have the means to compel operators to get this sorted
out. Whichever is the real problem, the Government needs to act
promptly and decisively to ensure that passengers get the level
of reliability and punctuality they deserve.
56. There is as yet no decision about the place
of high-speed rail in forward planning. We were reassured by the
Minister that it has not been ruled out, but the capacity problem
on the West Coast Main Line is already grave. We were therefore
concerned that the Department has no time-frame for a decision
on a high speed link, at least as far as Birmingham, the stretch
of the line with the most pressing problems. The Department
should clarify the time-frame in which it will make a decision
over the high-speed rail link to Birmingham. We understand the
logic of the Eddington report which suggests that now is not the
right time to make this decision, but given the long lead time
for any major engineering works, we believe the Government needs
to commit to making a decision by 2010 at the latest.