Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Local Government Association (PRF 24)

PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING

  1.  The LGA believes that the manner in which the franchising process is managed will have an important bearing on the extent to which the rail industry can grow and serve existing and potential customers and build relationships with key partners. Core elements appear to be:

    —  how operators can be encouraged to innovate and improve services in both the short and longer terms;

    —  how the interests of users can best be protected, both journey opportunities and affordable fares;

    —  how relationships with local and regional transport aspirations can best be facilitated, including links into Local Transport Plans;

    —  the relationship between geographical overlapping franchises with different franchise terms, and with rail freight operators, and associated allocation of potentially constrained track capacity;

    —  the potential implications of domestic and EU competition legislation for the SRA's scope for flexibility in franchising;

    —  how a more flexible franchising process will help the SRA develop its overall longer term strategy and vision.

  2.  Some of the earlier franchises did not contain particularly innovative minimum PSR service levels and authorities and users groups locally will have been waiting for the current renewal exercise, in the light of the subsequent more positive attitude nationally to expansion and improvement of rail services set out in the Ten Year Plan, and the publication of statutory five year Local Transport Plans and Regional Transport Strategies, for an opportunity for substantive innovations and improvements to be negotiated in to the replacement franchises. It remains to be seen whether two year extensions of existing franchises, in the instances where this is the SRA's chosen short term option, will foster the level of innovation required to meet the Government's passenger targets or will in fact perpetuate existing relatively inadequate service levels. Both Railtrack and the SRA have published lists of relatively minor infrastructure improvements which would facilitate significant improvements in line capacity and thereby allow franchise commitments to be increased. It is important that opportunities to design some of these improvements into new franchises are not delayed unnecessarily and that any two year extensions give an opportunity for decisions on many of these minor improvements to be taken quickly and acted upon. Similarly, rolling-stock improvements need to be moved forward progressively, such as making more trains bicycle accessible, building upon the Anglia Railways precedent.

  3.  Given the probable shortfall in the public spending element of the Ten Year Plan of resources which can be allocated to franchise support it is important that decisions on franchise periods and the level of service to be supported through the periods are not influenced unduly by short term external financial pressures placed on the SRA, or if they are, that this is made explicit. It is important that the Authority's Ten Year Plan targets are interpreted across the network and not just concentrated on a few relatively high profile and "noisy" franchises.

  4.  Potentially a flexible approach to the length of franchise terms should allow a more rational consideration of the competitive pressures on limited line capacity, if it brings terms together. This is an issue which has been a cause of concern in the past to authorities which sponsor local passenger services which compete for space with the longer distance franchises. Rail freight operators too can lose out in the slot bidding process.

  5.  The Association has received comments from a number of shire authorities in support of the principle that the renewal process should give an opportunity for many of the services currently supported by local authorities to be integrated fully into franchise agreements as SRA supported services. Passenger Transport Executives will be making their own comments on the relationship between themselves and the SRA with respect to supported services in metropolitan areas.

September 2001


 
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