Memorandum by Friends of the Earth (FOR
THE FUTURE OF THE RAILWAYS
Friends of the Earth is pleased to be able to
the Committee's enquiry into the future of the railway. We have
responded to the questions posed by the Committee in order.
1. IS THE
We believe that the Regulator is right to highlight
the value of the railway. Rail is not outmodedit is the
essential core of an integrated transport system. Whilst current
performance falls short of passengers expectations the railway
is a success in the sense that it is carrying more passengers
now than at any time since the Second World War and on far fewer
The railway plays a major role in the economic
and social life of the UK. 41%
of commuters travelling into central London use heavy rail. Rail
also has a significant and in some cases a majority modal share
of journeys between many of our city centres.
Commuter rail travel also has significant economic, safety and
environmental benefits estimated at £819 million.
Rail carries a significant proportion of freight traffic with
major environmental benefits in terms of relief from HGVs and
reduced CO2 emissions as a result. Many other European countries
recognise the value of their railways and invest in them accordingly.
However, the railway has major problems at the
moment with soaring costs. The cost of running franchises, maintaining
and upgrading the track have exploded since privatisation
and as result the SRA has had to resort to drastic measures to
save money. The SRA, Regulator and Network Rail have recognised
the urgency of tackling this issue and they must do so quickly
if we are to have an expanding railway.
2. IS THE
The present network is basically the right one:
it serves most of our major centres and many rural areas. However,
there is much that should be done to improve the capacity and
reliability and size of the network and to make it easier to access
Friends of the Earth believes that the following
measures are necessary:
Significantly increased investment
in the network to provide more capacity and better reliability.
Railtrack's Network Management Statement 2000 listed numerous
schemes to provide additional tracks, diversionary routes and
remove bottle necks many of which have now been abandoned or delayed
indefinitely by the industry's financial crisis. Examples include
the upgrade of Manchester local network to eliminate bottlenecks;
quadrupling of track between Coventry and Birmingham to provide
more capacity; and the upgrade of the East Coast Main Line loops
for freight and diverted passenger trains.
Investment in new/reopened lines
and stations to put more places on the rail network. Station re-openings
have slowed to a trickle since privatisation.
Several large settlements and new traffic magnets are not rail
served and could be relatively easily. Examples include Dunstable,
Beds. and Fleetwood, Lancs.
Investment in a North-South high
speed line to provide extra network capacity and facilitate journey
time improvements, if it is proven that it will achieve significant
modal shift from environmentally damaging short haul flights rather
than simply generate new journeys.
Investment to improve the quality
of the rail networks around our regional cities like Birmingham
and Manchester. A recent SRA study
found that the Manchester rail network was underused due to its
poor quality. Another study by the Commission for Integrated Transport
found that cars had a much higher modal share in Manchester than
in Munich, a city of comparable size.
Provision of faster, higher quality
direct rail links between our regional cities that are poorly
served at present. (ie Leeds-Nottingham, Glasgow-Manchester)
In many cases these improvements would not require large scale
investment in new infrastructure, just TOC and SRA commitment.
Investment in electrification. The
UK has a low proportion of electrified route kilometers compared
with many of our European partners.
Electric trains are quiet, pollution free at point of use and
have the potential to be completely pollution free with the planned
expansion of our renewable energy generating capacity. Hardly
any electrification has taken place since privatisation and whilst
it is unrealistic to expect the whole network to be electrified,
there are glaring gaps in the electrified network and important
trunk routes that should be electrified as soon as possible.
Commitment to and investment in "soft"
measures that will enhance the accessibility and ease of use of
the network and thereby significantly increase passenger numbers.
As well as investment in big infrastructure improvement schemes,
the railway needs to get the smaller things right that often really
matter to passengers. Walking and cycling routes to all stations
should be safe and well lit; fares need to simplified and consistent
across the network; information provision needs to be improved
especially when things go wrong; and stations should be graded
according to size and offer guaranteed facilities commensurate
with their size. Some measures are underway to achieve some of
these aims but more investment and enforcement of standards is
needed to ensure standards are met and maintained.
3. WHAT SORT
Rail is an efficient mode for carrying large
numbers of passengers in urban areas and over long distances.
It is also ideally suited for bulk freight traffic. However, rail
has an important role to play in serving rural areas, particularly
popular tourist locations and/or those threatened by heavy road
COMMUTING It is inconceivable that
London could function without its rail system which carries 41%
of commuters into the city centre. Less appreciated is the valuable
role rail has as commuter transport in other UK cities. Rail (including
underground rail) accounts for 31% of commuters in Glasgow
and a significant share of commuters from the Aire and Wharf valleys
into Leeds. Rail has a less impressive modal share in some of
our other major cities. The SRA's 2001 Manchester Strategic Rail
Study, already mentioned, found that rail was under used in comparison
to cities of a similar size in other European countries because
of its perceived poor quality. The study identified a £1.5
billion package of improvements designed to deliver a three to
four fold increase in patronage on local and regional services.
Unfortunately, due to budget restraints, the SRA is unable to
deliver this programme before 2010. Friends of the Earth regards
it as essential that measures such as these and a similar upgrade
scheme planned for Birmingham are re-instated into the SRA's plans
as soon as possible. High quality rail services to bring commuters
into our major cities are essential, particularly as many are
considering introducing congestion charging designed to effect
modal shift to public transport.
LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL Rail plays a
valuable role as an efficient high speed travel mode over medium
and long distances. Indeed GNER has a significant modal share
of city centre to city centre traffic between Leeds and London.
However much could be done to improve this modal share further.
Reliability must be improved, more capacity must be provided and
fares must come down. The recent SRA Capacity Utilisation Policy
identified several routes which are already running at over 90%
capacity, including the East Coast Main Line, however the SRA
has radically scaled back plans to upgrade this important route.
Improvements are needed to ease bottlenecks such as four-tracking
Digswell viaduct, installing new tunnels near Welwyn North and
four tracking Huntingdon-Peterborough. Reliability could also
be improved by these measures. Major delays often result from
incidents that escalate due to inadequate infrastructure combined
with poor contingency planning. For example, a train failure in
the autumn of 2002 on the two-track Huntingdon-Peterborough section
resulted in several hours delay for several train loads of passengers.
The lack of bi-directional signalling on this section meant that
a flag-man had to be transported from London to flag trains through
one by one on the remaining track. Both four-tracking and/or bi-directional
signalling would have cut delays suffered by passengers significantly.
Alternative routes can also provide a contingency when things
go wrong as well as an alternative during engineering works. Friends
of the Earth believes that upgrades of routes such as Peterborough-Lincoln-Doncaster
as alternative route and electrification of routes such as Leeds-York
are essential if the railway is going to have the flexibility
to deliver the robust reliability that passengers and freight
RURAL RAIL Whilst rail is not the
ideal mode to serve sparsely populated rural areas, it performs
a valuable role serving congested tourist "honeypots"
such as Whitby and Windermere. Many rural cross-country routes
which also have (or should have) a vital dual role as duplicate
diversionary routes for main lines. (for example:- Settle-Carlisle,
Calder Valley and Peterborough-Doncaster via Lincoln. Friends
of the earth supports the initiatives proposed in the Association
of Community Rail Partnerships submission to the enquiry. Rural
lines viability should be enhanced by reducing maintenance costs,
better promotion and better integration with other modes such
FREIGHT Rail has an important role
as a freight carrier and we welcome the SRA's ambitions to increase
rail freight tonnage further. Rail has clear environmental benefits
over road transport. Per kilogramme carried, rail produces only
20% of the CO2 emissions compared to road transport.
Having said that, even with the increase in modal share envisaged
by 2010, the UK will still lag behind some other European countries
in terms of modal share of rail.
More must be done to encourage rail freight including the provision
of additional network capacity through adding extra tracks and
re-opened lines to the network. (ie re-open Matlock-Buxton and
Manchester-Sheffield via Woodhead).
4. HOW DOES
Although the UK has a substantial rail network
that compares favourably with others in Europe on some measures
such as service frequency, there is much we could learn from our
European neighbours. Many European rail systems put the UK's to
shame in areas such as punctuality and reliability, state investment
levels, fares, integration and electrification.
The key to addressing many of these shortcomings
is more investment. Although investment in the UK network is running
at record levels, per capita it is still less than several of
our European competitors. As already acknowledged, costs also
have to also be brought under control. Friends of the Earth has
shown how the Government could raise the necessary finance by
simply keeping motoring costs level with gradual fuel tax increases.
This would also partly address the increasing disparity between
motoring and public transport costs, an outcome of Government
policy that the Select Committee previously described as "incomprehensible".
Another possible source of funding that would be to end the effective
subsidies that the aviation industry receives by introducing fair
taxation. It is estimated that these are currently worth over
£9 billion per year. 
The chief areas of comparison, what we can learn
and Friends of the Earth's recommendations:
PUNCTUALITY AND RELIABILITY On the
UK rail network, punctuality and reliability are poor compared
to that on other Countries rail networks.
It is not easy to apportion reasons for this but they are likely
Comparative, historic lack of investment in infrastructure.
Congestion on the UK network due to lack of additional
capacity being provided while more and more trains are being run.
Flawed penalty/incentive regime which makes it
financially prudent to delay further a late running long distance
service in order to allow a stopping service to depart on time
in front of it.
Lack of contingency measures such as spare trains
and crews being provided as is common in some other European countries.
FARES High fares are cited by the
public as one of the chief factors that dissuade them from using
UK rail fares are the highest in Europe.
One cause of this must inevitably be inflated costs within the
industry, an issue which must be addressed (see first section).
Friends of the Earth's submission to the SRA fares review called
for three improvements:
Introduction of an off-peak national railcard.
Recent research by Railfuture
showed that such a measure would be likely to increase TOC income
and therefore reduce the subsidy requirement.
Regulation to simplify the fares system with
common ticket names and conditions laid down for the industry
Regulation to prohibit further extortionate fare
rises that have seen (for example) a standard open return from
Manchester to London increase by 82%
in the six years since privatisation.
ELECTRIFICATION The UK has one of
the lowest proportions of electrified lines in Europe (see note
10). After a flurry of electrification schemes prior to privatisation,
there has been none other than14 miles in Staffordshire between
Crewe and Kidsgrove as part of the West Coast Main Line modernisation
project and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
INTEGRATION Although there are many
examples of good practice in integration between rail and other
modes evident on the UK's rail network, there is again much we
can learn from our European competitors in the areas of:
cycle routes to stations, rail-bus links and
STRUCTURE OF THE INDUSTRY/COSTS Our
rail network has encountered huge difficulties since privatisation,
although some of these might have occurred anyway even if the
network had remained in public hands. It is noticeable that no
other European countries have attempted privatisation on the same
scale to that attempted in the UK. Privatisation is mainly responsible
for the explosion in costs already mentioned. We welcome the fact
that the SRA and Network Rail are taking action on numerous fronts
to address this issue, however it remains to be seen if they will
be reduced to a level comparable with British Rail. Network Rail
is experimenting with taking control of track maintenance and
signalling contracts in house. The SRA should not shy from conducting
similar trials with franchises and rolling stock leasing.
SUMMARY OF FRIENDS OF THE EARTHS
The Government must provide substantial extra
investment to bring our rail network up to the best standards
in Europe. The Government could do this by stabilising motoring
costs and ending the tax exemptions that the aviation industry
The SRA and Network Rail must take urgent and
if necessary, radical action to reduce costs, this might involve
taking more sections of the rail industry back "in house".
The SRA must make fares simpler and more affordable
by introducing a national railcard and tougher fares regulation.
The SRA should adopt best of sector standards
in integration by introducing national standards that TOCs must
meet as part of their franchise contracts by working with stakeholders
such as passengers and local authorities.
Once additional funds are available, the SRA
should devise a plan of infrastructure enhancement schemes that
will enable the network to operate more reliably and serve more
Once additional funds become available, the SRA
should develop an electrification strategy, prioritising strategic
gaps and main lines. New electrification equipment should be of
suitable quality to resist the effects of bad weather.
Rail Campaigner, Friends of the Earth
48 "The Case for Rail"-Transport 2000, (June
Estimate modal shares for rail, Liverpool-Leeds 56%, Manchester-York
78%-"The Case for Rail"-Transport 2000, (June 2002). Back
"The Case for Rail"-Transport 2000, (June 2002). Back
Comparisons of state aid as percentage of GDP, 5 European countries,
F-0.45, D-0.48, NL-0.47, S-0.36,UK-0.19-Financial Times
(12January 2002). Back
Estimate of infrastructure scheme cost inflation since British
Rail = factor of 2.5-Roger Ford, Modern Railways magazine
(July 2001). Back
Number of station re-openings 1987-25, 2002-02, 2003-03 (planned)-Railfuture
Manchester Strategic Rail Study-SRA (June 2001). Back
Car Modal Share (percentage all trips) Manchester 59%, Munich
41%-Study of European Best Practice in the Delivery of Integrated
Transport-CFIT (November 2001). Back
More details of these examples were given in the Friends of the
Earth submission to the Committee's enquiry into Railways in the
North of England (June 2003). Back
In 1999, only Denmark in Western Europe has a lower proportion
of electrified lines (26%) than Great Britain (30%), Belgium,
Luxembourg , Sweden and Switzerland all have more than 70% electrified-"Britain's
Railways An Alternative 10 Year Plan"-unpublished report
produced by Transport and Information Network for Friends of the
Earth (November 2001). Back
"The Case for Rail"-Transport 2000 (June 2002). Back
"Facts and Figures"-The Railway Forum (September 2000). Back
Goods Transport Rail Modal Share by Country (tkm in %, in year
2000) Sweden 38.2%, Austria 37.2%, Finland 26.2%-"EU Energy
and Transport in Figures"-European Commission (2002). Back
Keeping motoring costs constant with gradual increases in fuel
tax would provide between £16.7 and 30.2 billion by year
2010-"Paying for Rail"-Friends of the Earth (2002). Back
Result of introducing:- tax on aviation fuel, VAT on all aspects
of aviation, and abolishing Air passenger Duty and Duty Free (2003
prices): "Budget 2003 and Aviation"-Commons Environmental
Audit Committee (July 2003). Back
Trains on time: GB-79%, F-95%, D-96%, Japan-99%, Metro
newspaper (11/01/2002). Back
"Level of fares" received the highest number of "very
poor" or "fairly poor" votes in a survey of general
public's attitudes to train service conditions and services-CFIT:
Public Attitudes to Transport in England (2001). Back
Cost of travel per mile in UK is 1.7 times higher than in France,
Finland and Austria, 2.2 higher than in Sweden and Belgium. "UK
fares highest in Europe and Rising"-Independent (18/06/03). Back
"National Railcard Economic Research"-Railfuture (April
Price of Virgin London-Manchester Standard open return: £96(1996),