Memorandum by Transport 2000 (RI 14)
Transport 2000 welcomes the Committee's inquiry
and the opportunity to submit evidence. Transport 2000 works for
sustainable transport policies with less car and lorry traffic
and greater use of walking, cycling and public transport. The
organisation brings together a wide range of environmental and
voluntary groups, trade unions and transport operators and also
has contributions from local authorities and Passenger Transport
Authorities. It has recently restarted the network "PLATFORM
for Better Rail Services", which brings together local rail
user groups and national voluntary organisations. PLATFORM aims
to inform and where appropriate co-ordinate work on issues affecting
rail users. Transport 2000 works closely with the Rail Passengers
Council and Committees and has recently, with the RPC, carried
out research for the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority on ways to
promote integrated transport and door-to-door travel as part of
the rail refranchising process.
Transport 2000 has supported the establishment
of the Strategic Rail Authority. We argued at the time of rail
privatisation that there was a need for such a strategic body
to co-ordinate and set a framework for the fragmented rail industry
and to develop the railways as part of an integrated transport
policy. We have also supported the changes to the Regulator's
role and powers now embodied in the Transport Bill.
Most of our evidence will address the third
part of the Committee's brief, on the SRA's role. First however,
we would like to make some comments on Railtrack. Transport 2000
and those it works with have been concerned that in the past the
company has not carried out properly its role as steward of the
national rail network. There has been an apparent reluctance to
spend on even basic maintenance or to invest in new or upgraded
infrastructure. Railtrack's investment programme and criteria
have been unclear. Changes in format and content of successive
Network Management Statements have not helped in showing past,
planned and possible investment. This has given rise to concern
that Railtrack has been more interested in short term shareholder
value than in long term enhancement of that value through capital
investment. However, some of this was due to the structure of
privatisation, with no lead body for investment projects with
multiple users, and to the track access charges regime which did
not reward Railtrack for increasing capacity or for improvements
that led to passenger and freight growth. We believe that the
creation of the SRA and the other changes in the Transport Bill
will change this. Railtrack also now seems to be improving its
project management and its renewals programme has increased, and
it seems more generally to be taking a longer-term view.
Our comments on the SRA fall into two parts:
comments on its strategic role in developing the rail network,
and comments on the refranchising process and its effect on passengers.
As we noted earlier, we see the need for the
SRA to produce a strategy to develop the railway, and to act as
the lead body for key developments where multiple users are involved.
So far, the Authority in shadow form has launched the refranchising
of rail services and has consulted on a strategy, due to be published
in the autumn after the Government's ten-year plan for transport.
This approach has its advantages: it means that
ideas and private investment can be sought from operators for
developing the network, and that the strategy can then be underpinned
by this private investment and by the commitments to public funding
expected in the ten-year plan. Already many innovative ideas have
surfaced in the franchising process, including new facilities
at stations, new bus links and new or reopened lines such as the
high speed line proposed as part of Virgin's bid for the East
We are concerned however that this sequence
may mean that big strategic decisions that must be taken by the
Authority will be ducked or pre-empted. Examples of the strategic
issues that need to be resolved include:
Local versus long distance passenger travel:
this issue has already arisen in the West Coast Main Line modernisation
project, where there has been concern from local authorities and
operators of local passenger services that their growth ambitions
for local services will be squeezed off by the growth of inter-city
trains. Similarly, in South London, there have been long term
ambitions from local authorities and user groups for a high frequency
"South London Metro" service to give the area the sort
of rail service that the Underground gives to North London. These
ambitions could be thwarted if the South Central franchise gives
priority to longer distance commuter services. In some areas,
the Authority is addressing these issues: a study, promoted by
the sSRA in association with Centro and Railtrack, has examined
West Midlands rail capacity.
However, this issue raises broader public interest
issues. Government planning policies, broadly endorsed by all
parties, is to promote development on brownfield rather than greenfield
sites and to have land use planning that reduces the need to travel.
Long distance rail commuting fits this, and general sustainable
development criteria, less well than local high frequency urban
Passenger versus freight: the issue of freight
capacity is also acute, and will be raised by others. In some
areas the use of diversionary routes can help this problem (this
is a feature of the East Coast Modernisation Project). In some
cases, however, passenger growth ambitions will conflict with
freight, and the SRA will ultimately have to take a view on the
use of scarce capacity. The type of funding for railfreight also
raises strategic issues. Freight operators and users have argued
for funding to raise railfreight capacity and productivity, through
higher gauge and heavier and longer trains, which current grants,
which generally support particular flows, will not generally support.
Relationship between the SRA and other plans:
as a result of the Transport White Paper, every transport authority
is producing Local Transport Plans, and Regional Transport Strategies
are also being produced for the English regions. Many of those
so far produced include plans or ambitions for rail or light rail
developments, but the plans have not yet been finalised. The Government
is also undertaking programmes of "multi-modal studies"
and "roads based studies" looking at the range of options
for solving congestion, safety or other traffic problems on the
trunk road network. These studies already include a number of
We are concerned that, although the sSRA is
undertaking excellent external liaison work with councils, Regional
Development Agencies etc, these various plans and strategies will
not be fully integrated into the sSRA's strategic thinking, and
that options they generate will not be part of the rail refranchising
We have already found this to be an issue in
the work we have done to stop the sale of land still owned by
British Rail which may have a future transport use. Some sites
with an obvious relevance to local transport plans or to multi-modal
studies have been included on lists of sites to be sold. While
we take comfort from Ministerial assurances that sites with a
potential future transport use will not be sold, the absence of
a strategic framework means that it is difficult to judge if sites
may in fact have a future transport use.
Links between the SRA and local development
plans are also important. Real integration between transport and
land use planning requires that large new housing or commercial
developments near railway lines should, where possible, be planned
with new stations or feeder bus services. The SRA's strategy needs
to take account of planned new developments so that the railway
can respond to changing travel patterns.
Electrification: The issue of future traction
for the railway also needs to be dealt with strategically. The
issues have changed since the quality of diesel trains has improved
and is now closer to electric trains, but electric trains still
seem to be perceived as superior to diesel in passengers' eyes.
We would expect decisions of 20-year franchises to be informed
by a view of the pros and cons of different forms of motive power.
Priorities: The SRA's strategy is also needed
to allow the Authority to take a view and give a lead on the sequencing
and priority for different infrastructure projects. There are
over 200 separate rail infrastructure projects proposed in London
by different operators and interests, and Railtrack is in no position
to prioritise these. Only the SRA can do this.
All the issues raised above affect, and are
affected by, the refranchising process. Decisions about which
trains should get priority on different sections of track, and
when it is justified to increase capacity, raise strategic and
public interest issues which, we believe, it is the SRA's role
to address and resolve. Without clear criteria on these issues,
clearly linked to objectives and outputs from other transport
and land use planning processes, we are concerned that the rail
refranchising process will not be properly integrated with other
planning processes or meet public policy objectives, especially
at a regional and local level. Opportunities to use railways to
reduce dependence on car and lorry traffic will therefore be lost.
We would therefore like the Committee to recommend:
the SRA should draw up and produce
a strategic plan for the railways, covering the issues outlined,
as soon as possible, and that this should inform, and be informed
by relevant transport and land use planning processes;
this strategy should include clear
criteria for setting priorities for investment and for allocating
track capacity between different types of train services;
the SRA should in particular investigate
the links between rail services and land use planning;
there should be an urgent study of
the case for future electrification, which should report in time
to inform the process of letting relevant franchises;
The Transport Bill should be amended
to require the SRA to take account of Local Transport Plans in
its strategy and policy-making, and also in letting franchises.
Clearly one of the main interests of the Committee
and the wider public is the impact of the SRA and of refranchising
on the quality of rail services. Here we have a number of concerns.
Criteria the sSRA is using to decide on the
replacement of franchises: Throughout the privatisation era Transport
2000 has consistently argued that if a high quality railway is
the goal, high standards need to be demanded through the mechanism
of the franchise contracts. We fear that if high standards are
not set in franchise contracts then the network will continue
to be a patchwork of good and bad, with different operators adopting
different standards and practices for key aspects of service.
Not only will this mean varying quality of service, it will also
militate against rail becoming a seamless, easy to use alternative
to the car. The weaknesses of the existing franchise contracts
is a key factor in so much of the disappointment in the quality
of rail services that passengers have expressed since privatisation.
We are also concerned that some key decisions
on many of the key elements of the franchise contracts have already
been taken without adequate option generation, discussion or consultation.
Consultation: On 25 May the sSRA issued the
second version of an "outline guide" to franchise replacement
(which replaced the first version issued on 27 January) which
sets out the sSRA's intentions on many of key issues, including
fares, capacity, protection for services, passengers charter and
performance. At no stage has there been any detailed and specific
consultation on these issues (ie a consultation process which
gave a context, a provisional view, a range of options, and which
set out a clear timetable for consultation and decision making).
Indeed the 27 January "outline guide" did not invite
any response or indicate that an updated version would be issued.
By contrast, the Office of the Rail Regulator, and increasingly
the Rail Passengers' Council, operate a clear and transparent
consultation procedure before taking critical decisions.
Given the fundamental importance of issues like
rail fares regulationnot just for the future of the railways
but also for the Government's wider transport and social inclusion
policiesTransport 2000 believes a more transparent consultation
process is necessary, so a proper debate (which encompasses key
bodies like this Committee) can be held.
Passenger Service Requirements: We would be
very disappointed if the existing PSRs were to be taken forward
into new contracts. The PSRs are set at a lower level than the
existing timetable and thus allow for considerable reductions
in services. We acknowledge the sSRA's intention to commit franchisees
to operate a similar mileage to that which they inherit, however,
this would create two tiers of protection for services. A more
reassuring option would be to extend the more comprehensive PSR
protection to those services.
We have long argued that the PSRs have not been
justified by any thorough assessment or application of criteria.
When first drawn up the PSRs took the last BR timetable and crudely
reduced the number of services. We would hope that the sSRA would
take a strategic overview of the potential of PSRs to build up
an interlocking network of different tiers of services (InterCity,
regional express, and local) where good connections and regular
"clockface" frequencies are the norm.
In busy urban areas we should be aiming for
"turn up and go" frequencies where passengers no longer
have to use a timetable. At the other end of the spectrum, we
believe that an hourly frequency can now be justified on all but
a few rural routes. Given that many routes (particularly secondary
rural services) were reduced to a "skeleton" level prior
to franchising, this has left a significant number of routes with
very low frequencies, which are unattractive to passengers. Given
the high standing costs of maintaining these lines, poorly patronised
services require high subsidies. We believe that franchise replacement
gives an opportunity to look afresh at these routes. Specifying
a more frequent service which attracts significant usage is surely
a better use of taxpayers money than subsidising a grudging, minimal
service which attracts few users.
PSRs for routes on Sundays and in the off-peak
are often set at a very low level, indeed on a significant number
of routes there is no requirement for any Sunday service, particularly
in the Winter. Social change means that consumers expect services
to be available when they need them, rather than when it is convenient
for companies to provide them. A fresh look at PSRs might include
upgrading the Sunday PSR to match the Saturday PSR. This would
bring Britain into line with many other European networks where
there is a common service pattern throughout the week. Similarly,
many of our vibrant cities are now experiencing a third peak,
as people return home in the late evening. Yet too often train
frequencies and capacity are dramatically reduced in the evenings,
with last trains leaving far too early.
Finally, the first round of PSRs was very weak
on connections. This is a problem area at present, because the
"delay attribution" system gives operators an incentive
to put the timekeeping of their own services above the need to
hold sensible connections (for example branch line trains being
held a minute or two to make a connection with a mainline train).
We would have expected that sorting out connections would be an
important priority for the SRA if the stated aim of an integrated
network is to be achieved.
Fares: We see this as a big strategic issue.
The "replacement guide" envisages retaining the existing
regulatory regime and will seek to encourage local and regional
multi-modal ticketing schemes. However we believe there is a case
for a more fundamental review and overhaul of national fares.
Before addressing the problems that need to be tackled, it is
worth emphasising the positive developments on fares that have
occurred over recent years:
discount advanced purchase tickets
now means that passengers who can book ahead can take advantage
of some extremely competitive fares;
some companies have introduced some
innovative and valuable new fares, such as discount fares for
groups of four, which makes rail travel an option for those who
would otherwise use a car;
the principle of holding down key
fares has now been firmly established.
However, there are real problems too. Standard
rail fares in Britain are among the most expensive in the world.
"Journey chains", involving a string of trips, are prohibitively
expensive because of the high cost of single fares. Return walk-up
travel is also becoming more expensive as the cost of tickets
like the SuperSaver escalates and more restrictions are placed
on their use. Affordable, walk-up rail travel is key to making
rail a viable alternative to the car. Rail needs to become easier
to use, not more difficult and complicated, and one-way tickets
need to be more affordable.
Although some of the new tickets introduced
by operators offer real value for passengers, the cumulative effect
of so many new tickets is to create confusion and uncertainty.
When there are 36 standard tickets between Gatwick Airport and
London, we believe that the pendulum has swung too far towards
ticket proliferation at the expense of the clarity and integrity
of rail travel as a whole. Recent moves by train operators to
simplify tickets into six "families" are welcome but
do not go far enough.
We would hope that the sSRA would use franchise
replacement as an opportunity for a fresh look at fares. Overall
we would like to see a more affordable and straightforward fares
structure. This could include:
Standardising the range of, and restrictions
on, advance purchase tickets;
Better protection for walk-up return
A national public transport smartcard;
A network of regional multi-modal
travelcards serving both leisure and journey-to-work markets;
Moves to make walk-up return tickets
A national railcard/loyalty card;
National rates/standards for through
bus ticketing (take-up of through rail/bus ticketing has been
disappointing so far because of lack of public understanding and
We noted above Transport 2000's recent work
for the sSRA. We were pleased to be commissioned to do this work,
which took the form of a series of internal seminars and brainstorms
on integrated transport in which we involved a diverse range of
outside experts and representatives of interest groups. The sSRA's
desire to ensure improvements in the whole journey experience
from door-to-door and to reduce the perceived barriers to switching
from car to public transport is very welcome and is reflected
in the appendix to the "outline guide".
However, there is a danger that the "soft"
measures are seen as a desirable add-on, rather than a fundamental
requirement. The sSRA currently has a unique opportunity to introduce
some new network-wide benefits, which might begin to make more
of an impact on the national consciousness than a divided (by
company and area) railway has hitherto been able to achieve.
Netherlands Railway's "Destination Customer"
project shows what could be achieved. The Netherlands Railways
has been set the target of increasing rail traffic by 50 per cent
by 2010. However, it has decided that improving the door-to-door
journey is easier than reducing station-to-station journey times.
The focus now is on reducing total journey times, reducing uncertainty
and increasing comfort. To do this they plan:
to revitalise their existing train/taxi
scheme (which for a £2 add on fare gives a taxi trip to the
boundary of the towns served by 160 major stations);
to spend £150 million on improving
cycle parking; and
to ensure that all stations guarantee
a level of facilities depending on whether they are large, medium
or small. So at the 46 largest stations there will be customer
service teams, a car-free station forecourt, an easy walk to the
city centre with clear signage, convenient cycle routes to and
from the city centre, a staffed bicycle shed always open, left
luggage and good connections with other public transport systems.
Because of the relatively low cost of these
improvements the Dutch rail authorities expect them to rapidly
pay for themselves through the extra custom generated.
It is the network-wide consistency which has
already made schemes like the train/taxi a success (it accounts
for 1.5 to 2 per cent of all rail traffic). In Britain integrated
transport initiatives often lack such consistency, simplicity
and stability. A good example of this is the many integrated bus/rail
links now being operated, mostly under the banner "Journey
Solutions". We welcome these links, but they are at present
generally local initiatives with only limited national co-ordination.
Although a number are successful, many are under-performing and
are uneconomic. There is too much variation in quality, fares
and performance leading to a lack of public awareness and confidence.
To realise the potential of this growing but vulnerable network
of bus/rail links, we need the sSRA to insist on some national
regulation, with minimum standards, simplification and promotion.
Quality facilities: At present it is unclear
whether the sSRA will set and enforce conditions guaranteeing
passengers a safe and high quality environment for passengers
or whether it will continue with the OPRAF policy of specifying
bare minimum requirements and trusting to the commercial zeal
of operators to achieve the rest. Transport 2000 is of the view
that if the whole industry is to consistently deliver a safe and
high quality railway then this needs to be written into the contracts.
The SQUIRE (Service Quality Incentive Regime)
is a good illustration of the advantages of this approach. SQUIRE
operates in PTE areas and covers quality standards both on trains
and stations. Cleanliness, lighting, toilets, on-train announcements,
seating and ticket offices are all monitored by PTE staff, against
a benchmark by which penalties are imposed or incentive payments
made. Although SQUIRE is not perfect, it is far superior to the
protection for these key passenger priorities that exist outside
PTE areas. In these areas the requirements for stations are very
basic and not subject to a performance regime.
A recent survey by the Rail Passenger Committee
(formerly Rail Users Consultative Committee) for Eastern England
("Driving up Station Standards", February 2000) found
that even the minimal franchise requirements that cover station
and train facilities in this non-PTE region are frequently unmet.
28 per cent of all stations did not
have a shelter on all platforms (the contract requires "weather
proof, adequate waiting accommodation");
10 per cent of stations did not display
the double arrow rail symbol at the station entrance (a contractual
only 54 per cent of stations had
a core information poster which gave the telephone number of a
local taxi firm (a contractual requirement);
only 40 per cent of stations gave
the telephone number and opening hours of the operator's disabled
persons helpline (not a contractual requirement but part of the
Regulator's code of practice on Disabled Persons Protection Policies
which each TOC must have).
With franchise contracts defining the railway
for as long as 20 years we contend that the sSRA should be adopting
a reformed version of SQUIRE and applying it network-wide.
Otherwise the danger is that much of the network
will still fail to reliably provide the most basic of facilities.
The Select Committee has already recognised
the value of SQUIRE. In its third report (1997-98) on "The
Proposed Strategic Rail Authority and Railway Regulation"
it found that (paragraph 139): "We were impressed by the
Service Quality Incentive Regimes operated by Passenger Transport
Executives and recommend similar schemes to be developed for other
franchises where operators have monopoly powers; London commuter
lines would be prime candidates for benefiting from such regimes."
The relative success of the PTEs' SQUIRE approach
compared with the relative failure of OPRAF's "light touch"
regulatory approach shows the scope for greater "contractualisation"
of sSRA's objectives for the railway.
Franchise replacement is a major opportunity
for a step change in service quality and for establishing a new
era of growth for Britain's railways. However, for the potential
of franchise replacement to be realised it is crucial that the
basis of that replacementthe terms of the contractsare
ambitious, sound and represent the aspirations of rail users.
We would like the Committee to recommend that:
the refranchising process should
be used to increase service levels and to improve connections;
the Authority should conduct a fundamental
review of fares policies and should use the refranchising process
to simplify fares structure, protect walk-on discount fares and
reduce one-way fares and to develop new national fares offers;
measures to promote integrated transport
should be seen as an integral part of new franchises. These include
measures to improve personal security, access to stations, step-free
access to trains and stations and passenger information;
new franchises should include stronger
contractual requirements for service quality standards;
new franchises should include infrastructure
and rolling stock to cope with future capacity and growth and
the Authority should set clear criteria
for awarding franchises and that these should be subject of open