Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)|
WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
360. This was Railtrack when they were involved
with Leeds, that Wakefield was included in the programme; were
you not aware of that?
(Mr Beale) If I may come in and say that I was not
aware of that but I am aware that GNER are offering station improvements
at Wakefield as part of their two year franchise extension.
361. So, that is still on board?
(Mr Beale) That is still on board.
362. Are you aware of any commercial interests
in the development of Wakefield?
(Mr Beale) No.
363. The Strategic Rail Authority have just
told us that factors to do with regional economic regeneration
are not part of their assessment of value for money. Could you
tell us what impact that has had in the north west.
(Mr O'Friel) I do not think we could actually because
that is beyond our remit. I do not think we could say that with
any certainty at all. What we could say is that, from the point
of view of the Rail Passengers Committee, we take account of what
the regional development agencies strategic plan is and indeed
we have contributed towards that through our members. So we are
fully aware of it. I really would not be able to make an assessment,
I do not think we are at the stage of the implications.
364. Would you see it as part of your role to
make representations about the needs of the north west?
(Mr O'Friel) Entirely. We do that all the time; we
talk to the companies all the time about the need for improving
services and to the Strategic Rail Authority and to their representatives.
365. Do they listen? Do they do anything?
(Mr O'Friel) They listen, that is certainly true,
but how much account they take of what we say is another matter.
We would, for example, say that the discussions about the Trans-Pennine
separate franchise were opposed, I think almost universally across
I think the whole of the north, both from the train operators,
from users and from local authorities. We went to some trouble
to arrange a conference at which these diverse views were put
and the Strategic Rail Authority was well represented. We did
not feel that the Strategic Rail Authority took the message away.
They may have heard what we said but they did not take it away
and do anything about it.
366. Are there any comments from the north east
on this issue?
(Mr Beale) Mainly supportive comments. I have to say
that although things are, once again, improving but gradually,
we feel we have had a problem with the SRA for a long time in
that its view of consultation and our view do not meet in the
middle somewhere. Our view is that we should be told what the
current thinking is, be presented with perhaps some options, and
we could feed in the passenger viewpoint and come to an agreed
position. I think the position historically has been that the
SRA have decided what they are going to do and then come to try
and sell it to us, which is their view of consultation.
367. Would you like to see any changes in the
remit of regulated and unregulated fares?
(Mr O'Friel) There is a review which is about to take
place by the Strategic Rail Authority on the whole matter of fares
and we would certainly welcome almost a root and branch look at
the whole situation because we of course have been at the heart
of emphasising the difficulties created for passengers by the
huge fare increases by Virgin, particularly to the north west
but to other regions as well, and our attempts to get regulators
to take on this problem as we saw it have really run into the
sands. We referred it to the strategic rail authority and frankly
there was a long, hollow silence. We referred it to the office
of the Rail Regulator and the Rail Regulator I think told us in
a nice round about way that it was too expensive to do the sort
of investigation we required. So, quite frankly, we are not very
pleased about the way the regulation of fares actually works in
practice for the benefit of passengers.
368. Have you suggested changes?
(Mr O'Friel) Yes, indeed. We have suggested to the
Strategic Rail Authority that if the current arrangements do not
work, they should be seeking additional powers in order that this
would make a difference and we would put exactly the same point
to this Committee, that it may be that there is not sufficient
power in the regulatory authorities to ensure that there is no
abuse of monopoly because we believe, quite frankly, that there
has been some form of abuse of monopoly, even if in a legal sense
the Regulator has cleared Virgin of that.
369. What is the experience in the north east?
(Mr Beale) The situation in the north east is that
we are keeping a very close watch on just in case GNER in some
way try and follow the pattern which was established by Virgin.
If I could quote as an example when the new timetable came into
effect on the second of this month, there are further restrictions
on the use of savers which is the regulated fare and a new fare
called a business saver has been introduced and certainly from
Newcastle which is the station I use most often, Kings Cross is
£2 extra. However, that of course is not a regulated fare;
so, at the next opportunity, there would be nothing to stop GNER
making the sort of increase on that fare which we have seen on
the West Coast on Virgin.
370. What do you believe should be the main
criteria on the awarding of the new franchises?
(Mr Preston) It has to be that franchise which is
going to produce the maximum passenger benefit in terms of quality
of service. We are talking about someone who can guarantee to
run trains which are in the timetable and run them to time, to
turn them out of the depot in the morning in a clean condition
and keep them clean throughout the day. These things should be
possible. At the moment, at places it seems that is not being
delivered. Let us get some basics in here and award the franchises
which can deliver that kind of thing before we get all the fancy
things on top of that.
371. If there were a choice between a long-term
renewal of the franchise for GNER or a three year renewal with
a link-up to the northern services, which do you consider would
be best for passengers?
(Mr Preston) My own view on this is that you must
have a situation which will allow a franchisee to invest. Railway
investment has to be planned years in advance. Even if you wanted
new trains today, you would not see them for three years on the
track. I cannot see that short-term franchise and extension of
franchise is going to produce any really significant benefits.
372. Do you envisage the possibility of an integrated
service, for interconnecting services using York as a hub?
(Mr Preston) One of the things that is really missing
in the present PSRs is any way of pinning down connecting services
and making the various companies co-operate with connections which
existed appearing in the timetable and the whole issue was about
whether they are actually maintained on the day as a result of
late running, but, yes, I think that if you are going to encourage
people to use the rail as their mode of choice, you have to look
at the door to door journey, so it has to be connecting services.
373. On the north eastern line, do you think
that projects of passenger partnership schemes are better and
give better priority compared to nationally run schemes? Do you
think it is better to have the sort of scheme that is being suggested
through a partnership scheme rather than a nationally driven scheme?
Have you not examined that?
(Mr Beale) The use of the rail passenger partnership
(Mr Preston) It has to be.
(Mr Moorhouse) Can I say something on that one because
I think it certainly has. I think there is very much a future
for rail passenger partnerships and I think that we must look
at any way we can of getting investment in the railways and, where
there would obviously have to be a national strategy, let us hope
that we can see more of that. We certainly also have to see some
local investment. A lot can be done locally and regionally and
I think the rail passenger partnerships are very useful for that.
375. Mr O'Friel has already eloquently exposed
that there is a particularly good one in the north west, but can
you point to any area of policy where there has been a change
simply because of what you have said?
(Mr O'Friel) I think the best example is probably
on the Virgin fares issue where we have got it on the agenda with
the Strategic Rail Authority. I can remember when I was first
appointed going with John Moorhouse to see the then OPRAF officials
and, quite frankly, we were not quite laughed out of court but
we were certainly not taken at all seriously when we first raised
the question of Virgin fares. Now we have satisfactory references
to us in the strategic plan, certainly a huge improvement to what
376. Getting something on the agenda is not
quite the same as changing policy.
(Mr O'Friel) I think it is because the first step
towards changing the policy is that you get it on the agenda and,
quite frankly, if it was not on the agenda in the first place,
getting things on the agenda can be quite a task.
(Mr Moorhouse) If I may add to that, I think there
is a specific area where we have changed policy and that is the
way that Virgin plan some of their fares. For example, we have
managed to get a whole lot of railcard fares and people travelling
on behalf of charities to be able to travel a great deal cheaper
than they could before at certain times of the day; so we do have
an impact and that is an example of it.
377. As a barometer of public opinion, of rail
users anyway, are there any issues that people bring to you, not
relating to domestic things such as how well the trains run or
whether they turn up on time but more sort of strategic things
that people mention such as the fragmentation of railways? Do
people demand network improvements and extensions?
(Mr O'Friel) I think we often seen the symptoms, the
causes of which are of course fragmentation. People usually come
to us and the great classic problem is lack of information about
anything and the difficulty of finding out what is going on. That
nearly always comes down to fragmentation. Sometimes, we get into
quite difficult situations where people are trying to discover
the cause of something and we take the case up on their behalf
and two different parts of the industry try and blame the other
and we are left in the middle trying to satisfy passengers and
trying to get answers for them and that has been very frustrating.
378. So users are expressing an interest, plainly
not explicitly, but they want more hubs, they want better links
and do they want the re-opening of lines?
(Mr O'Friel) They certainly want a more joined up
railway and they want a railway which is larger and has more capacity
so that the present overcrowding and some of the present difficulties
379. Would it be better for the SRA to establish
rather less ambitious specifications for new franchises with the
possibility that that might go wrong rather than having very ambitious
plans that are unlikely to be delivered?
(Mr O'Friel) I think it is not an either/or. My personal
view is that we have to have a bit of both. What is important
is that the plans in the shorter term have a rather more realistic
edge. I think we have suffered a bit from some of the grand schemes
and I think, I hope that the present leadership of the SRA will
perhaps focus more on getting improvements that passengers can
see rather something that is a distant mirage as far as passengers