PRESS INFORMATION FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Wednesday, 3 August 2022
[NOTE BY JULIAN LEWIS MP: In June 2022, following a meeting with Rail Minister Wendy Morton MP, I chaired a ‘round table’ discussion in Winchester about reintroducing a passenger service on the Waterside Railway Line. One elected Councillor strongly in favour of, and another one strongly against, the project were invited to take part, together with one specialist on either side which they nominated. The other participants were the Port Director of Solent Gateway in Marchwood, and officials from the Department for Transport, National Rail and Hampshire County Council (HCC). All have agreed to the publication of this record of the main points, helpfully drawn up by one of the HCC attendees. By request, the names of the officials who took part have been anonymised. Hopefully, publishing this Summary now of the arguments we aired will help to inform the Public Consultation taking place from 8 August to 9 September 2022.]
Waterside Railway Pre-consultation Exercise
Meeting Details: HCC Winchester, Mountbatten Room – 17/06/2022, 14:30-16:30
Dr Julian Lewis MP (JL) – in the Chair
Two officials from Hampshire County Council: HCC(1) & HCC(2)(Notetaker)
Three officials from Department for Transport: DfT(1), DfT(2) & DfT(3)
Two officials from National Rail: NR(1) & NR(2)
Cllr David Harrison (DH) with specialist Nick Farthing from Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership (NF)
Cllr Sue Bennison (SB) with specialist Colin Cooley (CC)
Richard Parkinson, Port Director, Solent Gateway Ltd, Marchwood (RP)
- JL outlined the purpose of the meeting in being a forum for those for and against the scheme to air their views with Network Rail (NR) and the Department for Transport (DfT) officials present, in light of his recent meeting with the Rail Minister.
- DFT(1) outlined the current status of the scheme in the Restoring Your Railway (RYR) process and that there is a lot of assessment work to do before it's clear whether the scheme does have a viable business case, which includes an assessment of the impact on local communities etc.
Issues / Concerns
(a) Road congestion in Totton.
- RP Noted that the number of trains routing to/from Marchwood Port was: 44 trains in 42 out 2021, 52 in 58 out 2020, normal MOD use = 37 in 33 out. Numbers are per year.
- RP stated Solent Gateway has 4 train paths per day during the daytime every day. Aspirations to increase rail freight usage of the line. Happy to accommodate passenger trains during the day and move services to night time if need be. Also happy to look at speed restrictions to reduce noise levels as part of increased freight frequency.
- SB recounted experience of long queues due to the level crossing closures on Junction Rd, in the existing situation, which will be made much worse by a passenger rail service.
- DH pointed out that it's clearly a severe existing issue but one that is longstanding, so we need to take into account the fact the rail scheme will only make this proportionately worse by a relatively low amount.
- CC stated belief that additional downtime would be greater than 3.5 minutes with increased train frequency.
- NF raised potential solutions… could drivers be better informed of potential delays at the level crossing to enable better informed decisions to be made. Totton residents are set to benefit from more trains as well as just increased delays at the level crossing, so there are benefits to the scheme.
- HCC(1) - HCC supports the principle of more trips being made by public transport, so supportive from that regard, but recognises issues associated with the level crossing. Would expect timetables to be optimised to minimise downtimes, i.e. trains could cross in both directions at the same time, so might not incur extra downtime.
- SB - A lot of people travelling elsewhere are being caught in the delays resulting from the level crossing, not just people using the level crossing.
- NR(2) - Level crossing downtimes vary significantly by hour and even by day, sometimes the traffic peaks are not the worst times of day, but the peak traffic times often make the impact of downtime appear worse.
- CC My strong preference would be to maintain freight train operations during the day to avoid night time disturbance, which would be unacceptable to nearby residents.
- NR(2) Will try to timetable this as much as possible, but there are some constraints due to the fact freight trains are going much further afield, so there are network bottlenecks in places.
- SB Reiterated a desire not to have any further freight trains travelling at night.
(b) Road Congestion in Marchwood
- SB noted serious concerns over increased rail traffic over the level crossing in Marchwood causing increased downtimes; it's a heavily used route by a wide range of people, young/old etc. for a variety of trip purposes. Concerns over Marchwood residents that back onto the railway who will be subject to significant increases in noise etc. due to the scheme. Noisy manholes on the level crossing.
- CC reiterated concerns over the increased crossing gate downtime causing severance in the village, lots of vulnerable road users, queuing traffic will cause air pollution to the people walking and cycling over the crossing.
- NF agreed that these were serious issues but questioned whether some of the people queuing could use another mode of transport.
- NR(1) - the scheme would bring automated barriers which would significantly reduce the downtimes compared to the current manual gates. Around two minutes downtime for automatic compared to the five minutes manually. Up to four closures per hour with a 2tph service.
- DH agreed this is an issue that needs to be addressed but there is an awful lot of support in Marchwood for the scheme and people cannot wait for another public transport opportunity for Marchwood. Also need to think about the 20% of residents in Marchwood who don't have access to a car.
- SB stated that she was not aware of anyone in Marchwood who supported the scheme.
(c) Impact on local buses
- JL shared a letter from Bluestar reiterating concerns raised during the HCC Waterside Strategy consultation about the severe impact of the scheme on bus services, including a significant negative impact on bus patronage. Also the fact concessionary bus passes cannot be used on rail. Worried about waste of TCF expenditure on improving bus journey times and delay impacts of level crossing downtime on bus journey times.
- DFT(1) - there is a desire to offer an integrated public transport solution as part of the package, not just kill off the bus.
- HCC(1) - HCC does have concerns over the impact on bus services, exacerbated by a BSIP funding settlement of zero, and Covid impacts as well, meaning currently commercial as well as subsidised bus services in the area are already at risk.
- SB - buses are very important to Marchwood residents and anything that reduces patronage on buses could put this service at risk, the number 8 is commercially run (or was pre-Covid), and is the only regular bus serving Marchwood.
- NF outlined the ‘Waterside Wanderer Day Ranger’ ticket that is available and provides bus-rail-ferry integration and provided other examples of where these type of tickets have been successful in the area and the country. Opportunity to make the bus part of an integrated package, so there is potential there to mitigate the impact of the scheme on bus services.
- RP spoke about the increased future demand in the area as a result of various new developments (both commercial and residential) and that this needs to be factored in to the numbers when assessing the scheme, as there are a lot of both new commuters and new residents in the future who may wish to use a new rail service.
- DH stated that there are examples from across the county and country of where bus services experience an increase in patronage as a result of the opening of a new station, including Okehampton and Chandlers Ford.
(d) Impact on Hythe Ferry
- DH - the ferry service is subsidised and is under threat due to low revenues. Ferry operators are supportive of the railway because it gives them options for combined ticketing. It's about new travel options that persuade people that they don't need to travel by car.
- CC read out concerns raised by the ferry operator about the rail scheme, noting that it could significantly impact ferry patronage and that it was not supported and was a waste of money. The money would be better spent on the Hythe ferry.
- DFT(1) noted that the leisure market has increased compared to pre-Covid levels on rail, although the commuter numbers have dropped. The scheme provides an opportunity to test whether rail can increase its mode share of journeys being made for leisure purposes.
- HCC(1) - revenue pressures on public transport are being keenly felt by HCC now, never mind in five years time and HCC always wants to promote a commercially viable network, rather than services being dependent on Council funded subsidies. There are issues already with budgets and revenue support, which is a huge issue for HCC at the moment.
(e) Scheme Benefits
- DFT(1) - if the scheme doesn't generate revenue within a few years after opening, the DfT position is that it won't be supported.
- CC stated that the earlier GRIP 3 study concluded the scheme had a BCR of 0.66, and queried what has changed to alter this. Fundamentally disagrees with the demand forecasts in the SOBC and believe that demand has not been modelled correctly, specifically the inclusion of Totton in the ‘catchment’ as it already has a rail service. Why would more people use the train for Totton to Southampton, as there is already a good service in place?
- DFT(1) noted that this is not unexpected, as increasing the frequency of a rail service between two locations typically makes the service more attractive to passengers and induces more people to travel by rail, as the service is seen as more reliable with lower wait times.
- DFT(2) - the SOBC modelling and analysis has been undertaken using established methods and reviewed by experts and in that regard does stand up to scrutiny.
- JL reiterated a key concern over the fact that the modelling in the SOBC indicates a 26% increase in Totton to Southampton rail journeys as a result of the scheme and that this fundamentally doesn’t make sense, as Totton already has a good rail service to/from Southampton.
- DH made the point that the scheme assessment should be based on more than just money and that the scheme has value to the Waterside area other than just the BCR. Would support scheme even if the BCR was not great. ATOC said some years ago the waterside railway was their number one re-opening scheme in the country. Not just about technical matters.
- NF reiterated that the economic benefits to the area are huge and that several large employers have already indicated that they would like a rail station nearby and if there isn't one jobs may be lost or not created in the area.
(f) Interface with A326 scheme
- HCC(1) talked through the A326 letter from Cllr Humby to Julian Lewis. The A326 improvements are the priority for HCC and are the primary consideration for helping the area fulfil its economic potential as part of the Freeport proposal. Also flagging some of the key concerns that HCC have for the scheme, which have been discussed in this meeting.
- HCC support the rail scheme being fully assessed to enable a judgement to be made. Want it to be assessed against the established Webtag methods, as all schemes should be appraised by the same methods across the country, which is the same way that the A326 scheme will be assessed.
- JL noted that the rail minister indicated that the two pots of money are separate (A326 / RYR), but there is the concern, particularly with the apparent geographical focus of the levelling up agenda, of the danger that if money is first allocated to this rail scheme, then a view could be taken that no further money would go to this area (including for the A326 scheme), but go to road schemes in other areas which had not had a transport investment yet.
- SB - for Marchwood the preference would be to continue the A326 dualling down to Marchwood and beyond provide an ‘all moves junction’ for Marchwood.
- RP would agree the A326 is the priority for ports, due to ability to move freight. Pro all forms of public transport, as the better this is, the better the area is and more attractive for businesses and ability to attract a workforce.
- DFT(2) talked through the slides handed out on next steps and scheme governance. Public consultation planned from 8 Aug through to early September. Pushed back following rail minister meeting. FBC submitted by NR early in 2023. Key cases are the strategic case and the economic case. Reiterated thorough process of scrutiny of FBC, including ministers and Treasury.
- NR(1) – the Public Consultation will run for five weeks. At least four public events will be held in the local area as part of the consultation - Totton, Marchwood, Hythe, Fawley. Will be online events as well and the consultation will be open online for the entirety of the period.
- CC provided some suggestions for how the consultation should be run, to ensure it is objective.
- NR(1) noted the public consultation will focus on presenting the facts.