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


Memorandum by the South West Transport Network (PRF 26)

PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING

  1.  "Rapid" improvements in safety, punctuality and reliability should certainly be demanded, and expected, even for "back end" extensions of existing franchises. This will be an indication of good intent for what fresh arrangements will emerge for the future. In the South West improvements are beginning to happen (or promised), now that SRA have split Wales & West into Wales & Borders (a necessary move following establishment of the Welsh Assembly) and what they persist in calling "Wessex". That means there remains three main operators in the South West (along with penetrating services), Railtrack still owning the infrastructure. The operators are promoting advancements—albeit limited by short (two year) terms. We welcome action, especially plans by the present franchisee to prepare for duplication of the Salisbury-Exeter line, but are concerned at two major omissions from the shadow: development of "business units" for the Bristol travel-to-work area and for Plymouth-Cornwall. These are bound up with regional development—an important role for Regional Assemblies and Local Transport Plans. An embryo Bristol unit is urgently needed to do the sort of thing promoted by PTEs in other major conurbations (see also para 2 below).

  Significant advances in comfort and frequency require major investment, likely to be delayed awaiting new contracts. Eventually it would be good to see in the South West two "vertically integrated, joint venture railway companies": one based on the old L&SW lines from Waterloo (for which Wessex is not really an appropriate name), the other from Paddington on what was the GWR. That is the geographic, economic, operational and technical reality. There is much to be said for the "manifesto" suggested in the September 2001 Modern Railways (No. 636).

  2.  Investment in additional network capacity requires a long-term view, hence the urgency for strategy. Short-term action can prove abortive when not related to long-term goals. Examples of this at Parkway and Abbey Wood in the Bristol area are in South Gloucestershire—one part-financed by Royal Mail, the other by MoD, both lacking allowance for four-tracking needed to develop a Greater Bristol Metro to incorporate the much trumpeted LRT, on shared lines in the Karlsruhe method. In North Somerset—also part of the Bristol conurbation—the Portishead line is potentially part of the Metro system in what we have called the S Route. It is being re-opened for freight serving Royal Portbury Dock, financed by the Port Company, but it lacks adequate allowance for re-introduction of passenger services, urgently needed to serve an expanding community suffering serious road congestion into Bristol City. Such financial help as might be expected via SRA and/or LTPs remains in doubt. The sums allocated to rail investment in the 10-year plan were never enough—more so in the light of subsequent events, the result of which could drain money from what should have gone into worthwhile enhancement projects.

  3.  Given Railtrack's situation changes are needed to provide a framework for infrastructure enhancement, and successful operation, that is different from that envisaged in the 1993 Act. Separating wheel from rail has proved to be mistaken. The question now is how to reconnect. The basis should be what passengers need. That requires an easily understood, reliable timetable keeping to which requires appropriately designed and reliable rolling stock and infrastructure capable of handling it safely and efficiently in a good environment, together with a management structure and dedicated well trained staff committed to passenger satisfaction. Hence the attraction of "vertically integrated railways" operated and maintained by "joint venture railway companies" (the Modern Railways manifesto), incorporating all the talents and bringing back some experienced people lost to the industry.

  4.  Transforming SRA's leadership must start with the much delayed strategy. The Department's Draft Policy Statement sets out laudable broad objectives, but not the means of achieving them. It emphasises Section 26 of the 1993 Act as amended by the Transport Act, which seems to leave discretion with the Secretary of State. Hopefully he will use it to secure delivery, having regard to factors in para 3 above. In developing "joint venture" companies there could be a case for negotiated arrangements rather than competitive bids, with contracts tight enough to ensure delivery of the performance and enhancements promised. There is room for competition between companies on such well used routes as those to London from for example Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol, with alternative routes and termini at Paddington and Waterloo, each with distinctive attractions.

  5.  Improvements in industrial relations could be expected by establishing the kind of "joint venture" companies suggested, developing corporate loyalty with pride in achievement and long term prospects.

Dick Drew

for Transport 2000 and Railfuture in the South West

September 2001


 
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