Friday, 14 March 2014

The Great Train Robbery! East Lancashire train line with no trains... (whilst PMs constituency is looked after)

Like many in the region I was incredibly disappointed to see the news that trains from the region are being taken out of service and sent to serve the Chiltern Rail in the South of England. I raised this in the House last week:

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): May we have an urgent Government statement on the great train robbery? In east Lancashire we have a brand new line with no trains on it, and last week we found out that the trans-Pennine trains are being moved to the Prime Minister’s constituency in the south. It seems to me there is a huge north-south shift, and that the north is being short-changed.

Mr Lansley: I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport if they will respond directly to the hon. Gentleman on that issue, and he may wish to raise it at Transport questions. As far as I am aware—I stand to be corrected—such matters are governed not so much by Government policy but as a consequence of the way train operating companies and Network Rail behave.

There has been a long-standing and hard fought campaign in the region to get the Todmorden Curve reopened, which now appears to have been undermined by the fact that the TransPennine train fleet will be cut by 13% in 2015, as 9 of 70 trains are moved from the region to go and serve the Home Counties and David Cameron’s leafy Oxfordshire constituency.

We already have an overcrowded service and a 13% cut in the fleet will only compound this.

What makes this all the more disappointing is that a while back I asked the Transport Secretary about the delivery of new, quality rolling stock to serve East Lancs, and I suggested that the renewal of Northern Rail’s franchise contract to serve the region should be based in part on a promise to deliver this rolling stock. There even seemed to be a degree of understanding from the Government, however this development represents a serious step back.

Many people will not have heard of Rolling Stock Operating Companies (ROSCOs), but I believe they are now something that should be looked at again in the light of this development.

It will surprise many people that the train companies – Northern Rail in our case – do not in fact own their trains, they lease them from Rolling Stock Operating Companies. The purpose of these companies (and there are only 4 in the country) is supposed to be to determine what engines and carriages are needed to deliver the service to the rail users, and to help develop services by replacing old stock and introducing more convenient and safer trains.

Simply removing our trains and sending them somewhere more profitable is frankly not good enough. It is not the operation of a functioning rail market if the Rolling Stock Operating Companies chase the maximum profitability for their trains, regardless of the fact that there is huge demand for rail use in East Lancashire.

The Competition Commission looked at this in 2009 and concluded that there is no incentive for competition amongst ROSCOs, which apparently still stands, since these middle-men have seemingly resolutely failed to meet the demand of East Lancashire.

This is why we have a new train line standing unused without any trains on it, and a reduction in the fleet serving the area despite existing demand.