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


Memorandum by Ansaldo Signal (TYP 57)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  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 administration.

  Ansaldo welcomes the opportunity to contribute at this time to the Committee's inquiry.

2.  THE UK'S UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INFRASTRUCTURE PROVIDER AND TRAIN OPERATOR

  The relationship between infrastructure provider and train operator in the UK is:

    —  Short and long-term.

    —  Dependent on the number of train operator franchises.

  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 can provide.

  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 system-wide approach.

  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 upgrade.

  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 AT THE HEART OF SERVICE PROVISION LINKED TO FRANCHISES

  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 system—quite 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" Approach

  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.

    —  Is obsolete.

    —  Offers little performance and functionality growth.

    —  Is not scaleable.

    —  it is not compliant with EU interoperability objectives.

  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 operation.

    —  Shrinking journey times by a quarter.

    —  Doubling train frequencies.

    —  Doubling passengers carried.

    —  Increased capacity.

    —  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 being overlooked.

4.  THE IMPACT OF RAILTRACK PLC BEING PLACED IN RAILWAY ADMINISTRATION

  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 process—where 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.

5.  CONCLUSION

  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 alone.

  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.



 
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