Eighty six people turned out on 6 November 2002, matching last year's record attendance for a Scottish event, to hear Chris Austin, External Relations Director of the Strategic Rail Authority speak on Scotland's railways in the light of the annual Scottish Rail Summit held in Edinburgh earlier that day.
Chris Austin addressing the meeting.
© John G. Fender 2001
Standing in this time for his Chairman Richard Bowker who was detained in London by that day's announcement on franchising policy, Chris said he believed that notwithstanding the rail industry's recent difficulties, the essential drivers were still in place for continuing growth in passenger numbers. These included the impacts of external pressures such as worsening congestion and the working time directive - plus the benefits of new trains, more frequent services and the better fares available through more effective yield management. Factors restraining such growth included rising unit costs, poor performance, limited network and terminal capacities, skill shortages, fleet size, ongoing engineering work and bad perceptions of rail.
SRA's firm objectives were to achieve a safe, reliable railway through clarity of service specification which would deliver value for money through acceptable viable operations. The new franchising policy sought to focus on passengers, building on the industry's recent successes while dealing with failures to provide a better specification, meeting key performance indicators within a typical franchise length of 5-8 years - though the Scottish franchise would be separately specified by the Scottish Executive. Fares policy would be to continue regulating commuter and saver fares while recognising that an ongoing decline in the real price of regulated rail travel was probably not sustainable. The new initiative on capacity utilisation would seek better planning for use of existing capacity with improved timetabling, targeted enhancements to produce early benefits while recognising that tough choices might have to be made at congested nodes.
Chris saw the next two years as especially busy since they might see the implementation of the interim review on access charges, the fares strategy, capacity utilisation, Mark I rolling-stock replacement, the Disability Discrimination Act at stations, the next round of franchising, the working time directive and the Government's comprehensive spending review, all of which were due by end-2004. For Scotland he saw early achievements as new lines at Stirling-Kincardine and Larkhall-Milngavie, longer platforms and more trains, a start on developments at Edinburgh Waverley and a new station at Edinburgh Park, more line capacity for freight on the Glasgow and South Western Line, West Coast Route Modernisation with Pendolinos, completion of Virgin Cross Country's Operation Princess and the upgrade of the East Coast Main Line. Looking beyond short term priorities and constraints on resources, he concluded that growth prospects were good but depended on clearer specifications being achieved through short term action plans which demonstrated value for money.
Report by John Fender.
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