Regulator interferes ineffectually again

I missed the regulator’s press conference as I was filming for Tyne Tees but the two press releases issued today shows, yet again, that the regulator is floundering and causing mayhem ineffectually, if that is not an oxy moron.

First, there is the bizarre decision to turn down the application for Grand Central to run trains on the West Coast from Blackpool. Now I hold no brief for open access, but the regulator seems to have shifted the goalposts to somewhere off the Fylde coast.  The decision was apparently made because the regulator wants to rethink access for the West Coast, offering the franchisee a ten year access agreement which would then be opened up to allow more competition. But the Department has announced that it wants a 14 year franchise, so bidders will now have no idea what competition they are likely to face in the final few years of the franchise.In the meantime, bids which private open access players have spent considerable sums on are simply rejected on the basis that the rules have changed.

Then, yet again, we have sabrerattling – or rather toy sword waving – over Network Rail’s failure to deliver its performance target. If the naughty boys at NR do it again is the suggestion, then, oooh, we might spank their botties by declaring it a breach in their network licence. Well so bloody what – we already know that fines merely are money lost to the industry and that the bonuses of the NR bigwigs are not even affected by the ORR’s hand slaps. And the ORR knows this, so that’s why it is reluctant to do anything than issue warnings.

So on one matter the regulator imposes itself, making up new rules as it goes along, and in the other instance, demonstrates its powerlessness. So called ‘independent’ regulation is another burden on the industry which it could well do without.

  • Percy

    Some people saw Grand Centrals Blackpool plans as a spoiler to what Alliance Rail was proposing with its GNWR operation rather than a serious application – Not sure if Alliance plans have been trashed also – the reason for this being seen in such a light was that Grand Centrals old boss, Ian Yeowart who set the GC company up and did all the hard graft had after a falling out with his new bankers gone away and somehow and against all the odds pulled off the masterstroke of the setting up Alliance Rail and getting a major financial backer in the form of Arriva ( DB ).

    What I find interesting about this is that if we go back to the 1980’s and Thatchers Revolution the movers and shakers, those Thatcher Golden Boys who were going to give the state railway its Entrepreneurial flair and Dynamism were feted to be people like Richard Branson and Brian Souter, who it turned out ended up sheltering in the safe waters of the state subsidised and contractually revenue protected parts of the industry while someone who started as a roster clerk on the communist BR dinasaur was actually the person who attempted bring in a bit of innovations and flair. I’m not sure this is how it was meant to be but many lessons can be drawn from this outcome.

  • Dan

    Very well put Percy – I must say that the reality of most large scale private enterprise operations is much rhetoric about the benefit of the market and the need for freedoms (mostly from trade union members of course) and yet we end up with a great enthusiasm for protection by the state to help their monopoly position, along with some healthy state subsidy to keep profits up – this is the sotry of ‘corporate capitalism’ I suspect. They are subsidy junkies. The construction industry showed the way of course.

    I expect Souter found out the hard way when he ran those night time carriages attached to the sleeper – and how it is recalled that the then Minister Roger Freeman MP welcomed it all before quietly retiring to the BR sleepers not long after departure…that it was easier to just get on the gravy train.

    Not sure from your phrasing Christain – but are you saying it is proposed that west coast be insulated from competition for another 10 years? If there was one thing the ideologists of privatisation migth have ensured it would be that after spending 9bn+ on WCML modernisation – the public could have been offered at least the pretence of competition?

  • What the general public wants is not a lot of confusing little companies doing their own thing, but through trains from London to Blackpool, provided by whatever operator is best placed to do it — presumably Virgin, in this case. Make it part of the franchise requirement and just do it.

  • Well Dan, this is what the ORR Press Release said:
    ‘Following an extensive analysis of proposals for train services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the regulator will approve a 10 year track access contract for the new franchise, allowing existing West Coast services to continue, but with a contract that contains more flexible access rights than currently in place. The franchisee will be able to make service changes more easily, taking forward new ideas to improve passenger services, and providing greater value for money to the taxpayer.’

    That does seem to suggest there will be no Open Access during that period. Or have I got it wrong?

  • Dan

    Thanks Christian – I’m not sure what that means! Does it mean “more flexible access rights” for other would be providers (open access competitors) – or does it mean (given the next sentence in your quote) “more flexible access rights” for whoever wins the franchise – allowing them some flexibility on service levels?

    Maybe a question in the House could get a clear answer…

    Paul makes a very valid point though.

    Meanwhile – look forward to a comment / blog post on what seems to have been announced for GWML and IEP (?) when you have the time to analyse it.

  • Peter Hooper

    @ Dan

    As we wait for CW re IEP and Electrification you can read up on Yesterday’s statement and MPs follow on questions in Hansard :-

  • Matt


    A great piece moaning about the current set up – but what’s the solution?

    Given current constraints (the need for a medium term investment cycle, the need for public subsidy and the impact of European competition law), the current system seems to be the only game in town.

    Do you have a better proposal?

  • Percy

    Dan / Christian,

    Interesting stuff re Blackpool, I’m guessing any services from Euston to Blackpool operated by a new West Coast franchise will now be new services for the whole journey Euston – Blackpool as the hourly service to preston nowadays continues north to Glasgow most hours with a few infills that turn back at Lancaster. I wonder if they will extend one of the three per hour Manchester services through Bolton & Chorley to Preston and then Blackpool once the electrification is finished.

    I just found this release on the alliance rail news page which says they arent giving up. It also gives contact details for more info.


    2/3/11 – Alliance announces continued development of its GNWR West Coast service proposal

    The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has recently announced its ‘minded to’ decision in respect of a number of applications for access rights to operate on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

    Whilst it has not been possible for the ORR at this stage to approve further additional rights for the majority of the applications, Alliance fully supports the decision to re-cast the WCML timetable from December 2013. The decision is very much in line with Alliance’s own feedback following a number of positive meetings with Network Rail.

    Alliance is preparing a revised submission for its services in line with this decision, and is continuing to engage with Network Rail and the industry to ensure a positive outcome is achieved for the many passengers and stakeholders who have an interest in the continued development of the WCML.

    To schedule an interview, please call:

    Neil Yeowart at 01904 628904

    Chris Brandon at 01904 628904

  • Percy’s Dad


    You are a very naught boy!

    If you work for Alliance Rail why don’t you just say so?

    Your Dad

  • Percy

    Hi Dad,

    I have a feeling your not my father, there must be another Percy on the www.

    I dont work for Alliance Rail. I did work for British Rail many years ago but thats all in the past, its history. Nowadays I have no renumerative employment in any capacity on the UK railway and if I’m honest I prefer it that way. If your little Percy ever starts nagging you about wanting to be a train driver or something else equally silly just put him in touch with me and I can hopefully enlighten him to what a wasted life he would have, I mean they’ve even shut the Griffin Pub underneath Euston Station, where is an on duty railwayman meant to get a cheap pint when he runs in from the North nowadays? OK I know the Prince Arthur is still open on Eversholt Street but hey, if your on a quick turnaround the Griffin was definately Location, Location, Location.

    Moving back to Blackpool. I had a Roger Ford WCML moment on a train the other day when overheard staff discussing the future shape of the Trans Pennine franchise. Apparently the rumour is, and its only a rumour, that Oxenholme – Windermere is going out to someone else, maybe WC or NT and that Blackpool – York is coming into the Trans Pennine franchise from NT. When you think about the Manchester – Blackpool electrification this would stack up. The Windermere is a bit out on a limb once trans pennine starts electric to scotland and the spare sets created from the electrification could go onto the Blackpool – York service. Like I say its only a rumour but thats what I heard being discussed.

  • RapidAssistant

    I also remember there was talk that Renaissance (original owner of W&SR) was talking about restoring Glasgow-Liverpool direct using spare capacity on Scottish/Lake District section of the WCML- in fact go to their website and they still proudly boast that this is one of their plans……bet that has been kicked into the long grass as well. Looks like it hasn’t been updated for years either.

  • Peter Hooper

    @ Percy

    “If your little Percy ever starts nagging you about wanting to be a train driver or something else equally silly just put him in touch with me and I can hopefully enlighten him to what a wasted life he would have.
    I mean they’ve even shut the Griffin Pub underneath Euston Station, where is an on duty railwayman meant to get a cheap pint when he runs in from the North nowadays?
    OK I know the Prince Arthur is still open on Eversholt Street but hey, if your on a quick turnaround the Griffin was definately Location, Location, Location”.

    So just to reassure the travelling public, perhaps you could advise us of the present maximum alcohol consumption allowed by train drivers at Euston on a quick turnaround ???

  • RapidAssistant

    Going back to the point of the article, my question is why do you need all the hassle and expense of a regulator when the franchises and Network Rail are so tightly controlled by the DFT anyway – you are regulating the already regulated effectively. If the railways were a true privatised industry that was completely free of state control, I’d see the point.

    Percy/Peter – I can tell you that the Sleeper crews when they come in from Scotland in the morning doss in the IBis hotel on Cardington Street……I know – I’ve stood in the same check-in queue after being a passenger on same train; the bar is closed at that time of the morning however…..

  • Percy

    Hi Peter H,

    I can advise you that nowadays its zero, as at the start of the paragraph when I use the words Past & History, I’m refering to another time before the Transport & Works Act of the early 90’s which criminalised the consumtion of alcohol rather than it being merely an internal disciplinary offence. If you go back to the decade of the 1980’s and before the railways ran on a drinking culture that it had inherited from the steam age, many termini had a conveniently located and very cheap staff pub, Euston had the Griffin deep in the bowels of Euston beneath the concourse. The first attempt at closing it in late 80’s early 90s had the supervisers up in arms, “At least we know where the station staff are, if you close it we’ll have to go out looking for them in the back street pubs”, was the resounding chorus, then very shortly afterwards the T&W Act was passed and its existance became untenable. In the 80’s much to their credit, ASLEF under Ray Buckton, did a lot to raise awareness of the problem and bring about change in this area and indeed if my memory serves me correctly BR was ahead of UK aviation in tackling this problem.

    All this is shocking stuff when looked at from where we are today but if you go back just 25 – 30 years the attitutes and culture of the whole of British Society and its perception towards alcohol in the workplace were totally diiferent, even the Area Manager would have a bit of the hard stuff tucked away in his office drinks cabinet as did chief police inspectors, it really was a different time. Thats what I always found so interesting about the railways, many enthusiasts see only numbers, names, liveries, times, schedules, types of locomotive & signalling but it was the people that worked on it that made it interesting, a very diverse set of people, not all Hail Fellow Well Met, some real Gits, but virtually everyone was a real character in their own right. BRB always used to pass down the virtuous proverb to their out of college middle managers that “It’ll be alright once we get rid of the steam men”, which these guys would then recite to the loco grades the moment they got a cab ride as if looking for some kind of arguement, a terrible abuse of hospitality that sometimes got them ejected at the next signal. There are only a small handful of steam men still working on the mainline and its still not right, so who do we blame now.

    Rapid, The IBIS, Well the sleeper crews really have gone up in the world, when Chris Green was in charge they used to stay in a hotel near Russell Sq, I think it was the County, cheap and cheerful but a bit rough around the edges at that time, maybe its better now. I always remember it also being where Communist Firebrand and Leader of the Scottish NUM, Michael “Mick” McGahey would stay on his trips to London . McGahey always believed that his phone calls were intercepted by MI5 during his stays at the hotel during the 1984 – 85 miners strike so be careful what you order on room service if you ever decide to stay there.

  • Dan

    Percy – sure the new mantra will be ‘it’ll be alreaight once we’ve got rid of the ex BR people….’