Rail 2014 - Public Consultation

Rail 2014 - Public Consultation

Rail 2014 - Public Consultation

5 - Scottish train services

5.1 Currently rail passenger services that are wholly within Scotland are operated by ScotRail, almost all of which are specified in the Franchise Agreement. The franchisee obtains track access from Network Rail, and leases, or pays to make use of, stations on the network. The Office of Rail Regulation oversees this leasing arrangement.

5.2 The map in Section 1 shows the routes which are currently covered by ScotRail. Additional services are also currently provided by the cross-border services, see Section 8, which are specified by the Department for Transport.

Service types

5.3 There are a number of different types of rail passenger services operating in Scotland, ranging from short suburban services, such as those on the Cathcart Circle in Glasgow, to inter-city services such as those between Aberdeen and Edinburgh. We are looking at how these services should be specified in the future franchise.

Carrying capacity

5.4 The current franchisee is required to ensure that there is sufficient carrying capacity provided on rail services to meet passenger demand. Passengers should have a reasonable expectation of getting a seat within 10 minutes of boarding a train (except between Glasgow Central and Paisley Gilmour Street). When trains are near to capacity, the limited number of available seats can mean that passengers perceive that the trains are crowded.

Actual capacity issues - 2010/11

On the Edinburgh-Glasgow services, the trains between 07:15 and 08:15 as well as those between 16:45 and 17:45 are the most crowded with some passengers required to stand and occupancy peaking up to 130% of available seats. In contrast from 11:15 until the start of the evening peak at 16:00 and from 19:15 onwards demand is significantly below capacity with fewer than 70% of seats being occupied, and on a few services this falls to around 35%.

The Motherwell - Cumbernauld services, in contrast, have an over-capacity of seats, where demand only exceeds 20% of available seating on one service. The average loading of all services on this route is less than 10% of available seats.

5.5 There are a number of solutions to resolving the issues of crowding including revising timetables, lengthening trains and carrying out infrastructure works. All can be expensive.

5.6 We are therefore considering whether we should include a measure for how many people can be carried on a train, as opposed to just relying on how many minutes a passenger may have to stand. The carrying capacity could for example be set at 105% on certain types of service. We envisage that this would only affect the peak services, and other methods, such as fares adjustments can help to alleviate crowding on these few services.

5.7 Were we to allow the franchisee to operate services with reduced capacity more passengers would be required to stand for all or part of their journey. We will therefore be considering whether we should increase the time that passengers may have to stand and welcome views.

Off-peak and weekend services

5.8 The demand for rail services on each route varies by the day of the week and time of the day. Peak services on all routes are the busiest; however there are also fluctuations across the network and through the seasons.

Rural lines

Patronage levels on rural lines are quite distinctive as demand alters significantly depending on the season. For example, the West Highland Line had a significant increase in patronage levels during the summer season, peaking at 45,000 journeys per 4 week period compared to 17,000 passenger journeys per 4 week period during winter.

Journeys on the West Highland Line, January 2009 - January 2010 [19]

Rail in rural areas currently delivers relatively poor journey time competitiveness compared with other transport modes. However, journey times are not a critical issue for tourists (but may be for local residents) and in fact rural rail lines represent a significant part of the product Scotland offers to tourists.

5.9 On a large part of the network patronage in the off-peak period is much lower and many services operate for most, if not all of their route, with a large number of empty seats. It costs almost the same to run an empty train as a loaded train. Consideration therefore needs to be given to possible measures to generate and sustain increased patronage in the off-peak, and also to whether such services offer value for money to the taxpayer.

5.10 The current franchise agreement specifies the minimum rail passenger services that have to be provided. We are currently considering what criteria should be used to determine what rail services are required for the future franchise, and what services should be specified, and therefore subsidised.

Journey times and frequency

5.11 One of the strategic outcomes from Scotland's Railways is to improve journey times and connections. Improving the actual line speeds, changing timetables, providing additional rail loops or minor infrastructure works can all contribute to reducing overall journey times. However, journey time issues are linked to the type of services that are required. For example, journey times on commuter services will be more crucial than on tourist routes.

5.12 We think that a robust passenger timetable, which would address passenger needs, could be devised by the franchisee if we were to set out a limited number of service criteria (eg. minimum number of daily services, carrying capacity limit, period of day covered by services etc.). The actual regularity, or timings, of the services will depend on passenger demand, rolling stock availability and customer service considerations.

5.13 If the franchise was let as a dual focus franchise (see Section 3) the level of specification would depend on whether the actual service is part of the economic or the social rail aspect of the franchise.

5.14 We are therefore proposing to specify journey times and frequency outcomes on select types of services and only where this will add to the wider Government policy agenda.


5.15 Scottish rail passenger services are currently a mixture of stopping services which stop at a number of stations along a route, a very few direct services between two points, and interconnecting services where passengers get off one train and connect with another for their onward journey. Stations where passengers change trains to connect with another are called interchange stations. Currently around 47 (13%) of Scottish stations are interchange stations, and of these 11 have more than 100,000 interchange journeys a year.

Table 4: Scottish Interchange Stations
Station Number of interchanges (2009/10)
Glasgow Central 2,284,406
Glasgow Queen Street 1,272,279
Hyndland 694,406
Edinburgh Waverley 688,941
Partick 412,103
Haymarket 406,738
Stirling 186,517
Aberdeen 164,299
Dumbarton Central 110,463
Perth 107,332
Motherwell 102,205
Source – Office of Rail Regulation

5.16 We consider that the franchisee could achieve greater efficiency in the deployment of its staff and rolling stock through increased flexibility in its operations. On some routes, longer-distance services could be replaced by a number of shorter-distance services terminating at an interchange station. We want rail to be attractive to passengers, so the impacts of adding a leg to a journey, would have to be thought through carefully, particularly in terms of passenger expectations, rolling stock and train crew.

5.17 We think the franchisee, being closest to the customer, might be best placed to make the decision on whether its operations would benefit from the use of interchanges on particular services. The franchisee will be required to offer an attractive service to customers, with journey times that are competitive with other modes of transport. There is, therefore, a balance to be struck between direct end-to-end rail services and those requiring a change of train mid-journey.

5.18 The interconnectivity of rail passenger services with other transport modes, such as bus services and ferry services, is also crucial to encourage people to travel by public transport. There are a number of initiatives to support this such as Plusbus, and timetables which show ferry connections. The actual integration of these passenger services however depends on developing timetables with workable connections and involves a considerable number of public transport providers and organisations. We intend to emphasise the importance of this in the future contracts and continue to work with relevant organisations to improve this aspect.

Future specification

5.19 We will be specifying a required level of service as part of the process for letting the franchise for future rail passenger services.

5.20 The specification will be required to help the franchisee to offer a service that meets passengers' needs and our policy aspirations which include an increase in the use of public rather than private transport, social inclusion, a reduction in emissions through modal shift from road to rail, and sustainable economic growth.

5.21 Taking the issues discussed above into account we have identified three main options for the way forward:

1. Minimum specification: where the minimum level of service is specified only on strategic commuter and inter-city routes, where significant volumes of people are moved, and where the routes result in greatest economic return. The franchisee would have the freedom to make commercial decisions to run extra services where there is likely to be sufficient demand.

However, only six routes in Scotland currently generate revenue in excess of their operating costs. Therefore the main risk associated with this option is the cessation of services with low revenue, such as those in rural areas. For this reason we do not intend to implement a minimum specification.

2. Full specification (specifying every service): here there is detailed specification on each and every strategic, regional or local route. Full specification is not a desirable option as it limits the opportunity for the franchisee to innovate to provide customer-focussed services.

3. Targeted specification: the level of specification will be dependent on the type of service that is required for each route. This recognises that some services on the rail network are more financially attractive to the franchisee, whereas some have little demand and therefore require greater subsidy.

For example, greater specification could be offered on the Far North Line than on routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow. As the opportunity to generate revenue between Edinburgh and Glasgow is greater, the franchisee has a commercial incentive to tailor aspects of services, such as frequency, to passenger needs. Our direction could therefore be kept to a minimum, such as specification of carrying capacity, maximum journey time and select arrival times only.

However, in the Far North, the driver for effective rail services is our desire to improve social inclusion and employment opportunities, and promote tourism. We could therefore provide a fuller specification, also instructing on the frequency of service, to ensure local needs are met.

5.22 We are currently considering targeted specification, option 3 above, as the most appropriate format for specification of the next franchise. We want to maximise growth and expansion on the routes where revenue generation potential is highest. We also want to continue to encourage modal shift in those parts of Scotland where the revenue on the routes does not cover costs, but where there are wider policy aims to be met.

5.23 We are considering what incentives should be incorporated within the specification to encourage innovation by a franchisee and would welcome views.

15 Can better use be made of existing train capacity, such as increasing the permitted standing time beyond the limit of 10 minutes or increasing the capacity limit? What is an acceptable limit for standing times on rail services?
16 Should the number of services making use of interchange stations (both rail to rail and rail to other modes) be increased to reduce the number of direct services? What would be the opportunities and challenges of this?
17 Should Government direct aspects of service provision such as frequency and journey time, or would these be better determined by the franchisee based on customer demand?
18 What level of contract specification should we use the for the next ScotRail franchise?
19 How should the contract incentivise the franchisee to be innovative in the provision of services?