In­sider

…but more de­tails are still re­quired on fu­ture Anglian ser­vices

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

East Anglian fran­chise.

“It is true that ser­vices in East Anglia use some of the old­est rolling stock on the na­tional net­work”

Rail users in East Anglia would be un­wise to ap­plaud too loudly, as de­tails be­hind the suc­cess­ful Abel­lio bid to run the fran­chise over a nine-year pe­riod emerge.

The abil­ity to pay the pre­mium of £ 3.75 bil­lion over the con­tract term from Oc­to­ber 2016 to 2025 can only in­clude as­sump­tions that fares will rise and that costs will be cut by re­duc­tions in staff per­form­ing cus­tomer-fac­ing func­tions. And the all-new train fleet, while nice to have, is a lux­ury that only a state-funded rail­way can jus­tify, given the par­ent com­pany guar­an­tees re­quired by rolling stock own­ers.

The con­tents of the bid were clearly con­sid­ered un­af­ford­able by Stage­coach, which in De­cem­ber 2015 dropped out of the orig­i­nal part­ner­ship bid with Abel­lio (which is a part of the Dutch Na­tional Rail­way). Ri­val bid­ders FirstGroup and Na­tional Ex­press both ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that their value for money bids had been re­jected, with Na­tional Ex­press (a pre­vi­ous oper­a­tor on the route) adding that UK fran­chise bids had be­come too ex­pen­sive and that in fu­ture it would fo­cus on lower-risk Ger­man fran­chises that meet the group’s cap­i­tal-light cri­te­ria.

The Depart­ment for Trans­port ap­pears re­luc­tant to pro­vide much de­tail be­hind the head­lines. This may sug­gest its own ner­vous­ness about the out­come of the fran­chise in its later years, when the rev­enue ben­e­fits that the new rolling stock will bring sug­gests that dou­ble-digit an­nual pas­sen­ger growth will be needed to meet the pre­mium of­fered.

Last year na­tional growth in pas­sen­ger num­bers tailed off to 2.5%, which was sim­i­lar to the level of eco­nomic growth. This was lower than a typ­i­cal fig­ure of 4% in pre­vi­ous years, although it could be that de­mand has been con­strained by a sys­tem that is op­er­at­ing at ca­pac­ity at peak times.

Seats avail­able have been con­strained due to a lack of both ve­hi­cle ca­pac­ity and track space. For rolling stock this is­sue will ease as the large or­ders for In­tercity Ex­press Pro­gramme and Thames­link are ful­filled and trains be­gin to en­ter ser­vice, al­low­ing a cas­cade of ve­hi­cles to other lo­ca­tions.

There is a much longer lead time to in­crease in­fra­struc­ture ca­pac­ity. Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion has im­proved ser­vice ca­pac­ity in the North West be­cause it al­lows longer trains to op­er­ate, as a re­sult of the greater avail­abil­ity of elec­tric units and the strength­en­ing of trains pro­vided by diesel units dis­placed from elec­tri­fied lines.

But new elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is not fi­nan­cially vi­able on the sec­ondary and ru­ral routes in East Anglia, while the cur­rent core net­work is con­strained by long sec­tions of two-track rail­way. There is an ar­gu­ment that fran­chise bid­ders might add greater value if they pro­vided the fi­nan­cial un­der­writ­ing for in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, as is pro­posed by the for­ma­tion of a joint ven­ture be­tween Ke­o­lis and Amey to bid for the Wales and Bor­ders con­tract.

An im­me­di­ate need in East Anglia is to pro­vide a four-track rail­way over the 13 miles be­tween Brox­bourne and Strat­ford Cop­per Mill Junc­tion. This would al­low im­prove­ment to Stansted Air­port ser­vices, to meet the as­pi­ra­tions of the air­port oper­a­tor.

This sec­tion of route has also been the sub­ject of a Ju­di­cial Re­view, when the Bor­ough of En­field ob­jected to the con­tents of the In­vi­ta­tion To Ten­der doc­u­ment is­sued by the DfT in Jan­uary 2016. The ITT did not re­quire four trains per hour to call at An­gel Road station, which serves the Lea Valley re­gen­er­a­tion that has re­sulted in sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment in the area.

The rea­son­ing for this fre­quency is the same as the pol­icy adopted for Lon­don Over­ground ser­vices, whereby op­er­at­ing four trains per hour is deemed to stim­u­late de­mand by run­ning suf­fi­cient trains so that pas­sen­gers do not have to con­sult a timetable when plan­ning a jour­ney.

There are go­ing to be 1,144 new week­day ser­vices op­er­ated by Abel­lio, and there will be in­tense lob­by­ing to cre­ate a timetable that meets this re­quire­ment.

There are sim­i­lar con­straints in meet­ing as­pi­ra­tions for ser­vices to reach Nor­wich from Lon­don in 90 min­utes, Ip­swich in 60 and Colch­ester in 40, with large sec­tions of two-track rail­way shared by a range of other pas­sen­ger and freight ser­vices. There will be two fast 90-minute Nor­wich re­turn work­ings, but these will not be at peak times given pathing con­straints.

It is not clear why fran­chise bid­ders have not of­fered fund­ing for new in­fra­struc­ture by part­ner­ing with engi­neer­ing con­trac­tors. The fi­nan­cial struc­ture is sim­i­lar to fund­ing rolling stock, where it is a well es­tab­lished prac­tice that trains are not pur­chased by the train oper­a­tor (although the ve­hi­cle own­ers do re­quire guar­an­tees, usu­ally given by the par­ent com­pany, that lease pay­ments will be made).

It is true that ser­vices in East Anglia use some of the old­est rolling stock on the na­tional net­work, headed by the 40-yearold Mk 3s on the Lon­don-Nor­wich route. A sub­stan­tial fleet of Class 317 EMUs dat­ing from 1981 also op­er­ates in­ner- subur­ban ser­vices in the Lon­don area - an in­creas­ing is­sue with the use of such ve­hi­cles is the lack of con­trolled emis­sion toi­lets, which Net­work Rail aims to elim­i­nate.

There are, how­ever, some mod­ern ve­hi­cles in use. The Class 379 units that are used for Stansted Air­port ser­vices date from 2011, while other fit for pur­pose trains such as Class 170s date from 1999. These pro­vide in­ter-ur­ban ser­vices such as the Cam­bridge-Nor­wich link, which was an innovation in­tro­duced by the orig­i­nal Anglia Rail­ways fran­chise holder.

The whole fleet re­newal ap­proach has al­lowed Abel­lio to com­mit to a per­for­mance tar­get of 93%, on the ba­sis that train fail­ures will be elim­i­nated when the six types of new train are in­tro­duced be­tween Jan­uary 2019 and Septem­ber 2020.

The Bom­bardier el­e­ment of the fleet, which will cater for the Great Eastern and West Anglia com­mut­ing routes, will use the Aven­tra plat­form. This will have tech­ni­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties with the El­iz­a­beth Line (Cross­rail) ve­hi­cles, with well-proven traction equip­ment.

The re­main­der will come from a new sup­plier to the UK - the Swiss train builder Stadler Rail, which will pro­vide the flag­ship 12- car elec­tric sets for Nor­wich, Stansted Air­port and West Anglia routes. Stadler will also pro­vide a mix of three­car and four-car bi-mode trains for use on sec­ondary ser­vices.

Op­er­at­ing un­fa­mil­iar equip­ment in a new en­vi­ron­ment will re­quire strong project and com­mis­sion­ing skills if the per­for­mance bench­mark is to be achieved.

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