MECX Press release

Calls for Northern to be Stripped of its Franchise

Deborah Lillis

The Mayors of Greater Manchester, as well as the Liverpool City Region, have made it clear that they would like the Transport Secretary to strip Northern of its rail franchise sooner rather than later.

This would mean that the government would remove Northern from all local rail services that are in place around York and Selby. The company has rarely been out of the news all year which was a result of the timetable changes that caused a significant amount of problems throughout the area for passengers.

The timetable changes came into effect last May and since, the company has repeatedly failed to improve its performance and provide a service that passengers can rely on. So, the calls from the Mayors of Liverpool and Manchester are suggesting that the governments need to intervene and replace Northern as soon as possible.

The disruption was widespread and even affected the TransPennine express at Malton. However, Northern has responded, claiming that the problem was caused by delays in infrastructure projects, all of which were out of their control, although they claim that they are making improvements. New trains have been introduced onto a number of lines while the York to Hull serve is now running on an hourly schedule, which means that the areas of Ulleskelf and Sherburn are now benefiting from a regular service.

Despite this, the people of the North have had enough and no longer want to put up a with a second rate service. The Metro Mayors believe that the consistent failures prove that action has to be taken in order to save public confidence in the service as well as deliver the franchise requirements.

The RMT Union has welcomed the call for the services to be re-introduced back into the public sector and so, they will be looking to receive immediate assurances that jobs, working conditions and pensions will remain protected.

However, the government has still to respond on whether they will, in fact, strip Northern of the franchise. What is needed though, is for the service to be improved considerably so that passengers can rely on the rail network in the area when they need it.

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Network Rail and Colas Create a Near Diesel Free Site

Deborah Lillis

A Project that is being led by Network Rail and Colas rail has utilised solar lighting and power generation to create a site of the future. This site, located in Llanwern, South Wales is now 97% diesel free.

Through the use of solar and battery technologies from Prolectric Ltd instead of diesel generators, they were able to save 6,000 litres of fuel as well as 15 tonnes of CO2 throughout a 14-day project. This is being considered a remarkable achievement whereby off-grid working was achieved while also being carbon-free. This has helped contribute towards the target put in place by Network Rail where it plans to reduce energy consumption by 20% and carbon emissions by 25%.

The site, which covered more than 21 acres, used solar lighting and power generation throughout the site which included roads, cabins, car parking and the track working area where the London to Cardiff mainline joins the Llanwern Steelworks. The project lasted for two weeks and had more than 70 staff working on the site.

Carrying out rail renewal has always relied on diesel generators for off-grid power, however, new solar technologies are now being seen as a viable alternative that can help to meet non-traction carbon targets while also reducing noise, fumes and pollution. Running diesel generators has a significant impact on the environment while they are also seen as a disturbance to neighbours. However, through using solar, pollution is significantly reduced while the neighbours remain happy.

The use of on-site solar tower lights is something that has been worked on for some times but now, the addition of solar generators is a real game-changer. Moving forward, the aim is to use smaller plant and tools such as disk saws and band saws. These new technologies are changing how works are being carried out and they will continue to do so. Now, Network Rail aims to rely on the technology to the point where it becomes a normal part of the business.



Legal Action Against DfT put in Motion by West Coast Bidders

Deborah Lillis

High Court action against the Department for Transport has begun as the Stagecoach Group seeks to fight the disqualification of the bid for West Coast Partnership.

The claim from Stagecoach relates to the Department for Transport breaching its statutory duties under EU and English law after it decided to disqualify the bid from Stagecoach and its partners SNCF and Virgin Trains at the beginning of April, based on the grounds that the bid was non-compliant.

The Department is already being sued by Stagecoach following the continuous rejection of its bid for East Midlands Trains. The company was also disqualified from the South Eastern competition at the same time.

At each point of disqualification, there was a concern that there was too much risk surrounding the way in which the operators deal with railway pensions.

The chief executive of Stagecoach, Martin Griffiths has said that they believe that the rail system should be transparent when it comes to appointing the best customer and should not focus on the risk to train companies. The court action comes as a disappointment to Stagecoach, although this was a necessary step for the company to take against the DfT’s decision. The hope is that the exposure will highlight the franchising process and help to enhance and resort the confidence of both the public and investors.

The chairman of SNCF, Guillaume Pepy has said they are extremely disappointed with the way in which the DfT handled the entire procurement process for the West Coast Partnership franchise. The belief is that the rail franchises should be let based on sustainability to those operators that deliver the best services, trains and customer experience while doing so in a cost-effective way.

Virgin Group is the third claimant, whereby they believe that the stance taken by the DfT is frustrating. The reason their bid was disqualified is believed to have nothing to do with ensuring that customers have a good train service that they can rely on. Virgin Trains is consistently one of the best operators out there which proves that they believe in delivering exceptional customer experience. At this point, the DfT seems to have ignored their performance and has instead focused on those bidders that are believed to be willing to take on unnecessary risks, such as pensions.

At this moment in time, the DfT is remaining firm, claiming that Stagecoach knowingly submitted non-compliant bids, despite being an experienced franchise bidder.


Scrapping HS2 Would Be a Bad Idea Claim Northern Leaders

Deborah Lillis

Despite HS2 coming under fire in the last few weeks, local government leaders from the North have said that scrapping the project would be a disaster. They also claimed that it would affect the prosperity of Britain for decades.

The council leaders sent a letter to the Treasury Chief secretary Liz Truss, claiming that the £56bn project is already having a positive impact on jobs and investment in the north. The letter delves into the problems that the transport network faces although it has made it clear that deciding not to go ahead with HS2 would only lead to a backwards step for the country.

Following a damning report from the Lords committee, the letter states that collectively, all regions in the area could create up to 500,000 jobs while also helping to inject millions into the economy.

We are now at a point where the UK should consider to continue with building the largest infrastructure project in Europe. If a lack of commitment is made to HS2 then it would lead to the demise of regional economies while preventing the UK from prospering over the next few decades. The letter claims that it is vital that the Spending Review should avoid making false links between investment in local, regional and national transport infrastructure which comes at a time when speculation suggests that the HS2 project could be scrapped altogether.

Representatives from local authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, North Yorkshire, Sunderland, Durham and Lancashire have signed the letter including mayors and business leaders.

The rising costs have put HS2 under a lot of pressure, all of which has stemmed from the increases land acquisition costs while it has also been announced that the project could run using few trains or even slower trains.

1t was just last week that the Economic Affairs Committee published a report whereby the HS2 should be reconsidered as it will no offer value for money and comes at a risk of putting the north at a disadvantage. However, policymakers have been urged to put the benefits of the project first with the business case for HS2 being noticeably clear.

Network Rail Seeks a Traffic Management Partner

Deborah Lillis

As part of its major digital railway transformation programme, Network Rail is seeking a traffic management partner who can work with them within its London North Eastern and East Midlands route as part of the first inter-city development as well as the deployment of modern in-cab signalling.

When it comes to improving the quality of service for passengers, traffic signalling plays a crucial role. This helps to avoid conflict and predict it while timetable re-planing can help to avoid or reduce delays when disruptions occur. The traffic management system will be the first adapted system on the network. It will be designed and developed in line with industry partners, paving the way for a new way of working for Network Rail.

The procurement process will complement the two previous ECML tenders that were launched last year, eventually leading to three external partners being put in place to help with the delivery of the transformation programme. Last summer, the company went through the process of seeking a technology provider before searching for a railway systems integration partner in November. This new way of working will see Network Rail form partnerships with providers as soon as possible where they can use their operating and infrastructure knowledge along with the technology expertise of suppliers to create solutions that are formed around collaboration from the very beginning of the process.

There are two parts to the procurement process where one or two partners will be provided between the York and Manchester Rail operating centres, where traffic management for the TransPennine route will be developed as part of the route upgrade programme.

The route programme director, Toufic Machnouk has said that the aim is to deliver a high performing railway & passengers is a priority. The implementation of traffic management systems will enhance the performance of the network through reducing delays and ensuring that the timetable is restored quickly during times of disruption.

The passengers will benefit significantly from traffic management which is something that this part of the network is in vital need of and so, through appointing an external partner will ensure that the changes are managed correctly.

The North Should Not Miss Out on HS2

Deborah Lillis

The costs of the high-speed railway that link the North of London to Birmingham and Manchester has come under even more scrutiny. The committee of the House of Lords has said that the costs are spiralling out of control while the appraisal of the project by the Department for Transport is flawed.

As a result, a call has been made for a re-evaluation of the project after it was claimed by former chairman of HS”, Sir Terry Morgan, that nobody knows what the final cost will be.

The Lords has said that the method of appraisal used for large infrastructure projects is no longer fit for purpose. While the main justification of HS2 is to improve and enhance the capacity on the rail network, it is claimed that the DfT is focusing more on its speed.

The committee has also claimed that investment should be focused on the rail network in the north of England while it was concerned that the project will run out of sufficient funds long before the northern sections are built.

So, the committee has made it clear that the plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail should merge with the plans associated with the northern section of HS2. They also claimed that the funding for the project should be ringfenced making it possible for rail investment to be prioritised in those areas that require it the most.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the committee chair has said that the costs are no longer under control and that it is surprising that the government has now followed through with a thorough assessment of proposals as a way of reducing the overall cost of HS2. This could involve lowering the speed or terminating in West London instead of Euston – a recommendation made in 2015 by the committee.

Commuter services in the north are suffering from overcrowding and they are using old trains and the connections between major cities in the north are poor. So, the rail infrastructure in the north should become an investment priority for the government instead of attempting to improve the links between the south and the north. Effectively, the north is missing out because of the current plans, particularly as construction on HS2 is beginning in the south.

MECX Press release

Network Rail Makes Changes to Drive Passenger Satisfaction

Deborah Lillis

Big changes have been announced at Network Rail as it seeks new and innovative ways of delivering a customer-focused approach. The changes involve the introduction of five new regional Managing Directors, all of which will play a key role in enhancing the entire experience for passengers.

The Chief Executive, Andrew Haines has made it clear that these changes and the current evolution of Network Rail is to deliver the very best service possible. These major changes also stand for freight users and so, Network Rail aims to deliver the promises that it has made over the past fives years while also enhancing that they work together as an industry.

The company is being devolved into 13 routes, all of which will be supported by five regions which is where the new Managing Directors will play a part. They will help to create and drive focus on what really matters to customers which is to deliver a railway that is punctual, reliable and efficient.

The new roles being introduced at Network Rail are:

  • Alex Hynes, Managing Director, Scotland’s Railway
  • John Halsall, Managing Director, Southern
  • Mark Langman, Managing Director, Wales and Western
  • Rob McIntosh, Managing Director, Eastern
  • Tim Shoveller, Managing Director, North West and Central

There is no denying that these are very important roles that come with a huge amount of responsibility with the aim of delivering on every level whereby the passengers and freight users become the sole focus of Network Rail. This deep devolution is vital to any future successes and it provides the company with the tools, the authority and the ability to deliver for funders, customers and passengers.

It will help to introduce efficient decision-making processes and will enable them to work closely with operators. The decisions that will be made will be done with a level of insight where the consequences are acknowledged, and that is where these new roles help to achieve this.

The new roles will begin on the 24thof June, while their organisations and their structures are still being designed although the new Managing Directors will be involved in this process.

Rail Franchise Disqualification Leads to Legal Action

Deborah Lillis

Following the decision by the government to disqualify Stagecoach from the East Midlands rail Franchise, the railway operator has decided to pursue legal action against the DfT.

Stagecoach claims that the government has breached its statutory duties when making its decision and so, it is considering further legal action after being disqualified from two other franchises – the South Eastern and West Coast franchises.

In April, the DfT prevented Stagecoach from being a part of the rail franchise competitions, claiming that the bids were not compliant with the pension regulations. This resulted in the operator requesting an immediate meeting with the DfT, accusing it of putting the future of the UK rail industry in doubt.

According to the government, the company had consistently ignored the rules that were in place and was therefore responsible for being disqualified as it refused to agree with the pension rules.

Once again, the dispute over rail pensions has come to a head following the decision to disqualify Stagecoach. Claims have been made that the DfT took a riskier approach to pensions and that it had refused to accept a pension risk over £1bn.

Warnings have already come from the Pensions Regulator, stating that train operators face a pension void of £7.5bn, while legal action has been threatened by the RMT over the pension shortfall.

The chief executive of Stagecoach, Martin Griffiths has made it clear that the company has no option other than to take legal action against the government in an attempt to scrutinise the decision-making of the DfT publicly. There are concerns around the DfT’s procurement of the three most recent rail franchise competitions and the thinking behind the decisions it has made.

Even after requests for complete transparency around the matters, there are still many questions that remain unanswered. The DfT has made it clear that it has no plans to comment on any on-going legal proceedings but has said that it believes completely in the franchise competition process.

The successor to Stagecoach’s East Midlands rail franchise is Abellio, although other operators who also bid alongside stagecoach are considering taking legal action.


Rail Delivery Group Divided

Deborah Lillis

Opinions are divided within the Rail Delivery Group when it comes to what the Williams Review should do when it comes to restructuring the industry.

On behalf of train operators, the RDG published a joint submission to Keith Williams on the 30thApril where it called for an independent national organising body to take control of the entire industry. Proposals were made concerning operators on intercity routes and commuter railways to be controlled by devolved authorities. There were also calls for simpler fares as well as removing the need for split ticketing. However, when the proposals were published by the RDG, it also admitted that not every member agreed with each part of the proposal although the support was there for the main principles.

Virgin Group, on the other hand, has a different idea because it is seeking a more radical shake-up. This would involved paths on intercity routes to be sold to the highest bidders instead of being allocated to a specific franchise. It has also made calls for seats on intercity trains to be booked in advance, removing the ability to simply walk onto trains and choose a seat.

Manuel Cortes, the TSSA general secretary has made it clear that this approach looks like the complete opposite of a professional body making the public a priority. Instead, the RDG is claimed to be fighting from within to protect their profits and position. It was only a few days ago when the RDG made a call for a single body to control the railways. Not it appears as though they are incapable of coming to an agreement about the future of rail in the UK. To add to the misery, Paul Plummer the chief executive has announced that he is leaving, suggesting that something is not right. This should leave Keith Williams with the ability to be able to see right through the plans that the RDG and Paul Plummer have. There is no doubt that the public will be able to see through it.

The RDG has made a statement about the claims of in-house disagreements. They have said that with an organisation as large as the RDG, it is inevitable that not all members will agree on everything. Despite this, they have clarified that all members agree on the principles of the proposals.

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