Examination of Witnesses (Questions 126-139)|
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
126. I can see from all the witnesses we have
that today is our Equal Opportunities day. May I apologise for
keeping you waiting. Perhaps you would be kind enough to identify
(Mr Wicks) Roy Wicks, Director General,
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.
(Mr Preston) Kieran Preston, Director General, West
Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.
(Mr Mulligan) Chris Mulligan Director General, Greater
Manchester Passenger Transport Executive.
127. Do you have anything you want to say before
(Mr Mulligan) The message we want to bring from the
North-West is a massive anxiety, expressed both through the North-West
Regional Assembly, the North-West Development Agency and indeed
every local authority from Cheshire through to Cumbria over the
failure for the moment to address the problems of Piccadilly.
The sad fact of the matter is that the hub at the moment is over
capacity; it simply cannot cope with much more. We fear that some
of these new franchises may become quite rapidly academic exercises
if the network in the North-West of England is to seize up because
of Virgin increasing their frequencies into Piccadilly, because
of CrossCountry, because of Trans-Pennine Express. We do not argue
with the principle of that; it has to be a good principle to have
fast services between Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and so on.
We do feel that the decision of the Strategic Rail Authority to
put back major investment schemes back beyond the ten-year horizon
in its plan is going to have the most grievous effect on the reliability
and the economy of the North-West. That is a message which I am
authorised to give from every local authority and the agencies
128. Perhaps I can bring you to the original
franchises, which after all were given on the need to reduce support
payments rather than improve services. Are you really saying to
us that the new franchises are going to make up for this lack
of development or are you really going to say we are going to
go round the same track again and find ourselves with an unambitious
(Mr Mulligan) I have a very genuine anxiety that the
Northern franchise, when let, will be a non-enhanceable franchise,
in which case, we shall be paying enormous amounts of subsidy
over the next 10, 15 or 20 years to perpetuate the system which
simply is not working. Greater Manchester's rail network underperformed
very badly and the reason is quite plain. We do not have the quality,
we do not have the reliability, we do not have the accessibility
that something like the tram system, Metrolink, can provide. Hence
we are carrying far fewer passengers than the potential. It seems
silly to me to perpetuate a system of spiralling decline of our
local rail network in particular, when by judicious investment,
either in upgrade of the heavy rail infrastructure or expanding
Metrolink, you can substitute financing charges for subsidy and
have a virtuous circle of increasing patronage and increasing
usage to the benefit of the economy.
129. May I ask you about the Northern franchise?
Do you think it is going to become the poor relation of the long-distance
and Trans-Pennine services?
(Mr Preston) Yes, we are concerned that it is. As
you know from discussions we have had in the past, we had a terrible
time with the original franchise. It was cut to the bone. Some
of what Mr Cameron said was absolutely right: he did inherit a
poor position. The original bids simply had no resilience whatsoever.
Our concern is that as we are moving forward now with the SRA
to discuss the replacement franchise, the kind of signals we are
getting back suggest that it would seem the very best we could
hope for is a guarantee of existing performance. The way the franchise
will be evaluated, so far as we can ascertain, is that bidders
will be asked to put in a base bid as a benchmark for evaluation
across all bids which looks at the price for delivering existing
130. Which, you are saying, is exactly a repetition
of the original circumstances.
(Mr Preston) Of where we are now, which is obviously
totally unacceptable. It is not too long ago that Sir Alastair
Morton was talking about 15 out of every 16 trains being punctual.
We are getting about 85 per cent now in West Yorkshire of those
which run. The next step that bidders will be asked to make in
their bids is to offer what they are calling a flexed base which
is an opportunity for innovation, for them to suggest how much
more can be delivered at no additional cost. Our experience is
that that will not deliver a great deal. The third tier to that,
as I understand it, is that they will then have an opportunity
to put in a bid which reflects what they would do if they were
given a percentage increase in the money available. We do not
know what that percentage will be yet.
131. My constituency is covered by the West
Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive. Timetabling is obviously
an issue which is raised quite often. I know there were disturbances
with Arriva. When trains are operating in normal circumstances
there are still problems with timetabling. The suspicion is that
the local network is suffering because of the inter-city network.
Is there any truth in that?
(Mr Preston) It is fairly well known that the inter-city
trains take precedence over local trains.
132. Whose decision is that?
(Mr Preston) It is really the rules of the route.
We have a problem which goes back all the way to the fact that
because we are heavily subsidised and track access rights are
given to bidders and have been in place since 1997 the only companies
which can afford to bid for more rights are commercial operators.
Subsidised railways continue to suffer because we cannot actually
compete with that commercial dimension.
133. What are your priorities then as the PTE?
What is the respective degree of authority of SRA and local PTE
over timetabling? Do you have any priorities? Are the SRA involved
in this? Do you discuss it with them? Is there a question with
the networks? A subsidised service is receiving less priority
than the commercial ones. This is an issue which I cannot accept.
I think the people who travel on subsidised trains should have
the same level of service as other passengers.
(Mr Preston) It is difficult to answer that one except
to say that since 1997 the timetable has pretty much been set
in aspic. We have a passenger service requirement (PSR) which
is based on 1997, on the specification as it then existed just
prior to privatisation. It really has not changed greatly since
1997. We have managed to squeeze in one or two additional services.
The point I made rather badly is that the commercial operators
have been able to put in additional services, which have been
welcome. For example, we now have a four-per-hour Trans-Pennine
service between Leeds and Manchester and that is welcome. It used
to be three per hour and it is now four per hour. That squeeze
in that last track, that last service, on Trans-Pennine has actually
meant that if we wanted to put a local service in, for example
between Huddersfield and Halifax, we would not be able to do that
and we did not have the capacity or the resource to make that
bid in competition.
134. Is that infrastructure that is restraining
(Mr Preston) It certainly would be now. The problem
is that in putting that additional service in, we would almost
have to meet the full cost of the infrastructure required to make
that service resilient. For example, it might be additional signalling
or additional track to facilitate that additional Huddersfield-Halifax
Mr O'Brien: What do the SRA say to that? Do
they have any thoughts and is there any commitment from them?
135. You are saying in effect that it is an
academic argument because you cannot even ask for it.
(Mr Wicks) One of the earlier witnesses referred to
the SRA currently looking at something they are calling the capacity
utilisation strategy (CUS), yet another acronym for you. In that
they are trying to see what could be done to make the network
more flexible. We are fully supportive of that, but to mirror
the concerns that Mr O'Brien has been making, one of the problems
on the local rail network is that often you get a three-trains-an-hour
service: what you do not get is a 20-minute service. You may well
get two trains quite close together and then perhaps a 35-minute
gap for the third one. We are naturally concerned that in trying
to get the most out of the network, principally because of under-investment
in a lot of cases, the local service does not become the poor
relation in that network because they are seen as smaller trains,
carrying fewer people, with higher subsidy which takes us back
to the commercial realities the previous witnesses have been talking
136. That is exactly what is happening, is it
(Mr Wicks) Yes, that is right and that is why we have
to watch how the SRA look at this. I am not saying at the moment
they are going into this to
137. What are you doing about getting the SRA
on board to do something about it? I am concerned, not with the
Trans-Pennine route, that is all right. I am talking about the
local internal network between Sheffield and Leeds and between
York and Leeds and the stations in between. My constituents are
wanting that service.
(Mr Wicks) We are certainly participating in that
strategy. I hate to use the word protect, because it is sometimes
seen as negative, but we are going into it positively and we are
trying to enhance the level of service and make sure it is not
detrimentally treated. That is supposed to be a fairly quick study
the SRA are doing with results out this year. We have to see how
we do in doing that.
138. In your written evidence you are suggesting
that Strategic Rail Authority decisions are impeding the implementation
of regional transport strategies and regional economic development
strategies. Could you tell us any more about that and how you
think things should be changed?
(Mr Mulligan) One of the concerns we have always had
as a metropolitan authority and indeed as a local authority is
that we are under the legal obligation to produce a local transport
plan; indeed this is the main motor in the Transport Act 2000
for the delivery of integrated transport within Greater Manchester,
West Yorkshire or South Yorkshire and indeed Lancashire and Merseyside.
These go in at the end of each July and are updated. They are
supposed to have a cohesive approach to bus, rail and other modes
of transport, whether it be tram or ferry or something like that.
We find at the moment that the SRA's financial difficulties, together
with the difficulty of taking a view on what it would be possible
to do on the rail network, is impeding the development of those
integrated transport strategies because rail is so important.
If we can develop the rail network as a mass transit system, then
we will see a major effect on our economy. I have always been
puzzled, as the Chairman will probably know from previous evidence
I have given, why a duty is not placed upon the Strategic Rail
Authority to have cognizance of local transport plans. In my opinion
it makes a bit of a nonsense to tell major local authorities they
have the complete responsibility for delivering integration in
their area and then not to lose the link with London and the Strategic
Rail Authority over what is happening nationally. I am told quite
frequently that the Strategic Rail Authority has the final say
nationally over what is going to go on. One point I should like
to make is that when we talk about "nationally" I would
submit respectfully to the Committee that with 6 PTEs, including
Strathclyde, we account for about 15 million when you add outer
London, and we comprise a pretty fair proportion of that nation.
I think more heed should be taken of our representations.
139. Does the Strategic Rail Authority think
regionally, even if it does not think locally?
(Mr Mulligan) I sometimes get lost in some of the
distinctions between regional, local and national. I would argue
that the regional situation in the North-West is one of national
importance to the economy and the development of that economy.
Where I sometimes have anxieties, indeed this is reflected by
members in the North-West and particularly in Greater Manchester
where a scheme such as the Trans-Pennine one is the very point
Mr O'Brien was making, is that my elected members in Rochdale,
Oldham, Ashton, are all extremely concerned that when Trans-Pennine
comes across the hill they are going to lose out in terms of local
railways services into the centre of the conurbations. It comes
back to the point I made at the outset, that a quart will not
go into a pint pot.