Railway franchise consultations

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Railway franchise consultations

Most of the major train operating franchises seem to be coming up for renewal in the next few years. We missed the consultation for InterCity West Coast (though if I recall correctly the plan for West Coast has been delayed(!) and modified so might have further consultation), but Great Western has just come up for consultation, and more will follow.

We previously discussed railway policy in this thread but did not come to any firm position. At the time I argued that, though integration with public transport is important, it is not the core of our mission and is already well served by other national and local campaigns, and therefore we should not divert too much effort into it. Train operating companies are responsible for providing cycle carriage on trains and for parking at the stations that they operate — important, but not things that require another campaign group’s time and effort.

However, I am starting to persuade myself to change my mind. Public transport integration could actually overlap heavily with our mission. There is no intrinsic reason why train franchisees should be restricted to station parking and carriage. Just as the NHS is taking the lead in cycling infrastructure improvements in some areas, train operating companies could take the lead in improving cycle routes to stations, and even wider in the cities they serve.

The new franchises are likely to last longer than the old ones — perhaps 25 years — the idea being that with more years to reap the profits, there will be much greater incentive for TOCs to make long-term investments that boost patronage.

Given this new emphasis on the TOCs’ freedom to invest, we could make the case that TOCs should be backing better cycle routes in the places they serve — even investing their own money in them, and even supporting them when the connection to their station is tenuous. Bicycles obviously extend the catchment area of a railway station considerably, and in a way that cars do not (because car users will more often just eliminate the train section of their journey entirely). And enabling people to make their everyday local journeys by bicycle will help build the car-free population who will then make their longer journeys by train. I imagine there is quite a bit of research already in this area — perhaps something that the Danish and Dutch cycling embassies would have.

Here’s the Great Western consultation and press release. It’s open for three months. I imagine that Thameslink and Essex Thameside consultations will be out soon, followed sometime next year by InterCity East Coast and Great Eastern.

Particularly relevant is this para on page 49:

Station Travel Plans can provide important passenger benefits by integrating rail more effectively with other forms of transport (including low carbon modes). These plans are designed to bring together all the stakeholders with an interest in a rail station (rail industry, local authorities, passenger groups, bus and taxi operators, cyclists and others) to develop and agree common objectives and a co-ordinated approach to delivering them. A number of integrated bus, ferry and airport links exist on the Great Western network, and the operator would be expected to work with local authorities to develop these, although it will be up to local authorities to decide which stations they believe are important and whether improving station access is a local priority. It is expected that, where significant car and cycle parking enhancements are proposed, a Station Travel Plan may also be considered.

Great Western would be a good project for the Westcountry and South Wales crowd. The franchisee will serve and operate the stations in Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Plymouth, and Totnes, where we have many supporters and where there are a variety of good local cycling and rail campaigns.

Bristol’s Cycling City funding paid for The Brunel Mile — a cycle route to the main station. It’s not bad, but it’s far from great. We should make the case that making routes like that more attractive is worth TOCs investing at least their time and influence, and preferably their money.

Ultimately we can try to put pressure on TOCs themselves, but first we could try to get this mentioned in the tendering process, alongside parking and carriage of bicycles, including by trying to get local councils etc in e.g. Bristol and Totnes to back cycle routes during the consultation.

I’ll see what the Westcountry folk think…


I agree it’s definitely something to have in the back of mind; there are so many opportunities where with some imagination and a little money, particularly on the fixed infrastructure.

Do you even need planning permission for a few Sheffield stands?

Northern (franchisee part owned by the Dutch state railway) have started with some ideas – see http://www.northernrail.org/pdfs/press/Cyclepoint_Brochure.pdf (NB – I’ve just spotted the Tavistock Place ‘seven stations route’ in that glossy book!)

However, it’s also an area where silent cuts have been made in the last few years particularly with respect to the rolling infrastructure. The new trains on West Coast reduced the number of cycles carried from ~6 to ~4 per train and reduced the available large luggage space. Intercity Midland (East Midlands Trains today) has introduced many new trains with just two bike spaces. The DfT’s rather farcical IEP procurement (I think the country has now spent ~£27M and the contract is still not awarded! See – Private Eye) will no doubt reduce the available space on Greater Western, East Coast and probably other routes. Having taken my bike on Great Western on Good Friday this year with about 12 others, I wonder if reservations will become mandatory…

The issue here is that much of our intercity routes now include commuters and unused bicycle space is seen as dead air being carried around making no revenue. For example, rolling stock for Greater Western is massively affected by the Reading to London flow.

Afraid we have missed ICWC (http://www.dft.gov.uk/publications/rail-passenger-franchise-intercity-we...). It took me ages to find it in the documents, the contract is for 14 years from December 2012. AFAIK it hasn’t been awarded yet.

Nerd hat off.

Dr C.
Dr C.'s picture

The 'dead air' perception seems like something which can easily be challenged. Space for the carriage of cycles, prams and large luggage becomes extra standing room twice per day, offering increased capacity for passengers on-peak and increased capacity for users with cycles, prams and large luggage the rest of the time. If you ask passengers for their views on this, they will be in support of it provided the question isn't designed to outrightly lead them to the wrong answer (Think Metrolink and cycle carriage in Manchester)


InterCity East Coast consultation opens today, for the usual 3 months.


Should be of particular interest to York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

Joe Dunckley

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