Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Improving the railways

Liberal Democrat conference this morning passed the following resolution:

F31 Rail Franchises

Conference notes:
i) The growing number of passenger rail franchises now being agreed with substantial and
increasing amounts of premium to be paid to the Treasury.
ii) That rail franchisees also have to pay their share of the costs of Rolling Stock Operating
Companies’ and Network Rail’s charges.
iii) That Britain’s rail fares are already among the highest in Europe.
iv) That in most cases franchisees are awarded a private monopoly with no choice of provider
being offered to the rail traveller.
Conference condemns recent increases in both regulated and unregulated rail fares, which are
higher than the then rate of inflation and bore particularly hard on those who depend on the railway to commute to work.

Conference deplores:
a) The fact that the Labour Government has continued to pursue a highest premium model of
awarding monopoly franchises, with clear problems and stresses now becoming evident
across the rail industry and consequent large fare increases which are little more than a
stealth tax on one of the greenest modes of transport.
b) The way this franchise model has led to companies overbidding for franchises, creating the
situation where both GNER and now National Express have handed back the East Coast
franchise to the Government, leaving the taxpayer with a greater cost to bear.
c) The apparent inability of the Office of Rail Regulation to force transparency in how individual
fares from individual stations are set even for regulated fares, and its past acquiescence in
disproportionate increases imposed on particular classes of passenger who use off-peak
services and in differing fares being applied arbitrarily to apparently similar journeys from
similar stations.
Conference further notes belated moves by the Government to end the situation where individual regulated fares are allowed to increase by more than the RPI+1% cap in ways that further increased fare inequalities as long as the overall ‘basket’ of regulated fares increased by no more than the cap.

Conference demands that:
1. The Government retain the East Coast franchise until the end of the current franchise term
as a public interest franchise, to act as a public sector comparator to drive up standards and
drive down costs across the rest of the rail network.
2. The Government scrap the failing franchise system and replace it with one that prioritises the passenger over higher premium payments; new franchise conditions must lead on quality of service and of passenger experience, including, where possible, fare reductions, with rolling
reviews to ensure standards are being met.
3. The government guarantee that any surplus from franchise premiums should continue to be
invested in rail improvements, to include improved services, more rolling stock, and, where
economically viable, the reopening of stations and lines.
4. As soon as possible overall annual increases in rail fares should be at no more than inflation,
as part of the wider agenda of promoting green forms of travel.

An amendment proposed by Linda Jack and supported by Lembit Opik, which called on the party to consider renationalisation was clearly lost, but attracted considerable support.

During the debate, it was revealed that a survey by the Swiss multinational bank UBS earlier this year showed UK train fares to be not only the highest in the EU, but the highest in the world.

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