HOW SHOULD our railways be run in the future? As a campaigning rail users’ group embracing a range of views, HADRAG does not take a view on whether our national rail system should continue with largely privatised, private enterprise train operation, or whether there should be some form of social ownership or renationalisation. What many of us do think is that the present system is crazy, not necessarily because of who owns it, but because of fragmentation. We desperately need one railway that works for passengers and to provide an attractive, modern, reliable alternative to congested roads, supporting good growth and protecting the environment, locally and globally.
Last May we had a timetable change that was a complete mess. That must never happen again. In the North of England we have two main train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express. They run across a system operated by Network Rail, the government-owned track operator. Network Rail decides the final timetable, from a remote train planning office in Milton Keynes. Northern and TPE both have their own train planners and must bid, to some degree in mutual competition, for slots in the Network Rail plan. So that is three separate bodies of train planning expertise planning what rail users are surely entitled to see as one train service. Who cares who runs the trains (or owns it – a wholly separate matter in the fragmented railway)? We just want a timetable that is strategically planned by a regional guiding mind to meet the needs of commuters and more occasional travellers, and delivers enhancements that will make train travel more attractive, more usable.
The Williams Review is looking at the whole organisation of our railways with a view to feeding in to a government white paper this autumn. It’s a tight deadline. HADRAG responded to the “initial listening phase earlier this year, but anyone can put forward views – on franchising, the public-private debate or other issues by the end of May. See the summary of our initial response below, and our full paper here.
Meanwhile, HADRAG’s latest newsletter Halifax and Calder Valley Rail Views sets out our latest thoughts on timetable issues, and we have an update on the Electric Railway Charter with the argument swinging back from “gapped” electrification towards the need for strategic routes like the Calder Valley (as well as the Huddersfield Line “TransPennine” route) to be fully electric. – JSW
Here’s HADRAG’s summary from our response to Williams:
“There should not be a conflict between the interest of passengers and taxpayers. Taxpayers benefit from the existence of a modern and effective rail network through its ability to reduce congestion, taking people to work and delivery goods. Railways directly reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Government financial support for rail should be seen not as subsidy but as social payment for a public service with wide social, economic and environmental benefits. Because of that, the possibilities of rail travel should be made attractive to as great a percentage of the population as possible.
Priorities should be:
- To re-integrate a railway that is fragmented in its structure. Removal of fragmentation to put functions under one roof can reduce costs and promote effective, agile decision making. Train-operation and system operation (including timetable planning) need to be unified. For example, in the North of England a single company should be responsible for internal services, planning service patterns, devising the timetable and delivery of the service. The present system for example of separate train-planning establishments within Northern and TransPennine Express TOCs and centrally within Network Rail does not make sense.
- Devolved structures to promote effective and prompt decisions as close as possible to the point of service delivery, responsive to passengers’ needs. Regional “track+train” operating companies may be in the private sector or may be socially or cooperatively owned. (HADRAG maintains a neutral position on the political question of private versus public ownership.)
- Expansion of the rail network with a fares system that encourages increasing use for an increasing range of purposes – culture, leisure and community as well as work and business.”