Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001

MR MIKE CARROLL, MR JUSTIN DAVIES AND MR BEN DAVIES

Adam Price

  140. There has been a much longer delay in the Government reaching a decision on the national franchise for Wales than anyone could have reasonably expected. What do you think the reasons have been for the delay in reaching a decision
  (Mr Carroll) I believe there is a debate going on within the SRA at the moment as to the future makeup of franchises in general. People have talked about a smaller number of franchises. Clearly there is a critical appointment of a new Director to the SRA who will be taking up his post in literally the next couple of days, and I think that has caused the delay. Certainly as far as the South Wales stations are concerned, in a similar way as Ben has described, we have partitioned and separated that South Wales operation ready for transfer to the new Wales and Borders. We have provided the SRA with the information that they would need to make that decision. On the basis of that decision being made that transfer could take place very quickly. All the safety issues which are clearly critical in making sure that all the key responsibilities for the operation of the Wales and Borders franchise have been considered, and what are called "safety case provisions" have been progressed. All the key issues in planning for that change have been made. Staff have been consulted; consultation is taking place with the staff involved so they are aware and prepared for it. It is very much the SRA's decision now about how they want to set that new organisation up, and when they want to start the operation from.

  141. Implicit in your answer it is your professional opinion there remains the possibility that in fact the franchise will not actually happen?
  (Mr Carroll) I think that is unlikely actually. With the progress that has been made with Wales and Borders, the planning that has gone into it, I think it would almost be an impossible scenario to see that decision not being made. I do think in other franchises that have been set up, such as Wessex which is a similar kind of body, there is ongoing debate as to whether that kind of fragmentation is still valid, or whether grouping things together in a new franchise structure is more valid.

  142. Wales and Borders Trains told us that the franchise could be let by competition in September 2002. Do you agree with that kind of timescale?
  (Mr Carroll) I think that is realistic, yes. If one looks at the timescales taken so far in the amount of work that would have to be, that is not in shadow franchise mode that is full longer term franchise, yes, First would certainly be happy to work to that timescale in putting in a final bid and going through the final process on that.

Mr Martin Caton

  143. Mr Carroll, you have told us in your introduction that First is an integrated transport operator, could we move on to multi-modal travel schemes. What provisions are now being made by the Government, the SRA and the Assembly to ensure railway companies participate in multi-model travel schemes in areas outside London and the PTEs?
  (Mr Carroll) In ensuring, I think, one has to refer back to the franchise obligations, and what is actually directed within those in terms of integration. If one takes the First Great Western franchise that was originally awarded in 1996, one of the obligations within that franchise was to develop comprehensive integrated transport schemes at a number of stations, and the output from that is this (indicating), which I am sure some of the members have seen, which is a very comprehensive guide covering a number of South Wales and Welsh stations, that lists all the new bus/rail type connectional services and facilities that have been developed. That really is an output from a specific obligation. I would expect to see that one of the outputs you referred to in your earlier question of a new Wales and Borders franchise would be to take this a number of steps further in actually making firm commitments for whoever was taking the franchise forwards in developing those kinds of integrated transport opportunities.

Dr Francis

  144. You will shortly be handing over your stations in South Wales to Wales and Borders. Reflecting on your experiences over the last four years, can you describe what efforts you have made and what success you have had in integrating bus and train services?
  (Mr Carroll) I think it would be better if Justin dealt with that.

  145. If you could be specific starting with Port Talbot and then going on to Neath.
  (Mr Justin Davies) Port Talbot, Neath and Swansea. At Port Talbot itself there has just been an extensive scheme funded by Neath and Port Talbot County Borough Council to improve the station forecourt area, which includes provision of an additional bus stop on the site. The main effort which we are examining currently at Port Talbot is with the building of Bangor Hospital, which is obviously going to transform the needs of the community to move from Neath to the Bangor Hospital; we were very keen to establish core services in the bus which linked with the train, both at Neath and Port Talbot, serving the hospital and calling at Port Talbot bus station, which is itself being refurbished at the current time. We would be able to ensure that people who need to visit this hospital, who work in the hospital, have the maximum opportunity to make integrated journeys to and from that site.

  146. I congratulate you on that. Would you say that is a model for other towns to follow, because it is in stark contrast to what you have not really achieved in places like Neath, Swansea, Llanelli and Carmarthen?
  (Mr Justin Davies) We have been working progressively as First Cymru, by using consultants, on improving networks we provide. We have just done some work in Swansea, of which I have examples here, which have strengthened the route network. We have the same consultants now working for us in Neath, Port Talbot and Maesteg, and they are helping us to look at that network, and we are currently consulting with the hospital authorities very much to understand who is travelling, where are they travelling from and what are their ultimate destinations.

  147. To what extent do you actually consult with disabled groups in those localities?
  (Mr Justin Davies) I meet disabled groups personally. I had a meeting with them about two or three months ago in Pontardawe, where I met with both the Swansea and Neath/Port Talbot action group and spent some time with them, particularly on concerns which both ourselves and they have of ensuring that buses can actually get to the side of the road where we have got local facilities, and customers can actually use them. One of the big problems we have at the moment is you get so many cars parked in bus laybys.

  148. I understand there are complaints about the visibility of bus stops in Swansea station in particular. What are you doing about that?
  (Mr Justin Davies) There are couple of issues on Swansea station. A £1.3 million scheme has just been approved, funded partly by the Assembly, to build a new interchange at Swansea station. Currently taxis are at the front of the station—that will change and taxis will still be readily available but buses will have much greater access to the station forecourt, which will be a very great improvement at that site. Secondly, in conjunction with the local authority, we are currently installing real time passenger transport information on the service, which runs via the station to Morriston and Morriston Hospital. This will mean that when passengers exit from the station they will be able to see a display which indicates what time the next bus will depart to the city centre or, indeed, up to Morriston.

Mr Caton

  149. When we announced this inquiry we invited people to put evidence, and we have had a letter from someone living in North Wales talking about their experience of integrated transport in the Netherlands. They talk in their letter about having experienced at the railway station that before the train comes in a bus arrives; just after the train has left a bus departs for example to link to a bus station in Swansea. We are nowhere near that, are we?
  (Mr Justin Davies) I think we are making great strides, particularly in Swansea. The level of bus service outside the railway station is literally every seven or eight minutes from that bus stop into the city centre. Indeed, the service then goes out to Swansea Valley towards Llanelli, and Gorseinon and places like that are on a regular headway. We provide through-ticketing from the rail service into the bus operation. You can buy a through ticket already as advertised both in the bus link guide. This is the latest style of timetable we are producing now in Swansea which includes details of the rail operation there and the through ticketing as well. That is all possible and is achievable today and we are doing it. I think the strides we are making with the city council, in terms of better publicity, will help us. We discussed with the Rail Passenger Users' Committee of Wales last week how we can do things and improve things. One of the main things in Swansea is more bus lanes through the city centre so that services from the west of Swansea, the Gower/Mumbles area, can access the rail station much easier than they can do now. The reason we do not do it today is that congestion in the city centre and lack of bus access would not enable me to run a reliable service; and I do not want to do that linkage until such time that I can guarantee the level of service.

  150. When you come into Swansea on a Great Western train you will be informed about a connection on the rail service to go down to West Wales, but you are not informed anything about what possible bus links there might be; and you are not informed about where the buses are. I take your point about improving the location of where buses stop, but you could at the moment be told where the buses are going, to whichever part of the city you want to go to. We do not get any of that. If that cannot happen when you are actually running the rail service and you are running the bus service, when is it going to happen?
  (Mr Justin Davies) We have recently installed at Swansea Railway right by the ticket office a brand new bus map of Swansea which details all the routes and frequencies, and includes a cut-out of the city centre section, showing the high street station and the central bus station. We have just placed that. That is a feature which has been missing for quite some time from the station itself.

  151. Do you think there is the possibility of having announcements on the trains, which is what most of us would look to?
  (Mr Carroll) Certainly the information system that we have at all our stations now with the screens is capable of feeding from the bus time information. If you take Reading, for example, when you look at what traditionally would be seen as the rail screens, they have got bus services to Heathrow listed on there as well. There is no reason why we should not progress in that way, and progress in terms of public address announcements as well. We do make public address announcements—we have set up a new system at Bristol as far as the central city centre bus link there; and we do make announcements to that effect to encourage customers and inform customers at that opportunity.

Dr Francis

  152. Are you familiar with some of the problems of through ticketing between bus companies across valleys?
  (Mr Justin Davies) Any particular areas?

  153. The Avon Valley and Llangynwyd Valley, for example, across the top of the two.
  (Mr Justin Davies) Maesteg?

  154. Yes. There are problems which my constituents raise with me between those two valleys between companies.
  (Mr Justin Davies) I think the particular difficulty you are referring to there, there is a route number 23 operated Port Talbot, Cymmer(?) to the top. One section is a commercial section, and one section is an attended section, and the attended section changed hands from one operator to another. I think you will find that particular situation has been resolved by the operator of attended service and extended into Port Talbot.

  155. What plans are there for seamless interchange at Cardiff and other stations I have mentioned?
  (Mr Justin Davies) At the other places mentioned, particularly at Neath, we are currently in discussion with Neath Borough Council on the traffic flowing round the centre of Neath. Currently you have got the Gardens(?) bus station and the rail station which is somewhat separate and they themselves have just launched a study into the road network of Neath and how the traffic flows. We already have a control point of our own at Neath Station, and we would be very keen to integrate the bus station and the rail station together. It would enable us to better regulate services and get the interchange which everyone would like to see. We are in discussion there.

  156. I think the leader of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council would be keen to correct the record. It is Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.
  (Mr Carroll) In Cardiff I think the opportunity to relate to the vicinity of the rail station and the bus station and really an opportunity to improve signage to attract people to continue their journey, there is a big opportunity at Cardiff which I do not think so far we have maximised.

Mr Prisk

  157. Can we turn to the structure of the railways. Under the new financial regime for railways, are you more or less optimistic about the prospects of modernising the railway service in Wales?
  (Mr Carroll) The new structure being the establishment of the Wales and Borders?

  158. No the broader financial—
  (Mr Carroll) I think the debate taking place at the moment is establishing the scale of investment that is required in the railways in general, both in terms of infrastructure investments for both maintenance of the existing infrastructure and then improvements to that infrastructure, as well as investment in trains. There is actually a significant amount of investment already going into trains and the customer is starting to see new trains appear on the rail network. I think there is a greater understanding of the needs. I think the establishing of the Wales and Borders franchise itself will create an injection in motivation in terms of future investment because it will come with obligations to do just that, and working closely with the SRA and other interested parties. Yes, I am more confident.

  159. In terms of the broader financial regime, the obvious changes the Secretary of State has been making and how that affects you as a train operating company, do you think within the next 12 months specifically investment in railways and its infrastructure is going to be sustained; or is there a prospect it may be delayed through the natural process of administration and changes taking place?
  (Mr Carroll) I think it would be sustained.


 
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