Crossrail prepares for renationalisation (by other countries)

Over half of the bidders to run the new railway are foreign nationalised rail firms.

TfL has announced the four companies it has approved to bid for operational control of Crossrail. The company which wins the franchise will run the train services and stations, as well as providing staff, for the London metro rail service, which is due to open with a partial service in May 2015.

MayorWatch reports:

The companies shortlisted to bid are: Arriva Crossrail Limited, Keolis/Go Ahead, MTR Corporation (Crossrail) Limited and National Express Group PLC.

Just to break that down a bit: Arriva is a wholly owned subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, which is the German national rail company and is majority-owned by the German government; MTR corporation is the Hong Kong national rail company and is majority-owned by the Hong Kong government; and Keolis is majority-owned by SNCF, the French national rail company which is wholly owned by the French government.

National Express and Go Ahead, the other half of the Keolis/Go Ahead consortium, are both UK-headquartered FTSE 250 companies.

In other words, fully half of the companies which are bidding to run Crossrail are the nationalised rail companies of other countries; and another quarter of the bidders is a joint venture involving the nationalised rail company of another country.

That follows the creation of London Overground Rail Operations Limited, the company which runs the London Overground concession. That franchise, which is consistently one of the best, or the best, on the whole National Rail network, is run by a consortium of Arriva and MTR under the control of TfL.

Nationalisation: apparently quite good in practice?

Original post, "Why Crossrail's new roundel matters more than it seems", 13 May 2013 13:54

Transport for London revealed further information about how the Crossrail franchise is to be run yesterday, confirming that it would be run as a managed concession in the style of the London Overground.

TfL will stipulate the services which must be provided, as well as owning the trains and track. The private company which wins the franchise will be responsible for running the train services and the crossrail-specific stations along the route, as well as providing staff, but it will not be given the freedom, which most national rail franchises have, to dictate hours of operation and staffing levels.

The news comes as TfL announced the branding that Crossrail would receive as part of London's transport mix; the service will get its own roundel, in a fetching purple shade (that's it above). As the London Reconnections blog points out, that's a more notable piece of news than it first appears:

As Crossrail’s TBMs tunnel beneath London, and its stations begin to take shape (more on both of those shortly) it is easy to forget that there are still some important questions that remain to be answered politically and strategically about the line.

The funding question may have dominated the discourse whilst the line pushed for approval, but it mustn’t be forgotten that Crossrail will also push well beyond London’s borders. In doing so, it will take TfL—and more importantly their authority and systems—with it. At a time when TfL and the DfT have yet to agree on what role London’s transport authority will have with regards to franchising, that’s potentially a very hot political potato.

The most similar existing train franchise to Crossrail, the Thameslink service, is a typical national rail service, run by the First group. As such, First runs its stations, Oyster cards are not accepted outside of travelcard zones 1-6, and TfL has very little say over most of the operations.

Owing to the devolved nature of London transport, the capital is slowly building a different model of how to run a suburban rail system to the one preferred by the Department for Transport. There is still hefty private-sector involvement, but the planning is far more centralised, and, cable-car aside, TfL has seen far fewer missteps than its competitors.

Earlier this week, the Department for Transport was forced to back down on a plan to increase commuter pricing even more than it currently does. The Financial Times reported on Sunday that:

The government was also urged just weeks ago by the Commons’ transport committee to rule out a shake-up of fares.

The committee said it feared that proposals for more “flexible ticketing” would end up being a “tax on commuters” who had no choice over when or how they travelled. The committee said there were limits to what the policy could achieve: “Many lower-paid workers have no choice but to travel at peak times,” the report said.

The first Crossrail services will run from May 2015 between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, Essex. Commuters on that line will see double the number of trains per hour, and new rolling stock from 2017. For them at least, the change is likely to be undeniably positive.

Image: Transport for London

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.