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


Memorandum by South West Transport Network (TYP 21)

ASSUMPTIONS

  The Plan was a move in the right direction but gave insufficient weight to enhancing the capability of rail.

  "Sticks"—like congestion charges and workplace parking levy—need to be preceded by delivery of "carrots"—in particular attractive, reliable and affordable public transport, with due regard to convenience and safety.

  Remedial action has to include getting effective structures in the rail industry. (Chapter 6 of Christian Wolmar's "Broken Rails" is worthy of notice). It is as sensible for rail infrastructure to be, in effect, publicly owned as it is for roads. (The proposed Company Limited by Guarantee might be a suitable vehicle for achieving this). Upgrading rail is more urgently needed than are new roads. Such road construction as proceeds should complement rather than compete with rail, encouraging greater rail use particularly for freight.

  Skills and current capacity are insufficient to deliver the improvements required. The drain of skilled personnel from "action" to "consultancies etc" needs to be reversed. Had the resources poured into consultancy, "studies," preparing for privatisation and such-like, been devoted instead to maintaining and improving the physical rail network, we might now be on a par with European standards instead of being seen as almost "third world."

IMPLEMENTATION

  For a non-profit infrastructure company private finance will be attracted only by the quality of the Trust, backed by Government guarantee. But why not? This in the nature of PFI for public needs. Public money is made available for roads. Operating companies—or in some situations joint venture companies exercising a degree of vertical integration—should be able to raise finance on the market, depending on the quality and efficiency of their management and the nature or their franchises. These are factors to be taken into account by SRA in determining contracts, together with such public funding as is provided for socially needed non-commercial services.

  Determining balance between rail and road should be at the discretion of the Secretary of State to meet changing circumstances; not pre-determined in the Plan. Phasing of investment for major schemes can extend over many years, and should be determined by getting best "value for money," not necessarily meeting target dates.

  Similarly, flexible arrangements are required for local schemes, in association with Regional and Local Authorities, PTEs, etc.

  With all the money being spent on them, account should of course be taken of the emerging multi-modal studies—but with due regard to achievement of policy objectives as set out in A New Deal For Transport.

  Flexibility is desirable in determining balance between large and small schemes, and between infrastructure, management and operations. But the Treasury "golden rule" should apply; borrowing only for capital while revenue expenditure should be from currently raised income.

TARGETS

  To be credible targets must be realistically achievable, by physical capability as well as available finance. Progress has to be seen to be "on target" to maintain credibility. The public quite properly expects to see results. Adjustments may be needed as the Plan proceeds.

  The thrust of the Plan should be incremental evolution of an integrated transport network that supports the economy—national, regional and local—while enhancing social inclusion. Reducing congestion has to be a major objective in achieving this.

  Modal shift from road to rail should aim at reducing traffic levels wherever there is potential congestion. In urban locations walking should be a pleasant experience, free from traffic but safe, with points of interest en route and easy-to-follow directions. It must include convenient access to public transport, with clear information about times and availability.

  Target setting by Regions and Localities makes sense—with acceptance of responsibility for achievement by those who have acknowledged it can be done, and have the power and resources needed to make it possible.

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT POLICY

  The Plan is broad and primarily financial. Balancing with social and environmental policies has to be in the detail, much of which is necessarily Regional and local. An overlooked aspect of rail (and associated LRT) is electrification. There may not be a commercial return on the investment, but in long-term environmental interest—sustainable energy resources and avoidance of vehicle emissions—there needs to be a national policy and a continuing programme aimed at minimising cost. There is also a case for some standardisation of rolling stock designs, including trains with DC motors that can pick up from third rail but also take AC from overhead using on-board transformers and rectifiers, and can accommodate a diesel generator to operate over non-electrified lines. These are developments in progress and exist in varying degrees.

  The Plan tends to look at road and rail, trains and buses, as separate entities. Integration requires they be seen as related to each other. Making provision for walking cannot offer a direct commercial return, but there is social, environmental and economic advantage. It should be clear where responsibility lies for such as interchanges and access to them, information systems, stations, bus-shelters, etc.

  Conflict between the Plan and the White Paper is doubt as to whether the former is capable of meeting the aspirations of the latter. One aspect of this concerns capacity of the rail network, and means for optimising its use. The pattern set in privatisation clearly did not work. There is a case for a degree of vertical integration, and there is a major task for the SRA in timetabling—a case well set out in the article "Fantasy railways" on page 4 in the January 2002 edition of "Modern Railways."

  Rationalising the franchise system, with fewer franchisees as is now proposed by SRA, is to be welcomed, recognising that there are National (InterCity and CrossCountry) services, those that are essentially Regional, where Regional Assemblies and Agencies should have a role, and in the major conurbations Local and "journey-to-work" services. For the latter PTEs (where they exist) do a good job, but as we often have said the Bristol area missed out when these were set up, and it shows. A possibility is that the proposed "Bristol Business Unit" might take on the role, or as some are suggesting a "BART"—Bristol Area Rapid Transit—to undertake co-ordination of all public transport in the conurbation, including the proposed LRT which—on the "Karlsruhe" principle—has to be associated with local rail as it shares tracks. The Joint Planning & Transportation Unit of the four unitary authorities, plus representation from the three surrounding Counties, could constitute a sort of PTA. It is an urgent necessity. So is determining a future organisation for the branch lines in Devon and Cornwall and upgrading the mainline to Waterloo. Exeter should be the base for this and the greater part of what is proposed for "Wessex", while the intended "Plymouth & Cornwall Business Unit," in association with the County Council and local authorities, could take on Cornwall branches. As we have said, delivery of the Plan is in the detail!

  Connections between the South West and Europe are important. For passengers by rail, enhancement of the line to Waterloo will help, and when St Pancras is the terminus for Eurostar good connection from the Great Western will be desirable. For freight via Channel Tunnel there is much to be said for the Central Railway project, to which we would expect a connection from the Great Western at Colnbrook, where a major freight area is in development, associated with Heathrow. The possibility might also be examined of a connection from the L&SW line where it would cross the Central Railway (adjoining M25) at Byfleet.

  Above all, what is now needed is great urgency in sorting out the structure, organisation and financing of the railways—and this time getting a system that works and delivers what is required. A start has been made in the changes at Railtrack and at the Strategic Rail Authority. We look forward to seeing the published "strategy" on 14 January.



 
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