Watts on Rail North March 2016

Watts on Rail North March 2016

12 Mar, 2016
Having given my typing finger a break to allow time for the full import of the new Northern and Trans Pennine franchises to sink in I feel it is time to provide some sort of elementary commentary!

Well I said it would be transformational and so it will be.  I can’t recall a time when regional rail services across the north of the country will have received so much investment it will certainly put to bed the ‘rusty rail’ image of regional services – a comment frequently made albeit slightly tongue in cheek by a former Regional Railways friend.  As I have said before this transformational agenda would not have been possible without the creation of Rail North and the concerted effort of the 29 local transport authorities AND the input and support from our friends and that includes you in your CRPs.  So pat yourselves on the back for a job well done.  Of course what makes the Arriva Rail North (ARN) franchise truly transformational is the loss of those wretched Pacers – anything else is a bonus!!  In their place will be 281 new diesel and electric carriages along with the complete refurbishment of all the remaining diesel and electric fleets.  I can’t wait to see the first transformed class 150/1 sprinter unit.  Let’s help ARN get the specification for these refurbishments right – units fit for purpose and the lines they travel on.

So what has been taking place over the last few weeks?  Well ARN will certainly hit the deck running when it officially starts on Friday April 1st:

a.     It has appointed Dr Karen Booth as its Interim Communities and Sustainability Director.  Some of you will already know Karen from her former role within Northern Rail.

b.     There has been one meeting of a new body to be known as ComREG, or the Community Rail Executive Group.  There were some familiar faces at the table including Drew Haley, Settle Carlisle Development Company, Sally Buttifant, Mid Cheshire CRP, Marian Atkinson, Chair West of Lancashire CRP, Kul Bassi, DfT and myself representing Rail North Limited.

c.      All CRPs have received a letter confirming their funding for 2016/17 and an indication of future years (index linked) amounts.  Great news and already some CRPs have been able to employ their CRPOs for more hours – exactly what was intended as the specification was being developed.

d.     There is a further £600k per annum that will be used to support a variety of initiatives including a seed corn fund that northern CRPs will be able to bid for; additional staff to be based in ACoRP that will be able to provide CRPs with specialist support; a contribution to Community Rail Lancashire (CRL) towards the development across the Northern franchise of its educational work and additional support for station partnerships..

e.     There will also be substantial investment in stations of £38m and staffing of 45 stations that are currently unstaffed.  Expect to see more community hubs being developed and of course the deployment of the now infamous ‘caboose’.

Moving on to First Trans Pennine Express.  Again a substantial investment in 220 new inter-city style vehicles and the retention and full refurbishment/reconstruction of 87 class 185 vehicles.  This is a franchise being groomed to become a regional inter-city operator and is great to see Leo Goodwin back leading the new franchise.  The franchise also offers a fund that CRPs will be able to bid for and this will be managed by ACoRP.  However, best of all Leo pledges that FTPE will deliver an enhanced catering facility and, to quote. “a decent cup of coffee”.  I for one look forward to this.

So what do you think?  Many Northern CRPs attended a briefing arranged by ARN on the 24th February so I am sure you have plenty of thoughts, comments and ideas.  So please let me hear from you.  As the Rail North lead for Community Rail I need your feedback – otherwise I can’t truly represent your views.

If you have any comments on the above please send them to info@communityraillancashire.co.uk (FAO Richard Watts).  The above views are those of the author and are not those of Lancashire County Council, Rail North or ACoRP. (c) Richard Watts 03 03 2016.

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