Open letter to Theresa Villiers – Great Western Franchise Specification
Source: Tony Berkeley, RFG chair
I have read with some dismay the letter sent from Cornwall Council to MPs about the proposed reduction in specification for passenger train services in this franchise to and fromCornwall(below).
As a resident of Cornwall and frequent traveller on this line, I find it extraordinary that the Government is even considering reducing the specification for the minimum service. The current services were achieved as a result of a great deal of debate and effort locally to get these increased above the minimum in the last franchise and, as I believe you found on your recent visit to Cornwall, are well patronised with a significant growth achieved, both on the branch lines and on the main one.
It may be that the value for money on DfT calculations is not as high as on other lines in the franchise, but surely this is as much to do with the lower fares in Cornwall which must be related to the low wage level there; after all, Cornwall is the only area in the UK to be awarded continuing Cohesion Fund status from 2014, as having its GDP less than 75% of the European average.
Is the DfT really going to disadvantageCornwallstill further by cutting rather than increasing its through services toLondon, the frequency of its services within the county, and the number of seats available when many trains are already crowded to more than capacity?
You will recall your statement quoted by the council in December 2011: the specification for the franchise will be the current level of service rather than the contracted minimum’ presumably meaning the minimum in the current franchise. What has changed since then, except that the poor state of the economy here has been confirmed by the European Commission?
I welcomed your announcement about the continuation of the sleeper services for the duration of the new franchise. I do urge you to stand by your commitment in December 2011 on other services or, hopefully, to add on some parts of the excellent proposals from Cornwall Council to give this rather forgotten part of theUKthe boost it desperately needs.
I look forward to your comment.
:- Below is the letter from Nigel Blackler, Head of Transportation, Waste and Environment at Cornwall Council, to MPs.
Re: Great Western Rail Franchise – Reduced Service Specification
I write to express my growing concern over the direction the negotiations are taking with the Department for Transport (DfT) regarding the new Great Western Rail Franchise.
Cornwallhas invested over £35m in its local rail network, over the last decade, funding new services, station improvements, new lines and signalling and higher service standards. As a result, rail patronage has increased by over 70% over the same period, double the national average. It is crucial to maintain this growth in rail use and increase the role of rail in meetingCornwall’s transport needs.
Cornwallplans on further investment in rail and has a programme of schemes through its Local Transport Plan - Connecting Cornwall: 2030 to continue to deliver further infrastructure and support service improvements. These include mainline signalling upgrades to allow a 30 minute frequency timetable, station upgrades and improvements through the ‘Riviera 2’ project to improve access and integration, improved passenger information systems, smartcard integration with rail and other infrastructure required to support service improvements.
Given Cornwall’s record on rail investment and its proposals to continue this in the future, I was extremely disappointed to learn from the DfT that the opportunity will not be taken through the new franchise to make it a requirement for bidders / train operating companies to build in proposals aimed at maximising the opportunity provided by local investment and availability of additional rolling stock.
With the growth in rail passengers experienced locally and the vital importance of good connectivity to economic markets, employment and investment it is difficult to understand why the DfT is proposing a reduction in through trains from Cornwall to London from 9 to 6 in the new franchise. It also flies in the face of Theresa Villiers MP Minister for Transport’s statement in Westminster Hall on 20 December 2011 that:
“the specification for the franchise will be the current level of service rather than the contracted minimum”.
Cornwall Council was prepared to consider a reduction in through services toLondonas part of the introduction of a 30 minute clockface timetable from Penzance toExeterin 2017. However, the proposal for the next Great Western franchise appears to be promoting the removal of through services with limited or no reciprocal benefits forCornwall, completely ignoringCornwall’s record of investment in rail infrastructure and its proposed level of investment going forward.
There has been a complete failure to realise the opportunity the new franchise specification presents and worse still the direction being taken by the DfT to reduce through trains to London will reverse the growth in passenger numbers achieved over the last ten years. This is a major setback to the local economy which in terms of GDP remains the second poorest region in theUKand is still recognised by the European Union as an area for support to reduce our economic disparity.
The proposed DfT approach appears to be taking us back to the nightmare start of the previous franchise which specified a reduced level of service on some routes, resulting in problems with capacity and crowding, creating a poor passenger experience. In response to this a significant number of service changes and capacity additions had to be negotiated into the current franchise to address the high level of complaints received.
The lack of commitment to growing rail use inCornwallin the future will make it difficult for the Council to continue to maintain a programme of investment in the network.
I therefore request you urgently review the service specification to be included within the Invitation To Tender with Theresa Villiers MP for the next franchise in order to avoid Cornwall’s rail provision being set back for the next 15 years.
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