Purpose of the report: Policy Development and Review
For the Board to receive an update on the changes to the Surrey rail strategy since the last update in September 2015.
Paul Millin, Travel and Transport Group Manager
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. The Travel and Transport Group Manager introduced the item by giving a brief outline of the history of the rail strategy, reminding the Board that it was published in 2013, by way of a formal process, which came to the Board and then was approved by Cabinet. The report is an update on the priorities set out in the rail strategy, published in 2013 and the progress on the various different elements. Members had been circulated a slide pack in advance of the meeting.
2. The Board was also reminded of the agreed rail development objectives which were to maintain global competiveness, help deliver our economic priorities, reduce environmental impact within surrey in terms of transport and accommodate the effect of projective population growth.
3. The Travel and Transport Group Manager brought the Boards attention to the invitation to tender for the new South West Train franchise which was published two weeks ago. The two shortlist bidders to run the new South West Train franchise were identified as Stagecoach South West and First South Western Trains. The current position for the shortlist bidders is that they have 90 days to respond to Government, and then the preferred bidder will be announced in February 2017, with the aim of the new franchise to commence in summer 2017.
4. The Travel and Transport Group Manager advised the Board that this would be an important window for the County Council, also informing the Board that the Cabinet Member had written to the Department of Transport setting out the Council’s agreed rail priorities.
5. The Board was also informed of the number of meetings held in liaison with Stagecoach South West and First South Western Trains and the Travel and Transport Group Manager assured the Board this will continue to ensure the County Council’s priorities are reflected when the successful bidder runs the franchise.
6. The Travel and Transport Group Manager reminded the Board of the Crossrail 2 scheme which the County Council strongly supported. In recent discussions with the promoters of the scheme, Dorking and Woking were requested to be assessed for potential inclusion in the scheme. Another key area of interest is the freed up capacity that will be a result of Crossrail 2. Officers have been talking to the promoters of the scheme about the County Council’s aspirations, where there is growth and appropriate use of that freed up capacity. The initial response to the winter consultation was released on 7 July, the project team have been reviewing that carefully and will respond, continuing to push case for Surrey.
7. The Board also addressed the Local Orbital Rail Services, where officers are liaising with Great Western Railway who are the operators of the franchise. Jointly the Council and the train operator are pressing government to commit to investment for electrification in control period 6. In terms of Surrey, members queried whether there were plans to electrify the North Downs line beyond Gatwick. The Travel and Transport Group Manager stated that the existing line covered significant important towns and that Great Western Railway and council’s along the route were very positive about electrifying the line. The only issue was that electrifying to the east of the line was not a priority and more focus was around developing the core which would support economic growth, develop housing and create more jobs.
8. The Travel and Transport Group Manager stated that the government had shown a positive interest in the North Downs line and that it was hoped a positive business case would be developed to ensure this was included in the government’s future investment plans. The estimated cost to electrify the line put forward by Network Rail stood between £85-145 million.
9. Furthermore the Board were informed of the access to airports work, which is high priority in the rail strategy. Members were concerned with rail and transport access to London Heathrow. Any outcome will be heavily influenced by Government’s decision on runway capacity. In relation to Surrey, consultants have been asked to look at all the southern rail access options available to link with London Heathrow. This work will be completed in September.
10. In conclusion the idea of the position statement is to formally publish it as an update to demonstrate where the Surrey Rail Strategy is and consider whether we need a complete review of the strategy in 2017.
11. Members expressed concern about lower levels of investment surrounding the South West Trains franchise as it approaches contract end; the Travel and Transport Group Manager expressed similar frustration and advised the Board that other alternative funding can be sought elsewhere if a business case can be developed.
12. A discussion around the extension of zone 6 to cover other stations took place, The Travel and Transport Group manager explained that extending zone 6 come must have a supporting business case. Residents believe it is just cheaper fares, yet it is more than that. Where an income deficit is created by offering existing rail users cheaper fares that income has to be made up somehow. A business case for the extension of zone 6 will need to be put forward, on an individual station by station basis; without that it won’t happen or somebody will have to underwrite that cost and that Surrey County Council is not in a position to do this.
13. With regards to the Crossrail 2 scheme, members sought clarification around the impact this would have on Victoria Station, the Board was informed that there was no issues at the moment.
14. In relation to the North Down Line, the Board wanted a better understanding around the implications surrounding the development of the line. The Travel and Transport Manager highlighted two main issues, population and growth. Existing stops include Reading, Blackwater, Dorking, Guildford, Redhill, Gatwick, etc, which are all important centres for economic commerce, therefore the business case for fully electrifying the North Downside line is positive.
15. Overall there is a positive story to tell government and the Board is encouraged to focus on developing this message. The Travel and Transport Group Manager reiterated this by stating that there has been positive backing from all partners and commitment in investing in this area. The Board was informed the business case is positive and significantly supports economic growth. In addition Network Rail has already looked at the cost of electrifying the North Downside Line showing that this is being taken seriously.
16. The Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning addressed the Board stating that the North Downside line is a major priority to focus on, as services on the current line are appalling, the leader has written to government supporting our plans and there have been radio interviews with the Cabinet Member promoting it. The Cabinet Member added Government have underfunded this line for far too long, and this is the time for new developments to take place and be funded.
17. The Board expressed concern with access to Dorking Deepdene station, the Travel and Transport Group Manager stated that Great Western Rail are looking access improvements to the station, although costs are high, however, this will be reviewed and discussed further with the train operating company.
18. Some members queried network capacity on the Gatwick Express and whether the service had been good value for money. The Travel and Transport Group Manager stated that the County Council had formally stated that they did not believe that the Gatwick express was the best use of rail capacity as many of the carriages do not maximise the use of capacity on a regular basis. Although the Gatwick Express does now stop at more locations, the Travel and Transport Group Manager does not believe it is used at an optimum level, although Gatwick Airport Limited and other neighbouring Councils do not agree with Surrey’s view.
19. A Member voiced the potential use of battery trains, the Group Manager stated that there is an ability to run these trains and they are currently being used the east of England.. Great Western Trains have even showed interest in this area. However even though these battery trains demonstrate potential for the industry, Surrey are pushing for electrification of the North Downs rail line.
20. A Board member expressed apprehension that Heathrow airport is poorly connected and Gatwick is well connected. The Travel and Transport Group Manager recognised this problem, in particular to the existing congestion in and around Heathrow airport and supports the view that something needs to happen. The Board were advised that back in May, Network Rail published a report setting out 5 options how suburban access to Heathrow can be provided. The county is also doing work with Arup around the optimum access from the South East to Heathrow, and would be pleased to provide this report to the Board at a later date.
21. Upon the Board’s request The Travel and Transport Group Manager confirmed that he would send the board a link to an online network map showing current levels of rail patronage for rail stations in the UK.