Thursday, 2 August 2007

The DfT

I was going to stop at 2 posts for today but having been flitting around looking for new material, I did notice that there is a lot of debate on who is more responsible for the poorly received December 2006 timetable and the current state of the Greater Western franchise.

I'm here to present the truth, not to be an FGW apologist so I will not pretend that it's all the DfTs fault. Mechanical failures on trains, staff sickness, poor information, problems with catering, inadequate response to major problems. All within FGW's direct control and all their fault. I'll expand on this in the future.

However, the service level agreement for the franchise was set by the DfT. The vast majority of cuts in services can be laid at the feet of the DfT. While it was within the scope of FGW to build on the minimum set out in the agreement, all additional services had to be approved by the DfT. Taking into account that FGW will pay the DfT £1.1bn should the franchise run its course and you have a situation in which it is very difficult for additional services to be introduced. When you take into account that the franchise agreement also included millions of pounds worth of improvements at stations and on the trains themselves and the situation looks even bleaker.

The DfT has reminded FGW that they control who wins the franchises. They have 'expressed a wish' that no blame be attributed to them for anything to do with the state of the franchise, 'or else'. In fact, the long suffering Customer Service department has been told that they are not to mention the DfT in communication to customers under any circumstances, even if the DfT really is the source of the problem that the customer is complaining about. This has led to FGW taking more than its fair share of blame for things that are beyond its control

There is the view that if MPs like Thresa May and Boris Johnson know what is going on, why are they calling for FGW to be stripped of the franchise. Well, I think that this is a simple one to answer. FGW are the public face of the franchise and the ones that everybody blames when things go wrong. Even if said MPs know what is going on, by seeming to champion the commuters cause, they look like wonderful people. That means votes. That means re-election and that means not having to get a proper job.

It is understandable that FGW will take all the stick from customers. They are, as has been mentioned many times, the public face of the franchise. It's also true that First did not have to bid for the franchise, but considering the large chunk of profit that would have been lost if they had not done so, there was not much of a choice.

FGW is also the one paying the compensation when things go wrong, whether it is their fault or the fault of the DfT. No money is claimed from the DfT because First Great Western had to pay out for a situation not of their making. FGW absorbs the blame.

It is also true that there are other franchise operators who run their services much better than FGW. I would add the small argument that not many of them were hamstrung with such a ludicrous starting base as FGW was, but FGW is not faultless. Tomorrow, I will comment on FGW's failings as a company and how these can be addressed as well as provide a short piece on ticketless travel and those Revenue Protection Inspectors that customers find so annoying. Maybe that will lead to some more understanding as well.


graham said...

I do agree that FGW take a great deal of the flack, and that some of it is somewhat unfair as the DfT, Network Rail, local transport authoritys are also involved. Yet First chose to bid as they did for the franchise and accept the terms of it, so they must accept the consequences of implementation to some considerable degree

Insider said...

I agree that First chose to bid for the franchise as is and therefore must acept some of the flack leveled at them but I feel that they could not afford to not have bid for it as there were plenty of other companies who would have.

At some point, my plan is to do an analysis of the financial consequences to FGw of accepting the franchise as they are now and what would have happened had they not done so.

Running the franchise on different terms is mott point, it wasn't going to happen.

Lee Fletcher said...

I am not sure about Boris Johnson (I dont think anyone is) but I think the criticism of Theresa May is a little unfair , as she has been just as much on the case of the DfT as she has been of FGW. Here are a few examples of the Parliamentary Questions she has asked :

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what surveys his Department has undertaken on the views of commuters on the FGW Link services; and if he will publish the results of those surveys.

Mr. Tom Harris: The Secretary of State for Transport has not undertaken surveys on the views of commuters on the services within the First Great Western franchise formerly operated by First Great Western Link. Passenger surveys are undertaken by Passenger Focus. The results of the latest National Passenger Survey were published on 29 January 2007.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what modelling work (a) has been and (b) continues to be undertaken by his Department on train passenger numbers and service usage (i) on commuter services and (ii) on commuter services serving Twyford, Maidenhead and stations on the Henley and Bourne End branch lines.

Mr. Tom Harris: Demand was assessed in 2004 while preparing the Greater Western franchise specification. Future likely passenger demand is being assessed at a strategic level as part of the work to scope the High Level Output Specification, which is to be published in July.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport on what basis his Department determined the level of train services required in Service Level Commitment 2 for the Greater Western Franchise relating to services to Twyford, Maidenhead and the Henley and Bourne End branch lines.

Mr. Tom Harris: To determine the train service requirement for the Greater Western franchise the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), starting from the 2004 timetable, identified potential service pattern changes to improve operational performance and efficiency, and to maximise the opportunities from merging the then existing franchises. A range of options was linked to service pattern changes to meet the franchise objectives, and these were amalgamated to determine the most appropriate specification.

The franchise specification was then developed by testing and developing options in the outline and detailed specification phases. Technical Advisers supporting the SRA investigated an initial package of options that were informed by the general, franchise and service group objectives which were developed and agreed at the beginning of the process. Network Rail supported the process through timetabling analysis.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport which (a) passenger groups, (b) user representatives and (c) other bodies were consulted on the content of Service Level Commitment 2 for the Greater Western Franchise prior to finalising that document.

Mr. Tom Harris: The Strategic Rail Authority initiated stakeholder consultation on the Great Western franchise in June 2005. The Department for Transport published a report on the consultation on 6 October 2005, and the report is available on the Department’s website.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment his Department has made of passenger numbers using (a) individual train services and (b) individual stations on the services run by FGW Link prior to finalising Service Level Commitment 2 for the Greater Western Franchise.

Mr. Tom Harris: As a basis for determining the train service specification for the Greater Western Franchise on routes formerly served by FGW Link, the Strategic Rail Authority established passenger loads on all weekday services arriving at London Paddington between 7 am and 10 am, and departing from London Paddington between 4 pm and 7 pm in November 2003.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions were held between his Department and FGW following representations on the December 2006 timetable for services (a) to Maidenhead and Twyford and (b) on the Henley and Bourne End branch lines; and what changes to the proposed services were considered as a result.

Mr. Tom Harris: First Great Western (‘FGW’) carried out a public consultation on its proposed December 2006 timetable in February and March 2006. Following this, the Secretary of State and FGW held discussions about changes to the timetable and consequential amendments to the train service specification in response to the summary of representations prepared by FGW.

FGW also informed the Secretary of State of the changes it was planning to make to the timetable on 15 January 2007 and the further changes which it is considering making with effect from 20 May 2007.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment of maximum passenger capacity was made prior to finalising Service Level Commitment 2 for the Greater Western Franchise.

Mr. Tom Harris: Bidders for the franchise were required to assess demand and propose plans to meet it. The Department for Transport, as part of its technical evaluation of bids, assessed bidders’ plans to meet their forecast demand, and concluded that the bid from First, to whom the franchise was awarded, was in this respect acceptable in terms of delivery.

First Great Western’s franchise contains ongoing obligations in relation to capacity.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 1 March 2007, Official Report, column 1455W, on Railways: Thames Valley, on what basis future likely passenger demand is being assessed; what methods are being used to derive these figures; and whether data for the work is being derived from passenger surveys.

Mr. Tom Harris: Passenger Demand Forecasts for the railway are derived from industry standard forecasting tools which draw upon forecasts of population and employment changes, economic growth and other related factors. Demand data upon which future forecasts are based is derived from analysis of ticket sales and passenger counts and surveys, such as the London Area Travel Surveys (LATS).

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 8 March 2007, Official Report, columns 2131-2W, on railways: Thames Valley, if he will place in the Library (a) copies of the information provided to his Department by First Great Western of their (i) assessment of and (ii) plans to meet passenger demand to and from Maidenhead and Twyford and (b) his Department’s analysis of those proposals.

Mr. Tom Harris: The Department does not publish contents of bids on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. The Department’s analysis of franchise bid information provides the basis for further clarification and any subsequent negotiations with bidders. Publication of officials’ assessments would be prejudicial to the department’s commercial interests.

The Greater Western Franchise Agreement contains details of the franchisee's ongoing obligations in relation to capacity and is available on the Secretary of State’s public register. The register can be consulted on application to the Department.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 8 March 2007, Official Report, columns 2131-32W, on railways: Thames Valley, what First Great Western’s ongoing obligations are in relation to capacity as defined in the Greater Western Franchise.

Mr. Tom Harris: The obligation for capacity in the First Greater Western (FGW) National Rail Franchise Terms requires that the Franchisee use reasonable endeavours in planning its timetable and the rolling stock diagrams needed to implement it, to provide passengers with a reasonable expectation of a seat off peak and within 20 minutes of boarding during the peak period.

The Greater Western Franchise Agreement is available on the Secretary of State’s public register. The register can be consulted on application to the Department.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 2 March 2007, Official Report, column 1574W, on Railways: Thames Valley, what changes to the timetable and consequential amendments were agreed between the Secretary of State and FGW during their discussions in February and March 2006 on the December 2006 timetable; and what changes and amendments were refused by either party.

Mr. Tom Harris: The changes which were agreed between the Secretary of State and First Great Western (‘FGW’) are set out in Appendix 11 of the FGW franchise agreement. The agreement is available on the Secretary of State’s public register. The register can be consulted on application to the Department.

No potential changes or amendments in relation to the Thames Valley were refused.

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to the answer of 2 March 2007, Official Report, column 1574W, on Railways: Thames Valley, if he will set out the figures for the established passenger loads during the stated time periods for journeys from, and to, Maidenhead and Twyford stations.

Mr. Tom Harris: The data referred to in the previous answer are contained in the “Market, Service and Review Report” produced for the Strategic Rail Authority in June 2004. A copy has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

As you can imagine , PQ's are an invaluable source of research for me , and Mrs May has certainly asked a lot of them!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honesty.

I have come to the conclusion that the DfT is responsible for what services run and that FGW is responsible for how well they are run.

I appreciate that First can't critise the DfT because they want to win future franchises. This places them in a very difficult possition.

The people who disapoint me most are the MPs who seeming let DfT off the hook and bodies like Passenger Focus who has been critising FGW and ignoring the DfT's role in the problems. Their atitude shows that they are either too stupid to realise what is going on or that they are are too timid wrt the Government to do their job as the passenger's champion.

I also think that ATOC ought to have done more. ATOC is supposed to respesent the interests of the Rail Companies, surely it could say things about the idiots at the DfT that First would never voice.


Insider said...

I may have been a little cynical in my commentary on the political angles. This comes from a deep-seated mistrust of the vast majority of politicians.

Were I to take a further cynical stnace. I might point out that, as the role of the DfT in this debacle comes more into the open, it's just as politicaly healthy to be seen to bash them as to bash FGW.

However, I've seen many of Theresa May's letters to FGW. I've even advised on responses to a few of them and I do believe that she is looking for a better service for all. It's just that sometimes, I don't think she does it in the most helpful fashion.

Insider said...


I largely agree with all of the points you have raised. While there are some MPs who have called on the DfT to explain themselves, they are in the minority.

I also agree that ATOC should do more but they are happy to stay out of it as it doesn't affect them. It's apathy on their part

John Roberts said...

Firstly, congratulations on the blog. It seems to be a well balanced view, and I hope all contributors respect the balance that you are trying to bring to the debate.

It strikes me that the Great Western franchise was let at the nadir of the DfT attitude towards the railways. As such, DfT must take much of the blame, although certain management actions by FGW (in particular the movement of maintenance from Canton to SPM coincident with the new timetable) go a long way to explaining the distrust passengers have (and unhelpfully turned the spotlight away from DfT to FGW, as the former could point to the non availability of stock as the cause of the problems).

Subsequently, there seems to have been a modest shift in attitude by the DfT, though I don't think this is coincidental. The uproar over the failings of the new franchise have no doubt persuaded the DfT that they went too far. Recent announcements of more rolling stock in the Northern franchise, together with the 1000 (and now 1300) extra coaches, take up of the additional capacity option on Cross Country etc, point to this. So... what now.

Well as I understand it, franchises have to bid for this extra capacity. FGW should be in a strong position to bid because a) it must be recognised in hindsight that the franchise spec was unacceptably low and b)they have some decent stock about to go off lease without a home to go to. (Cl 180). Of course, the problem is what to do with the Cl 180s. I've seen the CDF-Portsmouth serive suggested, but replacing 2 car sets with 5 car seems unrealistic. However, split the sets into 7x4 car and 7x 6 car (don't know whether this is technically feasible) , and you might just about justify 4 car sets on the Portsmouth run, with the 6 car sets used to strengthen Thames Valley local services. This is probably one of those "ah if only you knew how to run a railway ideas", but with no decent second generation DMU stock available (I exclude Cl 14x from the definition of decent), then if FGW cannot hold onto the Adelantes then they will have served the travelling population very poorly. Again, I accept that these discussions are probably commercially sensitive at the moment.

Sorry, I've probably gone off topic a bit, but if FGW wants to restore its credibility with the travelling public then it should be negotiating hard to pick up more than it's fair share of these additional units.

Best wishes with the blog.

Insider said...

John, I think you are definately on to somehting and, to be honest, it pleases me that people are willing to talk about this point of view rather than rush it off as FGW trying to pass the buck as I feared they would.

I agree that the DfT seems to realise they went too far, though they would never admit it, and have qietly taken a back step. It makes me more hopful for December.

In September, the Adelants are due to be returned to a leasign company in exchange for more HSTs, which wil then go through the refurbishment process one at a time until the whole fleet is done in December (provided things stay on schedule).

If we were able to get the Adelantes back as extra stock, they wouldbe of use. The technical make up of the Adelantes means that they can only be run as 5 or 10 car sets but I think that they would be of use even on the Portsmouth run. Having adeantses replace Turbos in the Thames Valley would be a big help, even theough the number of turbo sets running is due to be quite significantly cut as of December and replaced with larger trains.

It's an interesting option and I thin that if we can get some extra stock, it will make things a whole lot easier.

Lee Fletcher said...

How many turbo sets are you due to lose in December?

Insider said...

I'm not sure how many turbo sets are set to go. I'll see if I can find out. I don't think that too many turbos are going but we are losing some i think. The other side of the coin for getting to exchnage the entire Adelante fleet for HSTs

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

If its any help , the Greater Western Franchise Agreement states :

"6 x Class 166 vehicles may be returned to Angel Trains in December 2006, in which case the lease of those vehicles will terminate without their being subject to any substitution requirement. If and to the extent they are retained on lease by the Franchisee those vehicles will be treated as comprising Additional Rolling Stock Investment."

The above was agreed on 06/06/2006 and was the only specific Turbo reference that I could find in the train fleet section.