Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from First Great Western

Executive Summary

The present Greater Western franchise expires in April 2013. At the time it was let (2006) there were no plans for a significant level of enhancement to rail infrastructure, other than Crossrail, for the next decade.

Over the last four years this has changed dramatically with a number of announcements for a significant programme of investment: This includes:

The electrification of the mainline from London to Cardiff Expansion of capacity and capability at Reading Station.

Doubling of a section of the North Cotswold line.

Doubling the line between Swindon and Kemble on the South Cotswold line.

The introduction of brand new InterCity Express Programme trains.

A new European Rail Traffic Management signalling system.

Network Rail has also sought to localise accountability and authority through devolution; creating a separate route for Wales.

The Great Western Rail Utilisation Strategy predicted growth in passenger journeys between 2008 and 2019 to be at least 32%. This has proved to be an underestimate. In some areas growth in demand at peak time is already at 41%.

First Great Western (FGW) has invested in services to deal with this extra demand, and now operates 145 vehicles on a franchise commitment of 100. This includes extra vehicles for regional services secured through the Department for Transport (DfT), High Level Output Specification (HLOS). This has been used to strengthen services from South Wales to Bristol, Taunton and the South Coast.

The DfT will be publishing HLOS objectives for 2014–2019 in July 2012. Further opportunities for improvements in capacity, reduced journey times and reliability could be possible through:

Extensions in electrification.

Cascades of rolling stock.

Line speed improvements on the Gloucester—Severn Tunnel Junction route.

Direct rail access to Heathrow from the West.

1. Introduction

1.1 FirstGroup is a UK based international transport group with bus and rail operations spanning the UK and North America.

1.2 In the UK we are the largest rail operator. We operate the First Great Western, First ScotRail, First Capital Connect and the First TransPennine Express franchises and, one of the UK’s open access train companies, First Hull Trains. We carry more than 250 million passengers every year.

2. First Great WesternBackground

2.1 The Greater Western Franchise operates mainline services from South Wales, the West of England, Hereford and the Cotswolds to London, commuter services in the Thames Valley and North Downs areas, regional services from the South Coast to South Wales and local services across the west of England. This last category includes cross border services.

2.2 FGW operates mainline services from South Wales to London Paddington. On weekdays FGW provides hourly services from Swansea and half-hourly services from Cardiff to London. Hourly services between Swansea and London are provided on weekends. We also operate an hourly service between Cardiff and Portsmouth Harbour and the hourly Cardiff to Taunton service.

2.3 The present Greater Western Franchise will expire in April 2013. At the time the franchise was let in 2006 the assumption for both rail industry and government was that there would not be a significant level of enhancement to the rail infrastructure over the coming decade, other than a provision relating to the Crossrail scheme in the London area, which at that time was not funded.

3. Current Investment in Rail Services Serving Wales

3.1 Over the last four years a number of announcements have been made regarding a significant programme of investment into the infrastructure across the Great Western franchise area. This includes

the electrification of the mainline from London to Cardiff via Bristol Parkway and to Bristol Temple Meads via Chippenham and Bath;

confirmation of Crossrail to Maidenhead

expansion of capacity and capability through Reading Station redevelopment;

redoubling of a significant section of the North Cotswold line;

reinstatement of double line between Swindon and Kemble on the South Cotswold route;

the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) as a replacement for part of the High Speed Train (HST) fleet; and

the new European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) signalling system.

3.2 A number of these infrastructure schemes were either proposed as part of the regulatory settlement on funding of Network Rail for the period between April 2009 and March 2014 (Control Period 4 or CP4), or have been the subject of separate subsequent Government announcement. One such scheme is the re-doubling of the single-line between Swindon and Kemble on the South Cotswolds route, which is not only a key route in its own right, but provides the main diversionary route for services between London and South Wales when the Severn Tunnel is closed for routine maintenance work or otherwise.

3.3 Most of these investment interventions are reflected in the Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS), which was published in February 2010, following consultation to which FGW fully contributed. The RUS is intended to provide an industry guide for planning the development and enhancement of the rail network and train services in the light of forecast demand and likely market requirements.

A separate RUS for Wales was published in 2008 (although this covers elements of cross-border route in both North and South Wales; up to Gloucester and Pilning in the case of the Great Western Main Line).

3.4 The GW RUS considers services across the West of England but also focuses on key services that operate in Wales, namely the Cardiff—Portsmouth services and related South Wales to Bristol and London flows. The objective of planning under the RUS is to provide a 30 year forward view, although it is recognised that the detailed forecasts are valid for around 10 years, to 2019 or the end of CP5.

3.5 The GW RUS concluded that there will be growth in demand of at least 32% between 2008 and 2019, with some areas, seeing even higher levels than this. An example of this is 41% growth in demand forecast for peak services in Bristol. A RUS for London & the South East was published in 2011 acknowledged rapid increases in passenger volume on services on the Thames Valley commuter corridor placing additional demand on the rail network into Paddington.

3.6 FGW has worked closely with the Department for Transport during CP4 to provide additional rolling stock capacity into the franchise as part of the High Level Output Statement (HLOS) capacity metrics, which set industry overall output objectives for the current Control Period. The announcement of GW electrification and the IEP programme superceded the pre-existing working assumptions on how growth in passenger demand would be addressed on commuter services both to/from London and on the Cardiff—Bristol corridor. Ahead of any opportunities offered by electrification, the GW RUS assumed that under HLOS 12 additional diesel vehicles would be provided for strengthening services into Bristol (and so including services from and to South Wales).

3.7 FGW is committed to enhancing the capacity it provides over the routes which have shown the biggest increases in passenger demand. As a consequence we have enlarged our fleet size to the extent that FGW is now operating 145 diesel vehicles on services in the West compared to 100 vehicles originally specified in 2006. Trains lengthened under this initiative have included regional services from Cardiff to the South Coast and local services between Cardiff and Taunton.

4. Current and Future Planning Processes for Rail

4.1 The Department for Transport is expected to publish its HLOS objectives for England and Wales for CP5 (April 2014 to March 2019) by the end of July 2012, at the same time as the Statement of Funds Available is also made known. Following input from FGW and other train operators, Network Rail published in September 2011 the Initial Industry Plan which is intended to inform and guide the Department in the formulation of the HLOS metrics and specific CP5 outputs.

4.2 The Initial Industry Plan has identified a number of candidate schemes to increase capacity and capability during CP5 and to build upon those schemes announced and started in CP4. Key amongst these is a package of enhancements in the Greater Bristol area to increase capacity and capability. This will facilitate the development of a higher frequency service from Bristol to London, and faster services from South Wales to London following electrification, without generating constraints upon the development of the other local and regional services in the Bristol area which operate from and to Cardiff. Capacity increases by way of train lengthening for peak services will also be considered.

4.3 It is intended that an Industry Strategic Business Plan will be published at the end of 2012 following the assessment of the HLOS specification and the detailed assessment and confirmation of those specific outputs and outcomes that the DfT would wish to purchase for England and Wales. FGW will continue to participate fully in the development and finalisation of this plan.

4.4 Network Rail has also commenced discussion within the industry for the next stage of industry planning, which would seek to address those issues which need to be considered in the medium term and so inform decision making for CP6, commencing in 2019. This so called Long Term Planning Process would seek to provide a more rounded assessment of demand for rail services and possible outcomes to address market needs, taking into account the recent Rail Value for Money study led by Sir Roy McNulty.

4.5 Network Rail has also sought to localise authority and accountability through its Devolution, with Wales being created as the tenth route on the Network. FGW continues to work closely with both Western and Wales routes to consider opportunities for enhancements in the network through innovation in existing maintenance and renewal activity.

4.6 Finally, the Department has recently published a consultation paper on Rail Decentralisation with a view to seeking opinion on how decision making on the operation of passenger rail services in England can be devolved to a more local level. This paper considers five options for devolution but notes that not all passenger services lend themselves readily to more local control, and that diseconomies can be introduced with potentially conflicting objectives from geographically adjacent authorities, particularly with local services operated on a potentially marginal basis.

4.7 Unlike Scotland, where the boundary interfaces of the rail network are limited to one location each on two cross-border routes, and with similarly discrete passenger services, the interfaces on the rail network on the border between England and Wales are not as simple. This underpins the fact that the Department is not seeking decentralisation for cross border services in Wales beyond those already established.

5. Opportunities Arising from Planned Investment in Rail Services Serving Wales

5.1 There are numerous beneficial implications from the Great Western modernisation programme for the services that FGW currently operates. Electrification offers immediate environmental benefits in addition to improvements in reliability and performance, while the improved acceleration capability of electric rolling stock would assist with reductions in journey times. The combination of this scheme and the introduction of new high-speed trains through IEP offer opportunities for faster train services both within and between Wales and England. In its statement announcing the scheme, the Department for Transport stated that journey times to South Wales from London could be improved by as much as 19 minutes.

5.2 Following the completion of the Thameslink programme and the provision of a fleet of new trains for that route, it is expected that there will be a cascade of the electric trains, previously used on Thameslink, across the UK rail network. It is envisaged that this rolling stock may well be used on a number of services in the Thames Valley, enabling the cascade of diesel stock from that part of the FGW operation to Wales and the West. This stock is more reliable and has more capacity than that currently operated by FGW in these areas.

5.3 Since the announcement of the electrification programme for Great Western, the Government has reinforced its support for the modernisation of the rail system by further announcements for electrification, primarily in the North of England. It is likely that the current proposed programme of electrification schemes may be succeeded by additional projects, as the electrification of the rail network reaches a critical mass, making the business justification for additional electrification schemes easier to make.

5.4 A programme of further rail electrification for Wales might include the “Valley Lines” commuter network and the mainline west of Cardiff to Swansea.

Other routes that may come up for possible consideration for electrification include Bristol to Birmingham via Cheltenham (and Gloucester) as part of a wider initiative to electrify services between Bristol, Birmingham and the north.

5.5 If this was proposed, then there would be a case for considering electrification of the routes from Severn Tunnel Junction to Gloucester and the South Cotswold route from Swindon to Standish Junction (south of Gloucester). This would enhance connectivity between South Wales and the Midlands and also provide additional diversionary capability for London to South Wales services when the Severn Tunnel needs to be closed for maintenance equivalent to what is currently in place.

5.6 Network Rail is presently assessing whether the business case for linespeed improvements on the Gloucester to Severn Tunnel Junction route could attract funding from one of the sources presently available in CP4. Such enhancements would improve journey times for services to/from South Wales on this corridor.

5.7 FGW regularly discusses cross-border connectivity with stakeholders in South Wales, including MPs, Welsh Government, AMs, local authority groupings like SWWITCH and SEWTA and business organisations such as BayTrans and Cardiff and Co.

6. New Lines/HS2

6.1 Over the last 12 months plans for a high speed line from London to the north have been developed to the extent that the Government now intends to seek the necessary planning consents and authority to construct a line—“HS2”—from London to the North via the West Midlands, with the first stage as far as Birmingham and the West Coast Mainline opening in 2026. It is intended that there will be an interchange between HS2 and the GW Mainline (and Crossrail services to Heathrow) provided at Old Oak Common two miles outside Paddington.

6.2 The case for high speed rail is based on faster connectivity between London and the key centres of population centres, together with benefit of capacity released on the classic rail network for improved local or interurban services and freight. Creation of a brand new dedicated high speed passenger line is regarded as a more cost efficient solution in the long term than discrete interventions on existing routes.

6.3 Proponents of high speed rail in the UK have suggested that HS2 could be the genesis of a wider domestic high speed rail network. However, it is clear from the outline proposals first published by the last Government in 2009–10 and more recent announcement by the current administration that any opportunity for a new high-speed rail network extending along the Great Western corridor is decades away.

6.4 Given the potential for improvement in journey times offered by electrification on the Great Western route as soon as 2016, this should be the immediate focus of infrastructure improvement.

6.5 However, the potential for journey time savings between London and Birmingham (and beyond) on HS2 does underline the importance for the competitiveness of South Wales of introducing route electrification and other infrastructure improvements described above as quickly as possible.

6.6 The Government has recently asked the rail industry to consider the possibilities for construction of a connection from the GW Mainline to Heathrow Airport to provide direct rail access from the west. Network Rail is presently carrying out studies on this proposal, which are at an early stage.

7. Conclusion

7.1 FGW is the most significant operator of services on the mainline between South Wales and England, and we continue to seek to provide an excellent and improving train service ensuring that we put our customers first. We believe that the forthcoming investment in the Great Western rail network will provide significant benefits to the rail passenger and the taxpayer and an essential piece of economic infrastructure needed to promote growth in South Wales.

7.2 We will remain a committed partner of the Department for Transport, the Welsh Government and Network in developing, securing and delivering schemes that ultimately provide improvements to our rail services whilst representing value for money. As such, FirstGroup was pleased to pre-qualify for the new Greater Western franchise competition and looks forward to submitting its bid in due course.

April 2012

Prepared 5th March 2013