Growth and transformation
Whatever Britain s rail passengers may think about their TOCs, they have been travelling in ever-increasing numbers since British Rail was abolished in 1994. At that time, UK rail passenger miles were the same as in 1950 when the rail network was about twice its current size. Between 1950 and 1994, passenger traffic fluctuated in accordance with economic cycles and other factors. Yet, after privatisation, traffic has steadily risen with barely a blip from the 2008 recession. Now passenger numbers are twice that of 1994. This demand has risen faster than predicted by any transport models. Moreover, it is far greater than that experienced by other Western European countries for example, it is more than twice the growth experienced by France and Germany. So what s different about the UK? Why wasn t this growth predicted and what s wrong with traffic forecasting models? Answers to these questions are needed to understand whether this growth is to continue.
Factors driving the current growth include higher-than- forecast population growth, the boom in the housing market forcing longer-distance commuting, increases in city-centre service jobs and a significant drop in car mileage which has fallen due to rises in insurance and other running costs, changes to company car taxation, increasing congestion and reduced city-centre parking places. In fact, men in their 20s are now driving much less and an increasing number do not drive at all. Technology has also made rail travel more attractive. The Internet offers easy advance purchase and fare visibility as well as enabling better use of time on trains. Other improvements include better revenue protection and improved car parks. Some of these factors are not easy to model. It seems certain that a significant part of this growth is due to privatisation. This is the conclusion of economists Oxera who, in a report for the Rail Delivery Group, concluded that changes to the structure of the industry have accounted for between 25 and 75 per cent of the increased traffic. It is, however, impossible to say how the industry might have developed in the absence of privatisation.
Yet more growth?
Understanding whether this growth is to continue is essential when planning the rail network s long-term capability. For this reason, the industry has developed a Long Term Planning Process (LTPP) with a 30-year horizon. The LTPP involves all parties concerned and considers four scenarios: prospering in global stability , prospering in isolation , struggling in isolation and struggling in global turmoil . Initial conclusions are that it is unlikely that the factors favouring rail will change in the short-term, so it is concluded that growth will continue. Whilst growth could vary significantly over 30 years, the required increase in railway infrastructure capacity has a very long lead-time. Hence, the industry s strategic planning is based on the high end of the demand forecast, whilst other scenarios are used for sensitivity testing. The LTPP outputs are available on Network Rail s website. These include four market studies and six of the twelve planned route studies. One of these, the Wessex route study covers some of the UK s busiest routes and it predicts a 40 per cent increase in growth on both main line and suburban services to Waterloo by 2043. Even without growth, much additional capacity is needed on the Wessex main lines as standing is now commonplace for peak journeys of up to on one-hour s duration.
To provide the required increase in capacity, various options are considered. The principal infrastructure options include a fifth track from Surbiton to Clapham Junction, a second Crossrail from South West to North East London, and deployment of the proposed (but untried) Level 3 of the European Train Control System. Clearly providing the required capacity has huge infrastructure implications.
Trains, electrification and skills
Network Rail s LTPP is complemented by the rail industry s long-term passenger rolling stock strategy (RSS) (issue 115, May 2014) for which Chris is the project director. This uses the same planning assumptions as the LTPP and considers seven generic fleet types (short, medium and long distance electric and diesel, plus very high speed electric). Its low, medium and high predictions for the number of rail passenger vehicles in 2043 are respectively around 19,000, 22,000 and 25,000. This compares with the current 12,775 vehicles shown in the last edition of the RSS. Possible electrification scenarios are considered to derive low, medium and high predictions of respectively 62, 71 and 77 per cent for total track miles electrified by 2034. This compares with the current figure of 41 per cent. Whatever the electrification scenario, the last edition of the RSS predicted that, by 2029, self-powered vehicles would be less than 10 per cent of the total. However, these scenarios are being updated following the review of Network Rail s enhancements programme by Sir Peter Hendy and will be incorporated in the next edition of the RSS, due to be published in March. The RSS gives manufacturers and the supply chain the confidence to develop their production capacity. It also helps create a consensus between Network Rail, TOCs, ROSCOs (rolling stock leasing companies) and Government to match infrastructure enhancement and rolling stock provision as well as highlighting opportunities for standardisation and improving value for money.
To support a significantly increased fleet size, the RSS considers future requirements for depots and berthing. It stresses the need to future proof depots by passive provision for longer trains and also highlights the forecast shortage of engineering skills. This is a particular problem for traction and rolling stock on which 14,500 engineering and technical staff are currently employed. According to research by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), a 57 per cent increase in such staff will be required over the next ten years as 4,900 are due to retire while a further 3,300 will be required for the extra vehicles. To address this issue, the Department for Transport, Rail Supply Group and NSAR are developing a national transport skills strategy, to be published in January. As part of this, the Government has recently outlined plans to create more than 30,000 apprenticeships in the transport industries by 2020.
There is a strong consensus that rail passenger growth will continue into the foreseeable future. To meet this demand, significant infrastructure investment and a large increase in rolling stock is required. If the industry is to manage this additional capacity in a cost-effective manner, an organisational transformation will also be necessary. As has been seen, transformations take around ten years or longer, require visionary leadership and a true partnership between infrastructure and train operators. This highlights the need for greater devolution from Network Rail such as deep alliances and joint ventures. In Chris s view, the extent of devolution so far has been fairly shallow.
Today, UK rail has political support. Its contribution to the economy is recognised, as is the severe impact of the rail network failing to meet future demand. Forty years ago, such support could not have been imagined. In contrast, at this time France had just made a start on its high-speed rail network and had rolled out its prototype Train a Grande Vitesse. Work had also just started on Paris s Crossrail, the Re seau Express Re gional.
Projects such as HS2 and Crossrail 2 offer the required step-change in capacity and the opportunity to catch up. The challenge for the rail industry is to continue to transform itself in order to deliver this extra capacity in a cost effective manner.