War of words between Network Rail and DfT over new open access application
Network Rail has responded to the generally negative responses from the DfT – and much of the rail industry – to its recent consultation document on its decision to grant limited open access rights to GNWR. The matter now resides with ORR; its ruling is awaited.
GNWR, an Alliance Rail Holdings subsidiary (owned by Arriva Trains UK) wants to run six trains a day, in both directions, on every day of the week between: London (Euston) or Queen’s Park, to Blackpool via Preston (and six other destinations) from May 2017; and from London (Euston) or Queen’s Park, to Leeds via Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Crewe (and seven other destinations) from December 2018.
Both schemes depend upon timely completion of the ongoing Preston to Blackpool and Manchester to Leeds electrification projects.
Capacity (on the West Coast main line and on the Trans Pennine route) and abstraction of revenue (from franchised operators) are the two main concerns, for both the DfT and affected train operating companies:
“We welcome the increased passenger choice and competition brought to the market by open access operators,” says DfT’s Andrew Murray (Head of Rail Performance & Operations), “but we are mindful of the need of reducing the overall cost of the railway to the taxpayer…If a significant proportion of incremental paths arising from investment are allocated to non-franchised operators, this could have an impact on the DfT’s ability to obtain funding for, and secure value for money from, future investment schemes to develop the railway network… The Department has significant concern over this particular application due to the potential negative impact on revenue abstraction from franchised operators and performance levels on route.”
But Network Rail’s Rachael Gilliand (Acting Head of Commercial Freight) has responded: “We are bound by our licence obligations and by the Railways Infrastructure (Access and Management) Regulation 2005 AMR to allocate capacity in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. The DfT is fully aware that no higher priority should be given to franchised services.” Gilliand adds that the Department’s overriding obligation regarding infrastructure investment is to comply with EU Directive 2012/34, “to boost competition in railway service management in terms of improved comfort and services provided to users.”
Furthermore, according to Gilliand, the DfT is sending out mixed messages: ‘At the recent Huddersfield University Connected North Conference DfT Franchising Director, Peter Wilkinson, stated, “Competition on the railways is fundamentally important. A lot of the franchises are in essence public monopolies. I welcome competition and I want to see more of it.” ‘
Network Rail also dismisses concerns from the DfT and the TOCs about revenue abstraction: “GNWR has employed consultants AECOM to carry out the Non Primary Abstraction test (NPA). The results indicate that the test will be comfortably passed by GNWR, and they have been passed to the ORR. In addition, GNWR points out that the TPE (Trans Pennine Express) counter proposals to operate additional services (between Leeds and Manchester) would cost 4.1p per passenger mile (2011/12 prices), whereas the GNWR service would require no public subsidy.”
Network Rail also refutes criticisms that the trans- Pennine leg of the GNWR service would compromise timetable integrity (of providing six trains per hour between Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester): “For clarity, the Northern ITSS (Infrastructure Test Service Specification) is an indicative timetable only to test the capability of the infrastructure. It was not a timetable to be implemented…The Northern Hub group agreed that the trains specified in the ITSS could be operated by any operator and that the GNWR service could form part of the service.”
Network Rail is currently unable to secure firm rights to operate into Euston due to the uncertainty caused by HS2, hence the alternative Queen’s Park terminal location. Gilliand is keen to re-assure freight operators that this will not adversely affect their operations: “Findings show that a 20 minute dwell time in the Kilburn Goods Loop (to the south of the station) is available (for holding stock), as long as there is a four minute dwell at Queen’s Park in the southbound direction, and a two minute dwell in the northbound direction.”
FOCs and TOCs may find these dwell times a trifle optimistic.