LONGER TRAINS AND CONCENTRATING ON CORE SERVICES AMONG MOOTED SOLUTIONS
RESOLVING CROWDING is the primary objective for the new Cross Country franchise, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
The Department for Transport has launched a consultation on a new franchise; it notes the current deal is due to end in late 2019 but has not specified a start date for a new deal, noting the current franchise operated by Arriva can be extended by up to a year.
DfT notes crowding is most acute on the Birmingham to York, Birmingham to Stansted Airport, Birmingham to Reading and Exeter to Bristol stretches of the current operation, with other sections likely to be unable to accommodate future growth if no action is taken.
Options mooted by DfT to resolve crowding include introducing longer trains ‘where this is affordable and value for money’, redefining the network to allow use of the existing fleet where demand is highest, cascading trains from elsewhere or leasing new trains. Another suggestion is reducing the number of passengers using Cross Country trains for short-distance travel, such as by altering calls at certain stations, introducing set down only or pick up only restrictions or removing the validity of multi-modal tickets on Cross Country services.
In terms of redefining the network, DfT says it is not proposing to completely remove services from any location, apart from potentially the once-daily services to Guildford, Bath, Patchway and Filton Abbey Wood. However, it suggests potential trade-offs of a reduction in Cross Country services to stations on the periphery of the network, including in Cornwall, to Paignton, north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen, between Southampton and Bournemouth and from Cardiff to Bristol. Some of these proposals were previously suggested by the existing operator in a consultation on timetable changes but provoked a strong negative response, with a modified proposal instead being implemented this December.
Other suggestions include giving bidders flexibility with regards to the service specification, which could for example allow services from Plymouth to run to Manchester or Nottingham rather than Edinburgh. DfT also notes the issue of Voyagers being unable to operate along the Dawlish sea wall at times of severe weather due to sea water affecting the trains’ electrical equipment and says it will be asking what bidders might do to resolve or reduce the impact of this in the next franchise.
ECML CAPACITY CONCERN
DfT highlights potential capacity constraints on the East Coast main line between Northallerton and Newcastle, where CrossCountry currently operates two trains per hour. Given service enhancements planned for other franchises on this stretch, DfT moots the possibility of curtailing or diverting one of the Cross Country services further south, such as at Leeds, Doncaster or York. It confirms one service will still continue north of York to Newcastle, Edinburgh and (in every second hour) to Glasgow.
Transferring the Birmingham to Leicester/Nottingham local services to the West Midlands Trains franchise, following a case made by West Midlands Rail, is also highlighted as a possibility, but DfT notes the Birmingham to Stansted and Cardiff to Nottingham services are not proposed to change operator.
In terms of on-board experience, one suggestion is to develop ideas to segregate passengers making long and short journeys, such as by having a more intelligent allocation of seat reservations or compulsory reservations in certain carriages.
This could develop into a scenario whereby more luggage space or different seating configurations are offered for longer-distance passengers. The issue of passengers having to give up previously unreserved seats for those booking through the Advance Purchase on the Day (APOD) scheme is also highlighted, with one suggestion being for the operator to sell APOD tickets without a seat reservation.
The consultation on the next franchise runs for 12 weeks and will close on 30 August.