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


Memorandum by Capital Transport Campaign (PRF 54)

PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING

  Our organisation is concerned with London's public transport, and our remarks refer to the issue of the relationship of Railtrack's successor to the train operating companies, the railway regulatory bodies and the SRA. Therefore we want to see effective action being taken to improve conditions for passengers on London's commuter rail services, which transport the vast majority of Britain's rail passengers.

  We would like to see London's overground rail lines and stations in London and the South-East become the responsibility of Transport for London; we are of the view that more unified management is needed to run the rail services which are so vital to London's economy and well-being. Under this arrangement, we would expect that there would be clear and defined roles for both the existing Strategic Rail Authority and for the Office of the Rail Regulator, with the former charged with ensuring passengers receive a good quality of service, and the latter responsible for ensuring that the infrastructure is appropriately maintained and developed.

  Two key issues for London's commuter rail services are the level of overcrowding and the failure of the existing system of fares regulation to compensate passengers adequately for deterioration in the service they receive. We have looked quite carefully at the regulations concerning overcrowding, as set out in the Rail Passenger Industry Overview (published in September 1995), and it is our view that these regulations state clearly that overcrowding on route groups must be monitored as well as the overall level on TOCs

    "the measure [of passengers in excess of capacity] is always used in connection with groups of trains (eg routes, TOCs, etc) . . ." and "crowding within the 3 per cent limit may not be unduly concentrated on any routes or services." (p 91).

  These statements clearly indicate that overcrowding on route groups should be assessed, and action required of TOCs when it exceeds the agreed limits. The overcrowding figures for TOCs in general understate the extent of overcrowding on route groups (such as Silverlink's North London Line) because of the swings and roundabouts.

  We have raised this issue in correspondence with the SRA, and their response has been mealy-mouthed. We think it should be addressed. We have been impressed by the way in which Transport for London has made available information about the quality of service on London's public transport system, and we would like to see this approach applied to the issue of rail passenger overcrowding.

  On occasion comments made by the SRA have appeared to be complacent about this crucial issue of how overcrowding affects passenger comfort and safety. On the eve of the day that the SRA finally lost its shadow, Sir Alastair Morton issued a set of eight commandments for the rail industry: the sixth commandment, on comfort, included an extension of the period for which it should be considered acceptable for passengers to stand, from 20 to 30 minutes (speech to Waterfront Conference on expanding the railways, 31 January 2001). We do not think that this extension is in the interests of passengers, in view of the clear evidence that emerged in the inquiry into the Cannon Street accident that standing passengers are at greater risk of injury and at risk of more serious injury in a rail accident.

  In November 2000, Mike Grant, chief executive of the SRA, told another Commons select committee that he would "certainly in some instances prefer to stand in a wider area than to have an extra seat." (Q 158): his answer was, in our view, evasive on the crucial question of the safety of passengers who have no alternative but to stand: he assumed that the train company, Connex, which wished to introduce standing room only carriages, had consulted the Health and Safety Executive on this matter, and made a further assumption on this basis: "we would not have agreed it if it had not been safe, because the Health and Safety Executive would have told us it was not safe." To proceed by assumptions on a matter affecting the safety of rail passengers is not good enough, in our view. The SRA has a responsibility to be more pro-active if it is to be "an effective advocate of passengers," as the Transport Select Committee recommended in an earlier report (4 March 1998, paragraph 131).

  In late December of last year, there was an uproar about the way in which the system of fares regulation for commuter rail services cushioned the income of the TOCs when service quality plummeted: no matter how far a train company's performance drops, the maximum penalty under the fares regulation system is that any overall fare increase may be restricted to 2 per cent below the cap. This arrangement in no way provides adequate compensation to passengers who experience serious disruption on their journeys to and from work, as passengers did even before the Hatfield accident, which led to rail performance figures going into free fall. In early January 2001, in response to public concern, Government spokespeople said that the system of fares regulation would be re-examined. Our understanding is that this was to be done by the SRA, but it appears to have been lost in the long grass. We think that it should be retrieved.

  Under the new arrangements for passenger rail franchising to be developed as a consequence of the placing of Railtrack PLC into Railway Administration, it is our view that the regulation of rail passenger overcrowding and of commuter rail fares should both operate with the interests and safety of passengers put first. Any regulatory body for passenger rail franchising which fails to regulate effectively in the interests of passengers is failing in its responsibilities.

Cynthis Hay

Co-ordinator

25 October 2001


 
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