Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, welcomed the publication of the Strategic Rail Authority's new franchising programme yesterday.
'I welcome the SRA's revised franchising programme which will deliver short and long term improvements for the passenger. It is realistic and reflects the experiences of passengers. And it strikes a good balance between getting the basics right now and investing for the future. As I said last July, early replacement of short-term franchises should go ahead in selected cases where the benefits cannot be obtained in other ways. Again, we should be looking for early gains for passengers that will make a real difference as well as substantial long-term investment. I am pleased that the SRA policy announced today reflects this approach.
'Today we are putting in place a process for new franchises that will deliver real improvements across the railway. Last spring the franchising programme was bogged down by delay, inactivity and a lack of focus. Today it is back on track.'
The SRA's announcement included an invitation to submit expressions of interest for the new Wales & Borders franchise. It also invited expressions of interest for the Northern and Merseyrail franchises.
To accompany the SRA's announcement Stephen Byers published the Government's policy statement 'Passenger Rail Franchising'. It is the result of extensive consultation in the industry following the publication of a draft statement in July.
The policy statement requires the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to explore the full range of franchising options for securing benefits for passengers. These include:
-variations to existing franchise agreements without any increase in length;
-early replacement of existing franchises; and
-'on time' replacement of existing franchises.
Stephen Byers said:
'We want franchises that put passengers first and get the basics right - acceptable performance, better services, improved facilities, less overcrowding and with safety paramount. As I said in July I am looking for early gains for passengers that will make a real difference as well as substantial long term investment.
'Long-term investment in a modern, safer railway will not be neglected. Long-term plans have to be carefully developed to meet the needs of the industry and the travelling public. But improvements for passengers can't be put on hold whilst this is done.'
The policy statement sets out the benefits the government would like to see the SRA achieve. Not all of these will be necessary in any given franchise and the approach to securing them will also vary between franchises:
-better punctuality and reliability e.g. tougher performance targets, extra drivers, spare trains for emergency use, enhanced maintenance cover, better arrangements for dealing with disrupted services;
-reductions in overcrowding e.g. extra rolling stock, additional services and longer trains;
-better service and facilities e.g. enhanced service levels and frequencies, refurbished or improved rolling stock; improved station signage, information, waiting rooms, and ticket offices;
-improved safety and personal security e.g. more CCTV at stations and on trains, secure parking, more accreditation under the Secure Stations initiative and extended staffing hours;
-integrated transport measures e.g. integrated public transport information systems; better and safer interchange at and access to stations by local public transport, by car, cycle and on foot; and new park and ride stations;
-improved accessibility for disabled people e.g. at stations and on trains;
-putting passengers first e.g. better compensation when things go wrong, no quibble refunds, and a greater voice for passengers in the level and standard of services; and
-improved passenger information and retailing e.g. real time travel information, ticketing systems and Internet ticket sales.
A draft of the policy statement was published for consultation on 16 July 2001. Over 60 responses were received.
Both the policy statement and a summary of the consultation are available on the department's website.
Copies have also been laid before both houses of parliament. In answer to a parliamentary question from Andrew Reed, MP for Loughborough, Stephen Byers said:
'I have today laid before the house a policy statement, 'Passenger Rail Franchising'. The statement sets out the benefits that I wish the Strategic Rail Authority to seek to achieve through rail franchising and requires it to explore the full range of options for securing them. It also incorporates the statement of policy referred to in section 26(10) of the Railways Act 1993, as amended by the Transport Act 2000.'
The SRA yesterday issued a press release announcing its revised approach to franchising. This is available on its website. Its Strategic Plan will be published on 14 January 2002.