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  RAIL NEWS SNIPPETS   Issue 112 - 4th April 2003  
  News from the East Anglian Branch of Railfuture   Edited by Martin Thorne and Jerry Alderson  

All members should now have received Railwatch 95, which contained details of the AGM on 31st May in Cardiff and the High-Speed Rail conference on 26th April in Birmingham. If anyone is going to the HSR conference by train on Saturday morning, please contact Jerry [jerry.alderson@virgin.net] if you'd like to travel with others on the train.

The next ESTA meeting is on Saturday 24th May at St Johns Church Hall, Woodbridge starting at 2pm. Peter Meades from Anglia Railways and Baroness Ros Scott, Lib Dem Transport spokesperson in the House of Lords, will be the guests.

If anyone attended the RPC meeting in Southend on 1st April, it would be appreciated if they could write a brief summary of what was discussed. Please send to: jerry.alderson@virgin.net.

News about the government's approval of the A14 widening has been held over to the next Snippets, since there's a major rail story this issue.


RAIL FRANCHISES

Bidding process for the Greater [East] Anglia franchise
In early 2003 the SRA explained that it intended to pre-qualify just three bidders for the potentially 10-year-long Greater [East] Anglia franchise, in order to keep the management time to a minimum. Out of the nine bidders originally expressing an interest, some - such as Virgin - had already dropped out, and the remainder would be required to submit evidence that they were a robust business and capable of running a railway. The SRA required names of key staff, bank accounts for the last few years etc., plus details of how the bidder would meet punctuality and reliability requirements plus their plans for rolling stock, other investment and ambition. No financial bids were required to pre-qualify.

The SRA's shock announcement
On 1st April the SRA announced the three groups that it was inviting to submit full bids, and they were: GB Railways, National Express and Arriva - all three of which are currently on management contracts. The SRA has said that "past performance has not played a part in our decision".

It was a shock to everyone that First Group - arguably the most successful incumbent in the merged franchise area, having turned a 40million subsidy into a 10million repayment - were not included. Indeed, most of the media attention was focussed on a company that didn't qualify rather than the three who did!

Only days earlier First had offered to visit the Cambridge University Railway Society to talk about their bid. Indeed they had formed New Great Eastern Railway Ltd to run the franchise, and had published a booklet stating their intention to provide:
* modern coaches to replace 'life expired and unreliable' London-Norwich route stock
* a fleet of diesel trains to extend some London-Ipswich trains to Bury St. Edmunds and Lowestoft
* clock face hourly services on all branch lines
* regular hourly through services connecting Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich
* refurbished inner suburban stock for the Great Eastern and West Anglia routes
* a connecting network of buses - 'rubber-wheeled trains' - at railheads throughout the region
* improving the interchange with other transport modes (Norwich station could become a major rail/bus interchange)
* longer platforms at important stations to enable greater use of 12-coach trains.
Apparently, a booklet in the public domain was not sufficient. The SRA wanted this information submitted formally.

The loser's reaction
SRA chairman Richard Bowker contacted First Group on the eve of the announcement to give the bad news, and apparently tried to soften the blow by telling First they had come fourth.

FirstGroup described the decision as "astounding" saying: "There's shock and surprise at the announcement. It's breathtaking - we are pushing for an explanation and pushing for an urgent meeting with the SRA. This was our territory. We know this region and we've performed extremely well. We are a former Rail Operator of the Year and are one of the best-performing companies in the industry."

First claimed it believed it merely had to prove it was a "fit and proper" operator, with financial stability and responsible management, and would have submitted full plans at the next stage. It is now considering legal action.

The SRA's defence
The SRA claimed that: First Group submitted a "thin" renewal application, with minimal operational detail and very little information about meeting punctuality and reliability targets. According to one newspaper, SRA insiders said "First Group's submission was weaker than its rivals".

Faced with mounting criticism, the SRA first claimed that: First Group had failed to understand that the franchising process had changed; it had lost out in a fair competition. When this didn't work, an SRA spokesman accused First Group of arrogance: "they thought they'd be a shoo-in but the industry has changed - you either change with it or you don't". Then the tax-payers best interest was used, with SRA chairman Richard Bowker saying: "The qualification threshold was set at a very demanding level indeed to ensure the best possible competition on behalf of passengers and taxpayers."

The user group's reaction
All user groups have been aghast at the decision, not just because a TOC with proven ability has been excluded, but at the prospect of the troubled Arriva, which has seen continuous strikes and also many train cancellations in its UK and Danish franchises, becoming the operator for between seven and ten years.

Manningtree rail users association issued a press release saying it greeted the announcement "with horror and disbelief", and endorsed FGE: "This operator has served Essex well in difficult circumstances." They say it is crazy to throw out the incumbent because of a clerical error and have called on all interested parties to write to their MPs to lobby to get First Group short-listed.

Nick Dibben, Railfuture East Anglia branch secretary, intends to write to the SRA asking them to reconsider on the basis that First Group have run the service well and unlike many operators have kept to their original franchise subsidy payments; this is more important than the ability to fill in some forms.

On the assumption that First are not reinstated, Nick will also write to Arriva suggesting that they do a presentation to rail user groups on their approach to the franchise.

Nick is very eager to hear the views of branch members about the SRA's announcement. Please e-mail him: nick.dibben@ukgateway.net.

What's next?
The SRA's document setting out the level of service to be provided by the franchisee is due to be published in late April and the three companies will then put in their bids. The SRA expects to announce its preferred bidder in spring 2004. There would not be enough time to complete the legal process for an April start, so the current franchises are likely to be extended for a few months, which might spare the new franchisee from the disruption caused by the Ipswich tunnel closure, scheduled for summer 2004.

First Group could, in a fit of pique, walk away from their franchise before the replacement is announced, leaving the SRA to pick up the pieces. However, some sources suggest that First would not do this, as it is front runner to win an enlarged Great Western franchise - and the SRA have excluded them from Greater Anglia because they didn't want one operator controlling more than one major London terminus.
SRA announcement: http://www.sra.gov.uk/sra/news/releases/franchise/
20030401_three_qualify_for_new_greater_anglia_fra.html

Guardian news article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/transport/Story/0,2763,927686,00.html.


RAIL SERVICES

First Great Eastern criticise SRA performance figures
Dave Kaye, managing director of First Great Eastern, has claimed that the SRA's figures on passenger train punctuality are "ludicrous", and discriminate against FGE.

Anglia's trains on the Norwich-Liverpool Street route, which is regularly the top performing "long distance" operator, only needs its trains to arrive within 10 minutes of schedule. However, FGE (and WAGN), which are classed as "London and South East" operators, and allowed only five minutes' leeway. According to Mr Kaye unfairly paints FGE in a bad light because Anglia's train could be 9 minutes late at Ipswich and suffer no further delay on the relatively uncongested line to Norwich. (Note: Anglia's local services are subject to the 5-minute limit.)

Anglia Plus tickets now valid on WAGN trains
Railfuture learned in early March that the Anglia Plus ticket, formerly only valid on Anglia Railways and Central Trains services, would be valid on WAGN services between Cambridge and Ely from the summer timetable, allowing passengers from Waterbeach to travel to Norwich off-peak for just 9 instead of the full off-peak return price. Railfuture had intended to issue a press release in May. However, negotiations with WAGN have been completed early and the tickets are valid now. If anyone experiences problems using a ticket on WAGN's Cambridge-Ely services, please contact the Fen Line Users Association.
Anglia Press Release: http://www.angliarailways.co.uk/latest-information/news-detail.asp?id=411.


ROLLING STOCK

Anglia Railways commences refurbishment of single-carriage Class 153 Sprinters
In early April Anglia Railways commenced a year-long 250,000 upgrade programme to its seven Class 153 local trains. The grubby units will have new seat covers, carpets, tables and wall panels. The trains' reliability will be improved through modifications to mechanical equipment and doors. It may not be as good news as the hoped for RPP funding for improved local services, but will undoubtedly raise the image of the affected services.
Anglia Press Release: http://www.angliarailways.co.uk/latest-information/news-detail.asp?id=410.

RAIL COMPANIES

GB Railways announces successful trading for three of its businesses
GB Railways announced on 1st April that revenue on Anglia Railways for the year to 31st March 2003 grew at well above the industry average rate, and revenue now exceeds pre-Hatfield levels. Since GB Railways receives a management fee for operating the franchise, it expects to share profits with the SRA in the remaining year of its franchise.

Hull Trains is now operating profitably and revenue continues to grow. Contracts for four new 125mph trains, to enter service in 2005, are nearly finalised.

GB Railfreight, whose commercial director will be speaking to Railfuture in Ipswich on 7th June, continues to trade above budget. Five more locomotives will arrive in May 2003 bringing the fleet to 17.

As well as the Greater Anglia franchise, GB is on the shortlist for Wales & Borders (in partnership with Connex) and Merseyrail (in partnership with Keolis), and has pre-qualified for the Greater Anglia and Northern Rail franchises. It failed to make the shortlist for Scotrail's franchise.
GB Raiwlays press release: http://www.gbrailways.com/n2003-01.html.


FREIGHT

EWS runs weekly train between Snailwell and Sheerness
EWS has started running a weekly train of scrap from Snailwell, near Newmarket, to Sheerness following resumption of steel making by Thamessteel Ltd at the former ASW works in Kent to fuel production of steel billet for export form Sheerness Docks to Saudi Arabia.

EWS appoints new manager for East Anglia
EWS has appointed Bill O'Conner as Regional Manager for Anglia and Southern. He had previously been Route Director at Silverlink Metro.


PRESERVED RAILWAYS

Mid-Norfolk Railway now owns route from Wymondham to County School
On 20th March the MNR completed the purchase of the northern section of line from the headshunt at North Elmham to just north of Yarrow Crossing at County School. The purchase for 1 from Breckland District Council includes the station and track plus the lane from the B1110 to the station.

The Mid-Norfolk now owns 17.5 miles of route, which puts it third in the heritage railway list, behind West Somerset Railway (20 miles used for passenger services) and North Yorkshire Moors Railway (18 miles), although at only 11 miles of operational railway it is behind other lines such as Severn Valley Railway.

The MNR have now cleared much of the undergrowth between Dereham and North Elmham. This stretch of line had seen no maintenance for 15 years. With the protection from the sun removed, the fishplates have needed loosening to allow the rails to expand.

 
 
 


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04-APR-2003