Angela raises concerns over the transfer of trains from Trans Pennine routes to the Chilterns
Angela recently held Ministers to account for their decision to allow the transfer of 9 Class 170 ‘turbostar’ trains from Transpennine Express to Chiltern Railways.
The move, which is a direct result of the Coalition government’s ideological obsession with privatizing the East Coast line before the general election and its botched re-franchising of the West Coast Mainline, could mean at best the north ending up with older unsuitable trains or at worst not enough trains to fulfill the growing demand in the north for rail travel.
Criticizing the move, she asked just what Ministers knew and when they knew it. She also asked for clarification of rumours that to plug the possible shortage created by this decision, trains could be moved from the Northern franchise. Such a move would beg questions as to whether or not the old, deeply unpopular and inefficient Pacer trains might have to stay longer than the planned 2020 deadline. On this she asked Ministers to confirm whether they have applied for permission to extend the life of these trains.
Commenting Angela said;
“The removal of these trains shows exactly the mess this government is making of the rail network and is the end result of the botched re-franchising of the west coast Mainline and its ideological desire to re-privatize the East coast Mainline before the general election.
The Minister undertook in his response to find a solution and I await with interest the detail of what this solution will look like. It has to be a way forward which does not involve any loss of capacity on our local rail routes and moreover we need further assurances about improvements in the quality of our rolling stock from 2016 onwards. You can be sure we will hold the Minister to account with regard to the reassurances he has given today and that we will continue to campaign for a better deal for rail passengers in the north of England.”
Angela’s speech is below, for a full transcript of the speech actually delivered see www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/
Rolling Stock Provision in the North of England
12th March 2014
Thank you Mr/ Mrs <<whatever>>and all the usual pleasantries you give when stating a speech
The TransPennine Express service is without doubt a vital artery for the north of England.
Its routes cover most of the north from Barrow in Furniss in the North West to Newcastle in the North East via Manchester and Sheffield and of course not forgetting Liverpool in the West and my own home town of Grimsby in the East.
All in all the area its services cover has some 15 million people living there. To put that in perspective, it serves nearly as many people as live in the whole of the South East of the country, including London.
Not surprisingly, the services provided by TPE are already busy and i ndeed the operator won the prestigious title of 'Passenger Train Operator of the Year' in 2010, with record growth in passenger numbers from 13 million, when the company started in 2004, to 23m in 2010.
They have a reputation for impressive performance, with high customer satisfaction scores and a proven commitment to developing and investing in rail travel in the North.
However, it now seems because of the shambolic nature of this Government’s handling of rail franchising, Trans Pennine Express are at the receiving end of a catastrophic series of decisions triggered by the collapse of the West Coast franchising process nearly two years ago. And of course it is the north that will yet again suffer a poorer service as 9 of TPE’s class 170 turbo Star trains units are transferred to Chiltern Railways. That figure, by the way, represents 13% of TPEs fleet.
At least the Prime Minister will benefit from a better service when visiting his constituency at weekends.
What is also clear is the process of transferring these trains has the finger prints of Ministers all over it, with DfT and Ministers clearly involved in the chain of events which has led us to where we are now.
What we are seeing, in fact, is the end result of the botched failure of the west coast mainline re–franchising, as I said earlier, which incidentally cost the tax payer £55m, and this government’s ideologically driven desire to privatise the East Coast Mainline before the general election next year.
To achieve the aim of privatising the East coast line the Government decided to negotiate costly franchise extensions with many incumbent operators with First TransPennine Express being given a 10 month franchise extension from April 2015 to Feb 2016.
However, because its leasing agreements end in 2015, TPE has been unable to secure leases for trains beyond then, as other operators can offer longer and more financially secure tenures to the rolling stock company Porterbrook.
In February Porterbrook reached an agreement to transfer 9 Class 170 trains from TPE to Chiltern Railways, where they will be used on new services between Oxford and London. I am informed that DfT was kept completely in the touch with these negotiations and therefore I assume so were Ministers and indeed I think it vital that the House be informed of who knew what and when, and indeed would echo the questions asked by the esteemed Chair of the Transport Select Committee – who decided to transfer the trains away from TPE? When did DfT officials first learn of the proposal? And when were Ministers informed of the proposal?
The trains concerned currently run on routes from Manchester to Cleethorpes, Hull and York, taking in Sheffield and a large part of South Yorkshire. They are modern trains built between 1998 and 2005,
I am further informed that the rail industry press are reporting that Northern Rail’s older Class 158s could be transferred on to TPE routes as replacement stock.
However, surely the more fundamental point is this, if these stories are correct then the logical consequence will be a problem passed on ultimately to Northern Rail, which is already short of diesel powered trains
The other logical consequence of delayed franchising and the rush to privatize the East Coast line is that commercial imperatives encourage rolling stock companies such as Porterbrook to distribute their stock to train operating companies which can offer deals over a longer period of time
Hence it is that Porterbrook signed a lease with Chiltern Railways in February of this year, with the full agreement of the Department for Transport. This was confirmed in correspondence between Chiltern Railways and the DfT.
It is accepted too that First Transpennine Express tried to negotiate with Porterbrook to prevent the trains being leased to Chiltern Railways, but it is also accepted by First Transpennine Express that they could not enter into a new lease, because of the short period of time left before its franchising agreement expires.
The Minister has many questions to answer.
First o f all, with these matters in mind, can the Minister today offer a cast iron guarantee that no passenger services will be downgraded or withdrawn, even temporarily, as a result of transferring these Class 170 turbo Stars trains to Chiltern Railways?
Will the Minister also confirm or deny the press reports that the Department is considering transferring Northern Rail’s Class 158s to the TransPennine franchise to plug the gap?
Also can the Minister inform me that after last week’s PMQs, when the Prime Minister said that he “will look carefully” at this issue, what progress has been made on resolving this issue, given that commitment from No 10?
And finally, as far as this point is concerned, why doesn’t the Minister just put our minds at rest by using powers under Section 54 of the 1993 Railways Act, which enable him apparently to secure the continued presence of the rolling stock in question on Transpennine Express services?
Mr << >> , TPE already runs some of the most overcrowded services in the country
TPE itself has warned that from May 2014 through to the end of the current franchise term it will require all of its existing fleets to be able to deliver the significant capacity increase that they have committed to provide and the same total number of vehicles will be required to sustain the same level of service into the new ten-period franchise from April 2015.
And let’s not forget the other part of the equation, Northern Rail, which serves as the name suggests much of the north’s rail needs and which is also threatened as a direct consequence of any loss of TPE trains, as I explained earlier.
In addition, it now appears that Northern Rail will also receive fewer additional units from the South than it was promised when in 2009 Lord Adonis, the then Secretary of state for Transport, announced a major programme of electrification in the North.
Back then it was proposed that six Class 319 electric trains would be refurbished and transferred from First Capital Connect to Northern Rail in 2013. These trains would operate between Manchester and Liverpool.
However, it was reported recently reported that only three units will now be delivered, behind schedule, and unrefurbished.
As a senior Northern source has been quoted as saying:
“We’ve told DfT we’re less than 10 months away from the proposed start of the electric service, we’re beyond the critical path, they’re not going to get refurbished and we’re not going to be able to operate the full service in the time we’ve got available.”
On top of these important issues there is of course another perspective to this debate, and that just how serious is the government about devolving power to the regions
As the Minister will well know, following encouragement from the Department for Transport, northern transport authorities have formed the “Rail North” group, with a view to taking responsibility for Northern and TransPennine services from 2016.
The proposed core of this network would cover around 21% of all UK stations.
However, Ministers now appear to be rowing back on these proposals
In November it was reported that the Government was reconsidering its position, and in January a poorly defined ‘partnership’ agreement between the DfT and the Rail North group was announced without much of the devolution that was first promised
It then subsequently emerged that the Department may force the Northern Rail operator to raise car parking fees, in a move which has been opposed by the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, which flies in the face of true devolution.
Therefore, given that the Department is deciding to move trains from North to the South and is retreating on its promise to devolve rail network responsibilities, can I ask the Minister is localism now a phrase without meaning as far as the government is concerned?
M r/ Mrs << >> we in the North believe we need efficient well run railways with modern trains giving the capacity that a growing network needs. We need these to allow our economy to compete with that of the south, if we are to close that north/south gap.
However, on the Northern franchise the average age of the fleet is 23 years compared to a national average of 18 years with many routes still served by the “Pacer” rail-buses which make up around a quarter of their fleet.
These trains cannot be made compliant with disability access regulations without extensive refurbishment and the oldest of these units are 30 years old.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act they will either have been made compliant or withdrawn before the 1st of January 2020. Already Ministers have said that this is “generally a matter for train operators”. Yet because of the shortage of diesel trains in the UK these unsuitable trains may have to remain in service for longer than they should.
Therefore can I ask the Minister what assessment has he made of the on-going viability of the Pacer trains, which are heavily used on the Northern franchise?
And has the Department considered applying for an exemption to disability access regulations for the Pacer trains, which could see these non-compliant vehicles in use beyond 2020?
Mr/Mrs << >> I now bring my comments to a close, and it has to be said that it is becoming quite obvious just where this government’s priorities lie when it comes to rail lines and it is not with northern passengers.
And when its ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails it is the north that suffers.
We are witnessing, in fact, a situation in which the huge blunder that was West Coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.
And of course the real issue is that this is a government which just isn’t getting to grips with the rail crisis, which is that there just isn’t enough trains in the system to provide for the expansion of capacity that the UK so badly needs.
It is becoming more and more a failed policy with the losers being fare paying passengers
Well at least the Prime Minister will be happy, now that he knows there will be an extra number of modern 170 trains running into his constituency, making it easier for him to cope with arduous journey from his constituency to London. Let’s hope he remembers that it will come at a cost to rail users in the north and beyond, who will be left with less capacity, more crowded trains and undoubtedly frustrating delays as a result.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and his answers to the questions I have raised