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Norfolk MPs call on Lord Adonis to improve county's rail services

 

IMAGE: Norwich Rail Station
National Express’s franchise to run
rail services to Norwich, Diss and
other stations in East Anglia will not
be renewed in 2011

SOUTH NORFOLK MP Richard Bacon has joined forces with other Norfolk MPs to call for improvements to the Greater Anglia rail franchise.

Norfolk’s  eight Members of Parliament were co-signatories to a letter to Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, calling on him to secure vital service improvements for Norfolk's rail travellers as his department prepares to consult on the new franchise.
  

Mr Bacon said: “Lord Adonis should be in no doubt that Norfolk’s growing appetite for rail travel is currently being unfulfilled.

“Norfolk must not be treated as an after-thought at the end of the line. The new franchise for East Anglia must give our constituents a first-class rail service on clean, modern and efficient trains”. 

1 February 2010


The text of the letter to the Secretary of State for Transport:


The Rt Hon Lord Adonis
Secretary of State
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
LONDON      SW1P 4DR 

29 January 2010

Dear Lord Adonis

greater anglia rail franchise

We are writing with regard to your recent decision not to renew National Express East Anglia’s franchise, which was announced in the House of Lords on 1 December 2009.  

We welcome your decision not to renew National Express East Anglia’s franchise for a further three years.  Passenger Focus’s Spring 2009 TOC report into National Express East Anglia (NXEA) perhaps explains why few tears have been shed over this decision locally.  The TOC report finds that over half of NXEA’s passengers did not believe they got value for money for the price of their ticket and a majority of passengers are also not happy with the availability of NXEA staff, standards of cleanliness and the competence with which NXEA tackles delays.  Many local residents, particularly those who regularly travel to London, were also dismayed that NXEA ceased to provide a restaurant car and closed its Norwich-based call centre. 

Your department will soon be seeking fresh bids from Train Operating Companies for the Greater Anglia rail franchise. Before any decision on the new franchise holder is taken, it seems to us that this would be an appropriate moment to reassess the needs of Norfolk residents with regard to the specification for the Greater Anglia franchise.  

Norfolk is a dynamic county and a centre of excellence in science, engineering, finance and the creative industries.  A number of internationally-renowned research organisations call Norfolk their home and the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Food Research, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the new Genome Analysis Centre together form the largest concentration of food and plant scientists in Europe.  Norfolk engineering companies trade around the world with organisations like Airbus, NASA and Toyota, and Lotus are driving forward the next generation of high-performance cars.   After two centuries, Norwich remains a major centre for the financial industries, with over 50 national, international and regional companies based here and the county is also a major centre for the creative industries.  By the time NXEA’s franchise expires on 31 March 2011, the population of Norfolk is projected to grow by 5.3 per cent, or 44,100 people.  The government expects that, as a minimum, over 62,000 new houses will be built in the county by 2021 and many of the county’s residents to be will want to make use of the rail network for business or leisure purposes.  

However, Norfolk already has a growing appetite for rail travel.  Norfolk’s 31 railway stations were used by over 7.1 million people in 2007-08, up by a quarter on 2006-07.  On average, Norfolk’s stations saw a 43 per cent increase in usage between 2006-07 and 2007-08, greater than in comparable counties such as Suffolk, Devon, Northumberland and Lincolnshire. 

Services to London comprise 76.8 per cent of all journeys to or from the East of England and four out of the five most widely used stations in the county – Norwich, King’s Lynn, Diss and Downham Market – have direct services to London.  Indeed, in 2007-08 the usage of Diss station increased by 32 per cent, the largest growth in usage for any station on the Norwich to London Liverpool Street line. 

The world class businesses choosing Norfolk as their base will inevitably need to use the rail network to connect them with the capital and other parts of the country.  Passenger journeys within the East of England have more than doubled in the last decade.  A better rail service is good for Norfolk and good for the wider economy.  However, this growth cannot be sustained without the appropriate rail services in place.  Sadly, NXEA has proved itself to be incapable of meeting this rising demand and the Passenger Focus TOC report notes that satisfaction over the frequency of trains has fallen consistently and markedly since Autumn 2007. 

In 2008-09, National Express East Anglia paid 98 million to the Exchequer, which represents a cost of 2.5 pence per passenger kilometre and is the third highest subsidy in Great Britain.    Of course, NXEA is responsible for the terms of its original bid, but the level of subsidy payments has nonetheless made it difficult for significant investments in services to be made beyond cosmetic changes to rolling stock and rebranding exercises.  Whilst the temptation for the Treasury may well be to maximise return from the franchise, National Express’s rail operations should provide a cautionary tale.  The company promised huge premium payments in order to win franchises but simply could not make good on its undertakings and the quality of National Express services suffered.  The size of the premium offered by TOCs to the Exchequer must never be put before the quality of the service offered to passengers and we would ask that this be central to government thinking when the new franchise is awarded.  

A new franchise must also mandate a higher quality of travel experience than has thus far been the case.  For example, many TOCs offer free wi-fi access and laptop power points but NXEA has declined to offer either of these services.  Indeed, NXEA has seemed rather more interested in withdrawing onboard services to passengers, rather than offering new ones. 

We echo the six priorities expressed by Shaping Norfolk’s Future, whose partners in a campaign for improvements include the East of England Development Agency, Regional Cities East, the Norfolk Rail Alliance, Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce:

  1. Faster journey times

  2. More carriage capacity

  3. Investment in track infrastructure to enable faster and more reliable journeys

  4. Retention and development of a high quality intercity service offering an excellent travel experience on clean, comfortable, wi-fi enabled trains, including good catering facilities

  5. Improved station environment and facilities

  6. Longer franchises which can further increase investment in the service

We welcome your statement this month favouring longer franchises for the future and trust that such a model will be considered for application to the Norwich-London line. 

Furthermore, we strongly believe you should consider action to secure:

  1. Good weekend services

  2. Investment in new engines

  3. Options for local services out of Norwich for leisure travellers and commuters, building partnerships to do so if appropriate

  4. Extension the franchise definition to include Norwich-Peterborough (which overlaps to Ely with Norwich-Cambridge)

  5. Modernisation of line and stations throughout the region and including other key interchanges such as at Stratford and Stansted

We recognise the role of Network Rail in achieving these ends, and acknowledge that a considerable element of the responsibility for current poor service rests with Network Rail’s performance in East Anglia.  Reviewing the work of Network Rail alongside the re-franchising process is central to securing a better service and gaining effective infrastructure investment.

To conclude, Norfolk deserves a better railway link than it currently has.  The appetite is there for a better rail network now and it can only get stronger. 

We would welcome your assurance that the specification for the new franchise will take the above points into account.  Your colleague Chris Mole MP has already indicated willingness to meet Norfolk MPs at the end of the consultation.  We look forward to discussing the above issues with your team then.


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