Railway revolution signals major changes

IT's going to be "all change" once again on EAST Anglia's railways in 18 months time when one company takes over all routes from London Liverpool Street.

By Paul Geater

IT's going to be "all change" once again on EAST Anglia's railways in 18 months time when one company takes over all routes from London Liverpool Street.

Political Editor PAUL GEATER looks at the runners and riders in the Greater Anglia steeplechase.

RAIL travel has undergone a transformation over the last six years – or at least that's what the government and train companies would have us believe.

Travellers from Ipswich have seen major changes – there are twice as many trains to both London and Norwich as there were in 1997.

Towns like Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Woodbridge now have direct through services to London again.

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And there is genuine choice on the route from Ipswich to London with Great Eastern and Anglia trains competing for passengers.

But now, according to the government's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), competition doesn't work.

At present three rail companies operate out of Liverpool Street: Anglia, Great Eastern, and West Anglia (operating services to Cambridge),

From March 2004 there will be just one – the SRA believes that by having a single company operating out of the station, it will be easier to co-ordinate services in what is a serious bottleneck.

A total of nine companies have been shortlisted for the new franchise, which could run for up to 20 years.

But the three incumbants are seen as being in the strongest position when bidding starts in September.

They are currently talking to rail users about what should happen in the region after April 2004, trying to build franchise proposals which will have the support of passengers and potential passengers.

The contenders:

GB Railways –

CURRENTLY operates the Anglia franchise, with InterCity services to Ipswich, Norwich, and Harwich International.

It also operates local services in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – and this autumn starts "InterUrban" services between Norwich and Cambridge.

Strengths:

ACCORDING to surveys it is one of the most popular rail companies with the people that matter most, its passengers.

GB Railways runs only one franchise, and Anglia is based in Ipswich. It is responsive to public demand and has a clear local focus.

It is seen as an innovative company, introducing new trains with through services from towns off the main line to London. It also introduced the innovative Crosslink service by-passing central London, although this was not a financial success and it is being withdrawn in October after the SRA didn't renew its subsidy.

Weaknesses:

IN a word, finance. As the smallest franchisee, with no major corporation behind it, GB Railways was badly hit by the downturn in passengers after the Hatfield disaster. All its other weaknesses stem from its financial problems.

The age of the train: With the exception of its small fleet of Class 170 Turbostars, Anglia's trains are old or not best suited to their current use.

InterCity electric trains are hauled by locomotives up to 36 years old and carriages of at least 20 years old. They've had makeovers – but they're showing their age.

Services from Ipswich to Cambridge or Peterborough are provided by lightweight Sprinter units designed for short rural trips. They are uncomfortable and often crowded – and need replacing if rail is to be a realistic option for drivers on these routes.

First Group:

CURRENTLY operates Great Eastern commuter services from London to Essex and Ipswich.

Strengths:

Through its ownership of bus companies in Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, it is able to offer meaningful "integrated transport."

Great Eastern has provided reliable "no frills" services over the last few years.

As part of a transport giant, the company should be able to weather financial problems that can affect transport operators.

It can also use its size – and the fact that it operates other franchises – to order new trains in bulk to ensure it gets a good price for them.

Weaknesses:

Great Eastern has not been seen as a particularly innovative company – it has concentrated on doing the basics right and has not looked for new markets like some of its competitors.

Some people are worried about too much integration between buses and trains – could it ultimately lead to bustitution, the replacement of rural rail services by buses?

First Group is based in Aberdeen. Where will the decisions about local train services be taken?

National Express:

CURRENTLY runs the West Anglia franchise from Liverpool Street to Cambridge.

Strengths:

Has more rail franchises in Britain than anyone else, so it has experience of all types of rail operation.

The company has a reputation for giving local managers the chance to run their own routes – bringing in local accountability.

Past record of investing in run-down services, especially the London-Southend "Misery Line" has earned plaudits from passengers.

Weaknesses:

With eight other franchises, how much attention would senior management be able to pay to Anglia?

National Express is already committed to introducing new trains in its other franchise areas. It's large – but is it rich enough to buy more new trains for Anglia?

OTHER COMPANIES BIDDING FOR THE FRANCHISE:

Arriva Trains Ltd – currently runs local services in northern England and Merseyside.

Connex Transport UK Ltd – currently runs commuter services in south east England.

Great North Eastern Railway Ltd – runs services from London to Edinburgh, Newcastle, and Leeds.

GOVIA (The Go Ahead Group plc and Keolis SA) – operates Thameslink, Thames Trains and South Central franchises.

NS/Dutch Railways

Virgin Rail Group Ltd – operates InterCity services from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow and cross-country InterCity routes.

Timetable to re-franchising:

March 2002: Preferred bidders announced.

September 2002: Details of terms of franchises announced.

October 2002: Bids submitted.

Summer 2003: Winning bidder announced.

April 2004: New franchise holder takes over train services in the region.

Weblinks:

www.sra.gov.uk

www.angliarailways.co.uk

www.yourtrain.co.uk (First Great Eastern)

www.wagn.co.uk (National Express' franchise).

Captions:

Passengers at Ipswich station – waiting to find out who will run their trains in future.

A Great Eastern train in the main line to London.

An Anglia train on the main line to London.

National Express-owned WAGN currently operates services in the west of the region.

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