The great rail rip-off: ‘Bad deal’ on subsidies for East Anglian passengers
11:19 27 August 2014
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
The “bad deal” received by East Anglian rail commuters has been laid bare in new statistics which show the subsidy per passenger mile on Abellio’s Anglian routes amounts to just 3% of that received in some other parts of the country’s rail network.
What the politicians say...
-Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP and lead for the Great Eastern Rail Campaign, said it was “not right and not fair” that rail franchises in most other parts of the country received a much greater subsidy per passenger mile than the Greater Anglia franchise which had much older rolling stock and a line which has suffered years of under-investment. “We have suffered under-investment for decades and that’s why I am campaigning so hard to get the better service we deserve.” She also said she would be asking questions of Network Rail and the train operator, and telling them how angry her constituents are about the repeated disruption. “This is disgraceful and entirely unacceptable. It’s not good enough to have a repeated letdown like this,” she added. “It hurts people who are simply trying to get to work on time or are going about their other daily business.”
-Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich, repeated his call from two weeks ago for heads to roll at Network Rail, saying: “It is clear that someone is not doing their job properly. Whoever that is needs to be replaced by someone who can do the job.”
-Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said she had been in contact with Network Rail director Richard Schofield to convey her frustration at the poor service. She said: “He apologised for the delay and has promised to investigate why the works overran and what they intend to do to address it. I have asked to see the incident report.”
-Jessica Asato, Labour candidate for Norwich North, said: “Clearly the Great Eastern rail line needs significant investment. Labour’s new organisation would ensure that national investment goes where it is needed most. A Labour government would also legislate to allow a public sector operator to take on new lines and challenge the train operators on a level playing field.”
Commuters have called for a level playing field amid figures which show that last year, the region’s railways received back just 1.5p per passenger mile, compared to 51.5p for the area of northern England covered by Northern Rail.
Under the current system, operators such as Abellio pay “premiums” to the Department for Transport, which then allocates money back to regions in the form of grants to Network Rail, to improve and maintain the infrastructure in different parts of the country.
Calculations by the Department for Transport show the area covered by Greater Anglia receives less per passenger mile than other operators which have services running into London, including Southeastern, Virgin and First Great Western.
Last year, Greater Anglia paid a premium of £196.3m for the line, with a grant of £201.9m coming back to Network Rail in this region. By contrast, Southeastern, which has commuter lines into London, paid in a premium of £20.5m, with £237.5 paid to Network Rail, for improvements in its area.
The government also hands money to operators which run less profitable lines – to subsidise services in remote areas – and can also pass money back to companies, if they do not earn as much money as expected.
Northern Rail, which is not required to pay a premium, received £172.1m from the government, alongside £352m in Network Rail grants for its area.
Ron Strutt, a regular user of the line from Diss, said Norfolk residents were getting a “very bad deal”.
“We are saddled with old rolling stock, delays, and a lack of proper service. The staff try very hard but there’s a limit to what they can do.”
Michael Windridge, who lives in Fritton and commutes between Norfolk and London each week, said: “I cannot recommend an overall increase in subsidy, but I am staggered to learn about the scale of discrepancy between other regions’ rail subsidies and our own. Commuters in Norfolk and Suffolk need to start lobbying hard for a more level playing field.”
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, which is leading the Great Eastern Rail Campaign, said: “We know that the Great Eastern main line has suffered from years of under-investment and our trains are some of the oldest on the network with the average age of around 25 years. These latest figures also show that while our region’s trains have among the highest passenger miles they receive one of the lowest subsidies. All of this strengthens our case for much greater investment, which is why we are campaigning hard to gain support from passengers across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and provide government with a robust business case in the autumn.”
But a Department for Transport spokesman said: “Subsidy and premium differ across the UK, even at a regional level, because of variations in demand and costs with some busier services requiring less government support.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “By 2019, we will have rebuilt key junctions, renewed overhead power lines and upgraded signalling, with all the regions trains being controlled using state-of-the-art technology from our new control centre in Romford.”
• Should the government be doing more to improve the Great Eastern main line? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk