Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Strategic Rail Authority


  The Strategic Rail Authority formally came into being on 1 February 2001, following the passage of the Transport Act 2000. Its responsibilities cover the three sectors of Passenger, Freight and Infrastructure, with the aim throughout being the creation of a `Bigger, Better, Safer' Railway.

  The SRA's key role is to promote and develop the rail network and encourage integration. As well as providing overall strategic direction for Britain's railways, the SRA has responsibility for consumer protection, administering freight grants and steering forward investment projects aimed at opening up bottlenecks and expanding network capacity. It is also responsible for letting and managing passenger rail franchises

  The Strategic Rail Authority recognises the role which the railways can play in Welsh transport policy which in turn contributes to the overall health of the nation. It is working closely with the National Assembly in Wales, local government and the statutory representatives of passengers to deliver a bigger, better and safer railway. The Rail Passenger's Committee for Wales which is sponsored by the SRA has been a tireless advocate of improved services and facilities for Wales and has an extensive dialogue with the SRA and local authorities.

  The railways in Wales are characterised by principal flows from East to West across the border between Wales and England. The markets of these flows fall into three categories of North, Mid and South, following routes to Liverpool and Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol & London respectively. The network of railways in Wales is shaped by the geographic constraints and the needs of the market.

  The railways in Wales do not need major infrastructure enhancements to facilitate increased use of the network, though there are a number of incremental improvements which are under consideration. These are discussed below. The key to the better railway in Wales is to ensure adequate levels of revenue support to permit the enhanced levels of service which will help to stimulate passenger growth.


  The SRA commenced the re-franchising process for the new Wales and Borders franchise in the autumn of 2000 following consultation on the case for such a franchise. It was recognised that a new franchise would provide a better focus for services within Wales, and offer scope for a clearer marketing of the network. The introduction of the new franchise will mean that all stations within Wales will be managed by a single Station Facilities Operator.

  The SRA announced a short-list of four counterparties in February 2001 to proceed with working up more detailed proposals. However the process is currently in abeyance awaiting further guidance from the Secretary of State for Transport Local Government and the Regions.

  It should be noted that the outcome of the franchise replacement process will be governed by the extent to which the proposals received offer value for money for the improvements to services and infrastructure which counter-parties may offer, and the affordability of such proposals.

  Whilst the planned investment in the railway network remains at the levels envisaged at the commencement of the Government's Ten Year Plan, the resources available to the Strategic Rail Authority for re-franchising are less than anticipated, chiefly as a consequence of the Hatfield accident, and the need to increase the funding of renewals and maintenance. Moreover, there is now a serious shortage of the skilled signalling resources required to install TPWS B signalling designers and inspectors etc. These mandatory requirements constrain the investment in other aspects of the rail network.

  The SRA has sought to encourage prospective operators of the new franchise to consult widely with stakeholders in order to understand local aspirations for the network. We have not specified priorities on a regional or line by line basis. The next stage of the process will take into account the revised guidance from the Secretary of State. The Authority's approach is likely to be more prescriptive. The Authority had previously sought creative solutions from the market, but this imposed a greater burden on bidders' resources than the more conventional tendering process used for original franchises and the the evaluation of bids by the Authority was more complex and therefore time consuming. The Authority will now invite bids against a clear specification whilst still allowing bidders to put forward their own additional proposals.


  The replacement process is a key component of building the better railway in Wales, but there are other initiatives which will deliver benefits. The SRA has identified with Railtrack a series of small schemes (Incremental Outputs) which deliver additional capacity or journey time improvements, or improved resilience across the network, for a modest capital outlay. The design for these schemes and detailed costing are currently being worked up prior to formal contractualisation. An example of this is a scheme on the line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury to increase line speed and supply the potential for an hourly service.

  Some infrastructure schemes are subject to financial constraints and the SRA is looking at other forms of procurement such as special purpose vehicles (SPVs) as a possible way to break this potential log-jam. SPVs are in essence, multi-partner ventures combining private and public capital. There are also technical resource constraints, particularly in signal design and commissioning, and the SRA is working with the supply industry to overcome these.

  A better and bigger railway clearly needs both capital and revenue investment. The SRA has welcomed the decision by the National Assembly to fund capital works on the railway network notably the initiative to re-open the Vale of Glamorgan line to passenger traffic, and the SRA has supported this local authority driven initiative by providing revenue support through the Rail Passenger Partnership Fund (RPP) to cover the costs of the passenger services which are not met by the farebox.

  A major element of SRA funding for local authority schemes comes through the RPP programme, designed to provide funding support for schemes that would not otherwise be viable commercially. Funding is often part of an overall package of enhancements and the SRA may be contributing a small element. Examples of awards to projects in Wales include interchange enhancements at Haverfordwest, Sunday services on the Heart of Wales line, and a late evening connecting service from Carmarthen to Milford Haven, connecting with the 17.30 London Paddington to Carmarthen train.

  The new franchise operator will be encouraged to develop interchange initiatives and to work closely with the local authority partnerships, many of whom have both imaginative and well considered plans for making the journey experience more seamless. Already train operators in Wales are providing improved information, for example Wales and West have been engaged in implementing Project Inform to provide a better information system at passengers. This is particularly important at un-manned stations B the majority of stations in Wales. We recognise the importance of the passenger information systems such as PTI Cymru which are being developed. It will be mandatory under the new franchise for station posters to carry the PTI Cymru number.


  Responsibility for freight facility grants has been devolved to the National Assembly. The Strategic Rail Authority administers the projects under an agency agreement allowing the Assembly to draw on the Authority's expertise, whilst retaining the final decision at the local level.

  During 2002 the SRA will be producing a freight strategy for Wales and will be gathering data and information to inform the work.

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Prepared 14 February 2002