Memorandum by Ansaldo Signal (TYP 57)
Ansaldo is a leading supplier of signalling
technology in Europe. It supplies signalling systems to many countries
in the world and is at the forefront of the development of the
European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). In the UK, Ansaldo
has contracts in relation to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and
the West Coast Main Line upgrade.
This evidence also comments on the terms of
the draft policy statement on passenger rail franchising, the
draft directions and guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority,
and the Secretary of State's decision to place Railtrack into
Ansaldo welcomes the opportunity to contribute
at this time to the Committee's inquiry.
2. THE UK'S
The relationship between infrastructure provider
and train operator in the UK is:
Dependent on the number of train
Decisions on the rail infrastructure provision,
maintenance and upgrade in other European countries are made without
the competing requirements of a multiplicity of train operators.
In the UK, the train operators' investment decisions are driven
by the length of the short or long-term franchise.
The railway system itself should be the foundation
on which infrastructure managers and train operators build their
success, rather than through manipulating the operational and
commercial structures that surround it.
2.1 Does the Length of Franchise Affect the
Quality of Infrastructure Provision?
To maintain and upgrade the railway system effectively,
the infrastructure provider needs to understand the present and
future demands upon their assets. Therefore, together with maintenance,
there is a need to assess the number of train paths required,
the nature and needs of the rolling stock and the demands to be
placed on stations and their supporting infrastructure.
The franchise process does provide a mechanism
with which to forecast future infrastructure requirements but
this forecast is limited by the time and performance horizon of
the train operator.
The infrastructure forecast could be further
constrained by a pessimistic view of passenger growth and service
innovation. In summary, the railway infrastructure is atuned (perhaps
detuned)to the requirements of the train operators rather
than driven to be the best system that the infrastructure manager
The concept of national or whole system approach
is undermined by the franchise process. The differing franchise
timescales, performance needs and levels of service tend to focus
the infrastructure manager on regional or route specific solutions.
2.2 The Effect on the Infrastructure Provider
Working with short-term franchises does not
necessarily preclude the infrastructure manager from taking a
whole system approach. However, in reality the infrastructure
manager will always optimise their service towards doing less
rather than doing more and this will mitigate against a long-term
or system-wide approach. The implication is that the railway infrastructure
will become customised to suit the needs of short-term franchises.
It will be difficult and costly to revert back to a national or
Therefore, what appears to be missing from the
current focus on providing rapid improvements to the service through
the new shorter-term franchise approach is an appreciation of
how such an emphasis will affect the overall system capability.
It cannot simply be assumed that the infrastructure is or will
be sufficient to provide the contractual improvements, or that
the franchise process alone will deliver the suitable infrastructure
There may well be a case for refocusing the
new infrastructure provider, or Special Purpose Vehicle Companies,
toward a whole system strategy rather than a route or franchised-based
programme of work. To do this, however, requires an understanding
of the benefits that such an approach would provide.
3. THE DILEMMA
As a pen picture for the dilemma facing all
parties involved in the UK rail industry, the West Coast Main
Line (WCML) modernisation proves an ideal example. Without having
to debate the merits of an integrated system against a fragmented
one, or the relative strengths of one franchising company as opposed
to another, the debate and delay over the WCML upgrade shows up
the key issue clearly. If one part of the franchise "deal"
fails, then the whole system will fail.
3.1 The West Coast Route Modernisation
As conceived, the West Coast Route Modernisation
would be the first step in providing Britain with a modern high-speed
railway network. Decisions taken today have an impact not just
on the train services available on that route but also for the
future of Britain's railway industry and its ability to meet the
challenges of the Government's 10-year transport plan. But for
reasons good or bad, the progress of the modernisation programme
has, of late, become something of a weather-vein for the future
direction of the railways in the UK.
The current franchise holder on the WCML, Virgin
Rail, can argue with some degree of persuasiveness that the company
has attempted to deliver on its side of the franchise bargain.
The company's investment in meeting the provisions set out in
the draft policy statement on franchising is at least tangible.
The company took delivery of the first units of their new train
set on 27 November 2001.
But the franchise holding company cannot run
the trains to their full capacity because the infrastructure needed
by the trains is not in place. It would follow, therefore, that
the terms of a franchise under the new criteria could also not
be fully delivered. This same infrastructure situation exists
for any UK franchise holding company seeking to improve its service.
In many ways the story of the West Coast Main
Line franchise is now that of two mutually dependent operations
joined together on an incompatible systemquite literally,
it is the old trying to support the new. The solution for the
WCML, and the decision that will have to be taken for the rest
of the UK rail system, is either that one side of the "operation"
takes a technical step back, or the other takes the step forward.
3.2 Implications of the "Step Back"
Standing still, or in the case of the WCML,
restraining the franchise holder to the capabilities of the present
infrastructure, has a number of implications for the future of
rail service and rail franchise operation in the UK.
Unlike the technologies that underpin the proposed
modernisation of the WCML, state of the art signalling and control
technology in UK terms is circa 1986.
The existing UK signalling and control technology:
Is labour intensive to apply.
Offers little performance and functionality
it is not compliant with EU interoperability
The vision for high speed services on the West
Coast Main Line, the backbone of the national rail network, has
been to deliver a radically improved railway which will offer:
A world class travel experience.
Brand new tilting trains.
Upgraded infrastructure for 140 mph
Shrinking journey times by a quarter.
Doubling train frequencies.
Doubling passengers carried.
Advanced safety system.
All of these benefits, highly dependent on the
appropriate technological infrastructure upgrade, are included
in the original long-term route franchise, and in many ways correspond
to the requirements of the Government's new franchising policy.
But these and other benefits now appear to be
in doubt, and this is not necessarily due to a lack of desire,
motivation or intention from the key industry suppliers and political
players. It is in large part due to the fact that the UK, alone
amongst its European counterparts, appears to be looking away
from the advancements in rail capacity, reliability and safety
that technology can deliver. In the necessary drive to ensure
the improvement of the UK rail system through the franchise process,
the system's actual capability and its long-term structure is
4. THE IMPACT
PLC BEING PLACED
While clear anxieties existed over Railtrack's
ability to adequately "husband" its infrastructure assets,
collapse into the administration of the company presents an opportunity
for a re-evaluation of UK rail infrastructure provision.
The current relationship between infrastructure
provider and train operator can be expected to continue in one
form or another. The introduction of enhancement companies and
special purpose vehicles to undertake and finance projects is
welcomed as a way of delivering targeted system upgrades.
However, the new company that succeeds Railtrack
must move beyond the franchise or the single project approach
to infrastructure maintenance and upgrade. To avoid what could
be termed the parochial or piecemeal response engendered by an
adherence to the train operator dominance in the franchise processwhere
it is the operator that drives the process via its franchise requirements,
the new provider needs an agenda which allows it to assess what
is best for the system as a whole. It will then need a remit to
go out and deliver such a system, into which the franchise requirements
can then fit.
As this evidence suggests, it is the capability
of the rail system which should underpin the ability of the infrastructure
managers and the train operators to perform. The technology to
deliver such system capability exists now, but the UK has so far
not sought to exploit it. It should be the responsibility of the
new infrastructure provider, led by the SRA, to assess the UK's
requirement for this new capability. The franchise process and
the train operator's narrow requirements must not constrain this
assessment. The infrastructure company must then be empowered
to deliver on that assessment.
The UK deserves a rail system that is at the
forefront of European rail technology with high safety standards,
greater capacity and efficiency, and which has the flexibility
to deliver the 24 hour a day, seven day a week railway. It is
the capability to meet the challenges of running a 21st Century
railway system that new technology delivers. Systems like European
Rail Traffic Management System provide infrastructure managers
and operators with tools to deliver a high quality service to
passengers and freight customers. Without these tools, infrastructure
managers can only deliver a declining service and the increasing
expectations of delivery will not be met.
The contractual and regulatory framework that
exists between the key parties can facilitate the release of latent
benefits in the UK rail system. However, the systems' full potential
will not be realised until there is an understanding of the benefits
that new technology can bring. European experience suggests that
these benefits can only be obtained by adopting a long-term systems
philosophy. Here, performance improvements are made by introducing
a combination of physical alterations, managerial tools and process
improvement. This is the ERTMS approach favoured by the European
Commission and will not be delivered in the UK by franchising
As the debate over rail franchising has rightly
broadened to encompass the future development of railway infrastructure,
the performance enabling railway technology should not be omitted
or lost from view.