Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Transpennine Rail Group (REN 08)



  1.1  The Transport Sub-committee of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee of the House of Commons has decided to undertake an inquiry into rail services in the North of England.

  1.2  The Committee will consider the Government's and Strategic Rail Authority's commitment to improving rail services, and the impact of the Strategic Rail Authority's approach to franchising in the Region. The committee will be particularly concerned with :

    —  whether the existing franchisees provide satisfactory services, particularly in relation to safety, punctuality, reliability, comfort and frequency of services;

    —  plans for investment in the rail network in the region and whether they meet the needs of additional network capacity and other improvements; and

    —  the influence of rail services on the economic and social development in the region.

  Witnesses are invited to submit memoranda to the Committee before Monday 10 June 2002. Because of the tight deadline the Transpennine Rail Group is making a submission based on reports already considered and policy resolutions already enacted, as follows.


  2.1  Existing operators of Transpennine services are as follows:

    —  Calder Valley Route (Manchester and Preston to Rochdale, Hebden Bridge, Bradford and Leeds). Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western (partial route only) (Franchised).

    —  North Transpennine Route-(Manchester, Stalybridge, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Leeds/Wakefield). Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western (Franchised).

    —  South Transpennine Route (Manchester-Sheffield via the Hope Valley) Arriva Trains Northern, Central Trains and First North Western (Franchised).

    —  Freight operating companies operate over all three routes (not franchised).

  nb Central Trains operate the Norwich—Liverpool service over the Hope Valley route, but this is not in the Transpennine Express Franchise.

  2.2  We have no reservations concerning the safety performance of local franchise operators. Other aspects of performance are however less satisfactory. No performance information is available for Central Trains. Neither Arriva Trains Northern nor First North Western have consistently achieved the required performance benchmarks. Arriva have been "called in" on several occasions for poor performance, both by the Strategic Rail Authority and their predecessors at OPRAF and were recently fined £2million by the SRA for poor performance in the last financial year. On the latest statistical information available, for Period 11 of the current year (5 January 2002 to 2 February 2002) Arriva cancelled 3.3% of scheduled services compared to a 12-month average of 7.7% and a benchmark target of 1%. First North Western cancelled only 0.9% compared to a 12-month average of 1.9% and a benchmark of 1%. Punctuality performance statistics for First North Western show that the percentage of trains that were on time or within five minutes of booked time was 87.3% compared with a 12-month average of 80.3% and a benchmark of 90%. Comparable figures for Arriva show that the percentage of trains that ran to time, or to within 10 minutes of booked time (the standard benchmark for longer distance services) was 89.7% compared with a 12-month average of 83.4% and a benchmark target of 90%. Performance of both companies over the life of their present franchises has been consistently poorer than benchmark targets.

  2.3  We do not have any reliable information about overcrowding, or trains running in short formation. However, information on unit availability for First North Western's new fleet of Class 175/0 and 175/1 units first introduced to traffic in the Winter 2001-02 timetable suggests that, of the 26 units now allocated, for the 22 occasions in April and early May for which information is available, unit availability was over 60% on only one occasion and sank to 50% or lower on 13 occasions. This not infrequently has the consequence that older units with lower seating capacity have to stand in for the new rolling stock, and may not be able to offer the same seating capacity. As an anecdotal example, train 1N57 16.35 Manchester Airport to Blackpool North was diagrammed in the Winter 2001-02 to be worked by a Class 175/1 unit offering 198 seats. On several occasions it has been worked either by a 2-car Class 175/0 units offering 134 seats, or a 2-car Class 150 unit offering 124 seats, with the consequence of serious overcrowding. Similar short formation working during the period of poor availability has been widespread, but is not well documented.


  3.1  The Transpennine Rail Group has considerable reservations about the preferred structures chosen by the Strategic Rail Authority to bring about refranchising. Whilst the concept of a high speed Intercity type operation linking principal destinations in the North West and the North East has obvious attractions, the route strategy adopted, and the manner in which Intercity type criteria are to be applied to detailed service planning, gives rise to a number of anxieties.

  3.1.1  Firstly, the failure to incorporate the present Central Trains Liverpool to East Anglia service within the TPE Franchise means that three different operators will be providing services over the South Transpennine route via the Hope Valley between Manchester and Sheffield. It is not clear why the preference expressed within the SRA's Strategy document for a single operator working into each major London terminus does not apply with equal force to Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Leeds City or Sheffield Midland.

  3.1.2  Secondly, the decision to incorporate the present First North Western services between Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly and Barrow in Furness or Windermere, but not the Manchester Airport to Blackpool North services which inter-work and are inter-diagrammed with them is likely to lead to diseconomies of scale, unless either one operator is allocated both the Transpennine Express and Northern Trains franchises, or there is an agreement on inter-working between the two operators chosen. Indeed the whole process of disaggregation to form separate TPE and Northern Trains franchises will produce serious diseconomies of scale, but it is probably too late to change this decision.

  3.1.3  Similarly the decision to exclude from the TPE Franchise the Leeds-Blackpool North service via Hebden Bridge and Blackburn, which interworks with the Leeds-Manchester services seems equally irrational, but probably by now not capable of being changed.

  3.2  The Strategic Rail Authority's proclaimed intention to apply Intercity criteria to the design of TPE services seems in certain instances to run counter to geographical and operational practicalities. There are currently some examples of efficient interworking between services which will become parts of two separate franchises.

  3.2.1  At present, the First North Western unit which operates from Manchester Airport via Oxenholme to Windermere then does a local shuttle service all stations from Windermere to Oxenholme, and returning all stations to Windermere before taking up a return Windermere to Manchester Airport service. There are no stabling or crossover facilities between Oxenholme and Windermere or at the terminus. It would seem irrational and unnecessarily wasteful for the TPE unit to work Manchester Airport to Windermere, then to return empty to Oxenholme and be stabled there, whilst Northern Trains sends a second unit empty from their nearest operational base (Lancaster or Preston) to work the Oxenholme to Windermere shuttle.

  3.2.2  Similarly, the former Furness Railway main line from Carnforth to Barrow in Furness is ill-suited to an Intercity type operation. There are significant parts of the day when the Barrow to Manchester Airport service also provides the all-stations stopping service between Barrow and Lancaster. To suggest that this service, which will be operated by TPE, should call only at two intermediate stations would imply either a serious loss of service to all of the other intermediate stations or significant enhancements of the present infrastructure to enable a stopping service to be superimposed on the TPE express service. There are currently a limited number of peak hour stops in TPE trains at Hunt's Cross, Hazel Grove and Dore, which provide for the specific needs of long distance Transpennine commuters as well as providing an express link to other stations served, and these also should be retained.

  3.2.3  Finally it has seriously been suggested that the present Manchester Airport to Cleethorpes service should be curtailed at Doncaster. The logic behind this suggestion is that the service presently stops four times between Doncaster and Cleethorpes and that this is incompatible with Intercity type operation. This observation ignores the fact that, of the four intermediate stations, Scunthorpe, and Grimsby, as well as Cleethorpes itself, would appear to merit Intercity status, by virtue of the volume and character of business available. We cannot see that the need to service Barnetby and Habrough stations by whatever other means would justify the withdrawal of useful through services from Cleethorpes, Grimsby and Scunthorpe to Manchester Airport.


  4.1  We have serious and fundamental reservations about the intention of the Strategic Rail Authority, as proclaimed in their Strategy Document, to concentrate investment priorities, apart from the West Coast Main Line, on lines into London and the South East. In particular, it appears to us that the decision to postpone any enhancement of cross-Manchester capacity until after year 2010, and the decision to postpone the development of freight avoiding links until 2007 or 2008 fatally constrains the ability of the local rail network in Greater Manchester (as in the West Midlands for similar reasons, though that area is outside our terms of reference) to deal with contractually committed growth on the West Coast route whilst accommodating legitimate aspirations to frequency enhancement and growth on the Transpennine routes and the local network which feeds them. It is relevant that the Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study produced by the Gibb Consultancy for Greater Manchester PTE envisaged a virtual doubling of service frequency on most local routes in Greater Manchester to levels of frequency comparable with Metrolink, in order to bring about modal transfer on the scale necessary to avoid the total gridlock of the local highway network over the next 10 years or so. It does not seem appropriate or reasonable to us that the Government's targets for a 50% growth in passenger carryings and 80% growth in freight should be concentrated on the South East to the detriment of the North East and North West. Similarly, earlier studies on the development of Transpennine routes required both enhancements of service frequency (which have in part been achieved) and the provision of faster services on a clock-face, regular interval departure pattern. The growth in business at Manchester Airport, which has developed as the largest International Hub outside the South East, will also demand some enhancement of capacity both at Manchester Piccadilly and between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Finally, it should be noted that many of the multi-modal studies now emerging are predicated on an enhancement of rail service provision for which the SRA's Strategy document, in its present form, makes no allowance. The South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study (SEMMMS) assumed capacity enhancement on the local rail network to enable the full stipulations of the Gibb report to be attained. The Midman Study, which considered travel demands on the corridor from the West Midlands to the North West, assumed full modernisation of the West Coast Main Line to PUG2 140 mph operation, which will not now take place. In terms of the delivery of Transpennine service aspirations, early investment in the enhancement of capacity across Manchester, and in particular the construction of the Ardwick flyover and the provision of two additional through platforms at Manchester Piccadilly, are crucial.

  4.2  The broader economic context is also important. The whole issue of the provision of Transpennine rail services is of paramount importance to constituent local and public authorities and a range of northern business interests. The Transpennine routes are strategic transport links for the north, and have significance in national and international settings. Accordingly, the importance of these rail links has been identified in many local and national economic strategies, and is an explicit part of local and regional development planning. The quality and capacity of rail services is central to business and visitor perception of the North, and is therefore hugely significant for the tourism industry and in encouraging inward investment. In these respects the key strategic economic issue can be identified as access to and from Manchester Airport. The local authorities who own and control the Airport are supportive of the need to develop a positive approach to this issue, and their forward planning targets are consonant with and rely upon the development and improvement of public transport and especially rail links to the Airport from across the North and further afield. The need for adequate investment cannot therefore be overstated. Better services, faster running times, new rolling stock and improved infrastructure are and should be the prime components in the delivery of the Government's 10 Year targets for the growth in rail usage, for Transpennine services in particular, and the north in general.


  5.1  Existing studies of the Transpennine trunk roads show that these are effectively already at capacity. All routes from A57 and A616/A628 northwards to M62 suffer from congestion, and there are no effective solutions available to give relief. Under the auspices of the Peak Park Transport Forum, the South Pennines Integrated Transport Study group is attempting to find solutions which minimise the impact of this congestion on the National Park, but the absence of a coherent rail freight strategy inhibits any attempt to secure modal transfer in this area. Derbyshire County Council (ironically with SRA funding) is currently funding a study into the possible re-opening of a route from Matlock to Buxton, and at least one of the finalist bidders for the TPE franchise envisages the reopening of the Woodhead route in the medium to long term. The SRA's Strategy Document does refer to a proposal to carry out gauge enhancement work on the North Transpennine route via Diggle to accommodate 9'6'' square containers, but there is no specific time horizon set for this work and, in the absence of a diversionary route around Manchester the usefulness of gauge enhancement is limited. Proposals developed internationally under the North European Trade Access banner, and funded under Interreg 2, envisaged the development of an East-West corridor across Northern England, linking Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland through West Coast Ports, and a land bridge to the Humber Ports, thence by short sea crossings to Holland, North Germany, and beyond. These proposals were launched at an International Conference in Amsterdam in September 2001, and won the enthusiastic support of the National Governments concerned. Discussions between NETA and Railtrack, or their heirs and successors, continue. However the serious constraint on any freight development is the lack of capacity across Manchester. The only effective cross-Manchester link is presently through Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road to Castlefields Junction, thence to Trafford Park and beyond, and no spare capacity exists on this section of route. A private sector proposal to develop a major freight presence at Carrington adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal has been discussed with Trafford MBC. This would involve re-opening the disused freight line from Skelton Junction across the Ship Canal to Carrington (around SW Manchester), and Railtrack have considered extending this as far as Glazebrook and Kenyon Junction (on the Manchester-Liverpool route) in order to service their major intermodal freight facility on the former Parkside Colliery site without imposing a further burden on the West Coast Main Line. If implemented, this would provide a significant means of shifting freight round Manchester without creating additional congestion on the local network, and is to be commended. The NETA proposals are particularly welcome, since they address the problem of how to cope with projected demands for international freight haulage, without pouring further traffic onto lines into South East England which are already oversubscribed. An early decision on this, and on the enhancement of cross-Manchester freight links, are of crucial importance.


  6.1  The Transpennine Rail routes, if properly developed, offer a serious opportunity to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the region, and to accommodate legitimate demands for the movement of passengers and freight across the network, in ways which are environmentally and physically less damaging than any of the available alternatives. To achieve these objectives in the best possible way, the following specific changes are necessary:

  (a)  It is necessary to persuade the Strategic Rail Authority to adopt a more flexible approach to the application of Intercity type criteria to the specification of services within the Transpennine Express franchise, particularly at the geographical extremities of the franchise.

  (b)  Careful consideration needs urgently to be given to the extent and nature of the working arrangements which will be required to operate between the holders of, respectively, the Transpennine Express Franchise and the Northern Trains franchise.

  (c)  It is necessary that the decision outlined in the SRA's Strategy Document to postpone investment in capacity enhancement in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands until beyond year 2010, and investment in cross-Manchester Freight capacity until 2008, be reversed, and that urgent attention be given to the need to provide additional cross-Manchester capacity between Castlefields, Manchester Piccadilly, Ardwick Junction and Slade Lane Junction.

  (d)  It is necessary to develop, as a matter of priority, a freight strategy for North West England which will take full account of current pressures on Transpennine Routes and across Manchester, as well as the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe, and preferably one which does not concentrate the demand for additional freight paths on already overloaded routes into the South East.

  (e)  In view of the need to develop an East-West freight strategy identified above, there is an absolute need for the SRA to co-operate in funding preliminary work on the High Gauge Freight Strategy for the North Transpennine Route. This would complement attempts currently being made under the aegis of the North European Trade Axis to secure Interreg 3 funding to carry forward the necessary development work for this essential project.

Cllr Derek Smallwood,


Transpennine Rail Group

30 May 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 11 July 2003