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

Memorandum by Nottinghamshire County Council (PRF 28)



  1.  Before giving evidence it may help the Sub-Committee to understand this County Council's involvement in, and commitment to, local rail passenger development.

  2.  The County Council was the lead of a consortium of eight local authorities which in conjunction with the rail bodies re-opened the 32 mile route, the Robin Hood Line (RHL) between Nottingham and Workshop via Mansfield. The passenger services are operated by Central Trains and have been financially supported by this County Council, Derbyshire County Council and Nottingham City Council.

  3.  The RHL has been a considerable success in achieving transportation, economic, social and environmental objectives and both the operator and the sponsoring Local Authorities consider that is has significant potential for further development to meet local needs. It had been hoped that this would be in the context of a new Central replacement franchise.

  4.  Based on RHL experience, the County has promoted further development of the under-utilised local rail network as a key part of the transportation strategy laid out in the Authority's Local Transport Plans. The County Council's statutory response to the Road Traffic Reduction Act lays great emphasis on rail and the Districts' Local Plans indicate a clear wish to relate their development strategies to improved rail infrastructure and services.

  5.  For these reasons, the County Council needs the Train Operating Company, the SRA and Railtrack to deliver, and so cannot be immune to current issues affecting the industry.


  6.  The Transport Sub-Committee outlines a number of criteria it considers appropriate in the assessment of the implications of the Government's recent draft policy statement on passenger rail franchising and the draft directions and guidance to the SRA.

  7.  This Authority considers that whilst issues of safety and improving performance have to be addressed, the thrust of the Government's approach, namely an emphasis on the negotiation of changes and short extensions to existing franchises, rather than the award of new long-term contracts, will have negative implications for all of the key issues relating to the performance of the rail industry which the Transport Sub-Committee notes in its Press Release.

  8.  In view of the Background set out above, it may be of interest to the Sub-Committee to be aware of the particular circumstances affecting passenger rail in Nottinghamshire which have informed the County Council's views.

  9.  The main local train operator for most of Nottinghamshire is Central, whose franchise covers not only parts of the East Midlands Region but extends into the West Midlands. In February this year the SRA suddenly announced, after many months of work, its decision to terminate negotiations on a long term replacement franchise for that held by Central Trains. The County Council had earlier welcomed the SRA's initiative towards the end of 1999 in including this franchise in the second tranche for which early replacements were to be sought. There was an awareness that the existing franchise, one of the last to be awarded by OPRAF, had very tight financial targets and that its modest investment commitments appeared to be heavily orientated towards the West Midlands rather than the East Midlands. (It was assumed that this reflected the relative strength of the West Midlands PTE as a co-signatory to the franchise).

  10.  The County Council considered that a new long term franchise would provide a much better financial framework to facilitate a significant increase in the flow of investment in rail services and facilities to the benefit of the communities in Nottinghamshire. In particular it was perceived that it would help substantially in the progression and implementation of rail development schemes in the County and City Councils' Local Transport Plans which are considered to be fundamental to the Authorities' integrated transport and development strategies. These important schemes include Robin Hood Line enhancements, Nottingham Station capacity (and other) improvements, Ilkeston Station, the South Notts Rail Network and Rail Quality Partnerships focusing on station modernisation within Nottinghamshire.

  11.  It is considered that any extension of the existing Central Trains franchise on a re-negotiated basis for two years will have very little effect on the Company's preparedness to invest. The level of investment which can reasonably be expected from the existing franchise between the present time and early 2006 (assuming a two year extension) is likely to be significantly less than that which would flow from a long term franchise, even on the basis of the initial proposals of the two former contenders which were dismissed by the SRA as conveying inadequate passenger benefits.

  12.  The current circumstances, allied with the apparent demise of Railtrack's focus on future development, suggest that it will be much more difficult for the County Council and its Local Authority partners to progress their rail development proposals. There will need to be much more reliance on the seeking of public funds from the SRA's Rail Passenger Partnership (RPP) to make possible such development. Whilst this is noted, certain misgivings have to be expressed about the rather complex and unclear requirements which RPP funding applications appear to involve; and the fact that outputs from the Fund have been so modest to date. This is also against the background that whilst there have been very welcome capital increases in transportation funding through the recent LTP settlements, local authorities do not have the levels of revenue funding to support local train services.

  13.  Development of the rail network is clearly a central strand in the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan, but the County Council is concerned that the Government's new stance on the franchising issues will discourage the very private sector investment on which the achievement of the Plan's aspirations are dependent. At a more local level there is a corresponding concern that it will impede the implementation of the rail component of the Local Transport Plans. As indicated above, rail is a key part of the plans of the County and City Councils especially in the Greater Nottingham area, but the present circumstances will make it very difficult to push ahead in constructive partnerships with the rail bodies to bring these plans to early fruition.

September 2001

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