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Train services to be cut by stealth

19 April 2010
Politicians and train companies are opening the way for rail service cuts by stealth, transport experts said today.

The Government is trying to sneak through a policy to give train companies a financial incentive to cut services via an informal consultation document, according to the Campaign for Better Transport. (1) 

Meanwhile the Conservatives are supporting the Association of Train Operating Companies' demand for flexible franchises, allowing companies to decide which services to run without Government specifications that protect passengers. (2), (3)

Cat Hobbs, the group's public transport campaigner, said: 'Politicians seem to be planning to slip in service cuts under the radar. They want to cut costs by giving train companies free rein. We fear this could lead to slashing of less profitable local services, ticket offices and other facilities that benefit passengers.

'The Government must protect passengers through strong franchise specifications – that's its job,' Hobbs said.

The informal consultation document on the Department for Transport website says 'under the current process there is no incentive for operators to make sensible changes to services that are no longer justified'. It says 'The Department is therefore considering amending the current franchise agreement so that where operators propose sensible measures to reduce costs during their franchise term they will be rewarded by receiving a proportion of these savings'.

Campaign for Better Transport has challenged the Department to explain why these proposals are not subject to formal consultation, when they could have a serious impact on passengers. Passengers can only respond formally to the Department's three standard franchise renewal consultations, which close Monday 19 April. (4)

'The question which services 'are no longer justified' will get you very different answers between passengers and train companies.  But what is clearly unjustified is giving the power to decide which services to cut to train companies', Hobbs said.

A number of local rail user groups are supporting the campaign against rail cuts.

Jim Jenkins, Chair of Better Trains for Chepstow, said:  'We are strongly opposed to the move to reduce the protection of passenger franchises. Our experience is that the management of the franchises needs to be firmer. Our elected representatives and local communities need to have more control over our services, not less.'

Denis Fryer, South Hampshire Rail User Group, said: 'Lots of medium sized towns could have their services cut. This would make rail a much less attractive option for people. It could have a big impact on people who take the train to work.'

Eileen Conn, Southwark Rail Users' Group, said: 'We need a strong franchising process for the kinds of improvements we want to secure for our Cinderella local overground rail services in South London.'


Notes to editors:

(1) The Future of Rail Franchising is an informal consultation, available on the Department for Transport website

(2) The Conservative party manifesto calls for more flexible franchises.

'Conservatives set railway battle lines', The Times, 13 January 2010

(3) 'Franchise reform', Association of Train Operating Companies, March 2010

(4) Essex Thameside, Greater Anglia and InterCity East Coast formal franchise consultations, available on the Department for Transport website