Memorandum by the Rail Passengers Council
The Rail Passengers Council (formerly known
as the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee (CRUCC)), as
the statutory consumer organisation representing the interests
of rail passengers, welcomes the opportunity to submit views on
behalf of the RPC network on this topic. The Council invited submissions
from the regional Rail Passengers Committees (formerly the Rail
Users Consultative Committees (RUCCs)), the London Regional Passengers
Committee and from its own independent members.
The Rail Passengers Council's thanks are due
to the RPC Southern England for producing the main body of this
response on behalf of the RPC network.
The Council remembers only too vividly the stop-start
nature of investment on the rail system by British Rail and the
so-called "maintenance holidays" introduced to eke out
inadequate budgets and yet still keep services running. Nevertheless,
the network both locally and nationally has openly criticised
aspects of Railtrack's stewardship of the national rail infrastructure.
(a) Vague Details
Early versions of the Network Management Statement
did contain plans but these were vague and omitted timescales.
(b) Risk Averse
As a low risk operation, underwritten by the
Government and with its future assured, it is lacking in vision.
A common accusation is that Railtrack has adopted an "if
it ain't broke, don't fix it . . ." approach rather than
investing in imaginative, innovative schemes.
(c) Extending Asset Life
Too often there is a lack of vision shown in
some investment decisions where investment has been based on life-expiry
of assets rather than other considerations, eg signalling schemes,
where decisions appear to be based on maximising the lifespan
of equipment, rather than considering the operating and capacity
advantages engendered by replacing them with a more flexible system
earlier. The Booz Allen report, commissioned by the Rail Regulator,
shared this view. Indeed, it was particularly critical of the
way in which major resignalling schemes detailed in the 1997 and
1998 NMSs had been deferred in the 1999 NMS or had been dropped
(d) Deteriorating Track Quality
The Booz Allen report also noted a decline in
track quality in 1995-96 and an increase in broken rails in 1998-99;
the south of the country seemed particularly badly hit. There
are considerable safety implicationsindeed the HSE was
so concerned over the condition of the track through the Severn
Tunnel that it imposed emergency speed restrictions.
(e) Lack of co-ordination of Station Regeneration
Programme with other Improvement Work
Many Committees have expressed concern that
the Station Regeneration Programme (SRP) limits itself to basic
repairs and simply returning the fabric of stations to their previous
state; it ignores the opportunity to enhance facilities. At Bournemouth
station, for instance, despite some £7 million of investment
on repairing the roof and building, there is little in the way
of enhancement for passengers (eg new waiting rooms, better toilets,
passenger lifts). Equally, there have been complaints from train
companies that Railtrack has been poor in co-ordinating station
work with that planned by the TOC itself, the end result being
a lost opportunity to undertake both works together. It must be
said, however, that there have been improvements in SRP work and
in co-ordination in recent times.
(f) Poor Management of Contractors
A number of recent prosecutions of contractors
compromising rail safety has led to concern in the RPC network
that low cost rather than quality of work may play an excessive
role in Railtrack's calculations. A further untoward consequence
of reliance on contractors is the amount of building material
left on the lineside in preparation for engineering work, often
unreasonably long in advance; similarly, the amount of redundant
material which remains uncleared when work is finished is a cause
for concern. Presumably Railtrack pays its contractors to remove
redundant items; if left on linesides, such materials not only
look unsightly but may tempt trespassers and vandals onto railway
property, either to remove these items for their own personal
gain or to place them on the track.
(g) Poor Clearance of Encroaching Vegetation
The amount of weeds on trackbeds and platforms
gives much of the network a very dilapidated appearance.
Poor record in clearing this.
However, it must be acknowledged that Railtrack
has made improvements in some areas:
Even though performance is still below the level
stipulated by the Rail Regulator, it must be acknowledged that
Railtrack has systematically reduced its share of train delays.
It has increased its level of investment in
successive NMS documents.
(c) Action Plans
Railtrack does now have action plans to tackle
track quality and capacity issues which itself points to the development
of a much more focussed and longer-term view of the industry than
That said, the NMS is very much a shopping list
of projects which need to be undertaken. It has been made clear
that Railtrack is reluctant to put up all the funding which will
be needed to achieve it, unless the company's investment is bolstered
by finance from elsewhere.
Q2. THE ADEQUACY
BY ORR OF
WHICH ORR INTENDS
At the point of privatisation Railtrack had
to operate within the terms of its licence as set by the Rail
Regulator. This focussed on the broad obligations required to
" . . . satisfy the reasonable requirements of persons providing
services for the carriage of passengers or goods by railway and
funders . . ." [Licence condition 7]. The Regulator also
set the track access charges through which Railtrack receives
the bulk of its revenue. This certainly gave the Regulator control/influence
over Railtrack's overall spending but initially it was very questionable
whether the level of control was such that the Regulator could
both specify and enforce actual priorities.
Past Regulators have been critical about Railtrack's
level of spending. The then Regulator found that the level of
underspend in December 1996 was wholly unacceptable, leading to
his publication of Objectives for Railtrack in January 1997. This
criticised Railtrack, calling its record in terms of its stewardship
responsibilities, "disappointing in important aspects".
The Regulator placed an obligation on Railtrack to deliver an
effective infrastructure renewal and investment programme which
followed four regulatory principles:
Railtrack should in a timely fashion
renew the railway infrastructure in the appropriate modern equivalent
Railtrack should take a proactive
and positive approach to the development of the railway network;
Railtrack should make good the current
shortfall in expenditure; and
Railtrack's plans and processes should
ensure delivery of these objectives.
This could certainly be taken as evidence of
ORR attempting to intervene and shape Railtrack's investment decisions,
even if only at a very broad, general level. However, success
was still limited. While the Regulator could force Railtrack to
produce an NMS there does not seem to be any mechanism enabling
him to take action if Railtrack failed to deliver on its plans.
Hence, in September 1997 the Regulator attempted
to strengthen his power through modifying Railtrack's Network
licence. This intended to make Railtrack more accountable for
the stewardship of the network and gave the Regulator more powers
to enforce action. To some extent this recognised that there was
insufficient control in the past.
Evidence of the use of this power could be seen
following the 1998 NMS. The Regulator (along with the then CRUCC
and RUCCs) was concerned about the level of commitment contained
within the document. While the Regulator did not consider that
Railtrack was in breach of its licence obligations, he concluded
that, unless Railtrack took certain action, it was likely to contravene
the requirements of Section 7 of its licence. Accordingly a number
of specific commitments was agreed, including:
reduce the number of delays attributable
to Railtrack by 7.5 per cent (for the year to 31 March 1999) and
publish revised targets for 2000-01;
plans for dealing with capacity bottlenecks.
Studies on congestion problems to be completed by 30 November
quantifiable plans for improving
the quality of track.
The present Rail Regulator has taken a much
more forceful approach to regulation. He has set specific targets
to reduce delays (with associated penalties) and taken a tough
stance in the access charge review.
In conclusion it could be argued that OOR has
tried to ensure that Railtrack has the right priorities for investment,
initially through blunt licence conditions and general obligations
(which appeared to have limited success), but latterly through
specific quantifiable agreements. The robust stance of the current
Rail Regulator is a positive contribution and is welcomed.
is a positive contribution and is welcomed.
Q3. WHAT ROLE
The sSRA has a key role in the development of
the rail network both in terms of its role as "paymaster"
of subsidies and its strategic input to investment decisions.
(i) Establishing criteria for each bid
Any organisation that sets the criteria for
franchise bids wields enormous influence over the rail network.
Setting the PSR can be of immense
importance to the development of rural communities where such
things as the number of fast commuter services to London do have
a tangible impact.
Setting out the key investment issues
which bids must address can directly influence the development
and to a lesser extent the maintenance of the network. For instance,
it can be made clear to bidders that bids must include plans,
for example, to electrify a specific route, or increase capacity
(eg at passenger-saturated termini), or order new trains, or build
new stationsthese will have a direct impact on the development
of the network. It is harder to specify particular track maintenance
requirements as these are traditionally the domain of Railtrack
rather than the franchisee but this approach could be developed
with station maintenance. The RPC network has been particularly
active in this area over the last year, drawing up franchise templates
against which bids can be evaluated.
(ii) Negotiating Franchises
Competitive bidding gives the sSRA the opportunity
of "squeezing" more commitments from the bidders. The
RPC network warned during the first round of franchising that
seven-year franchises were too short to expect companies to invest
at the sort of level necessary to bring about the improvements
which the railways need. To influence the current franchising
process, the RPC network has issued a number of consultation documents
to safeguard passenger's interests in the process. We have been
impressed with the breadth of vision coming forward from the first
bidders for renewed franchises in the absence of specific requirements
from the sSRA.
(iii) Establishing national priorities
Given that resources are finite there is a clear
role for sSRA in establishing a coherent, national view of Britain's
railway. Decisions on areas such as increasing capacity have an
obvious impact on the development of the network and competing
demands. The sSRA has a role in co-ordinating the activities of
franchises and ensuring commonality of goals across regions.
The sSRA controls subsidy payments to TOCs,
and performance regimes, the combination of which must give it
a significant influence over a TOC's spending plans. There have
been calls for subsidy to be paid direct to Railtrack rather than
funnelled via the TOCs. Any upset to the current arrangements
would seriously weaken the operator's ability to put pressure
on its supplier (eg Railtrack). The Council would not support
any amendment to this arrangement which might weaken the train
The sSRA also has an opportunity to lobby the
Government/Treasury for higher subsidy/investment levels.
(ii) Partnership funding
The sSRA controls the RPP fund. This provides
a direct opportunity to develop the network.
(iii) Local authorities
Local authorities do have some money available
for public transport issuesand if road pricing/congestion
charging is introduced this may increase. While it is unlikely
that most local authorities will fund train services in the same
way that they secure local bus services, there are various examples
of very welcome investment, eg:
pump priming investment for additional
provision of bus and rail information;
improved access for those with disabilities;
better co-ordination of and publicity
for bus routes serving railway stations.
There is a role for the sSRA in brokering deals
between TOCs/Railtrack and local authorities.
The monitoring and enforcement regime can also
impact on the development of the network. For example, one of
the RPC Network's concerns at the moment is the unacceptable level
of short-formations (ie running trains conveying fewer carriages
than planned). We feel that this situation is a result of the
combination of increased passenger demand, the unreliability of
ageing rolling stock coupled with underinvestment in maintenance,
hindered by an inadequate fleet of rolling stock to match supply
with demand, thus failing to cope with unforeseen operating contingencies.
A TOC faces a fine for each instance of short-formation; concern
has been expressed that where the penalty may be less than the
cost of hiring additional rolling stock to rectify the shortfall,
it has proved a less than robust deterrent. The RPC network has
drawn this to the attention of the sSRA on numerous occasions.
The Council is seeking to reach an amicable
agreement with Railtrack and the Association of Train Operating
Companies concerning the provision of causation data following
the Regulator's determination in our favour. We hope that this
will preclude the necessity for the Strategic Rail Authority (who
have assumed the role of consumer protection from ORR) to take
The nature of franchising means that the sSRA
will have more influence on TOCs than on Railtrack. However, one
area in which it can "influence" Railtrack is in the
publication of delay causation data. Currently details on punctuality
and reliability are recorded on a TOC-by-TOC basis and omit the
cause of the delay. If sSRA were to publish the delays on a TOC,
TOC-on-TOC and Railtrack basis then passengers and the RPC network
could help keep the pressure on the relevant organisations for
improvements. We are currently again seeking access to the causation
data, without which it is impossible to monitor services on behalf
of passengers accurately.
It is essential that the sSRA truly champion
rail and take the opportunity to lobby government.
June 2000/Revised March 2001