Posted 15th February 2023 | 5 Comments

Arriva calls for rethink on open access

Arriva UK Trains, which is owned by Deutsche Bahn and was the last private sector operator of Northern, has called for an industry summit about the future of open access.

Arriva’s move has followed the George Bradshaw Address last week, in which transport secretary Mark Harper spoke of the government’s commitment to reform, including the possibility of more open access services.

Arriva UK Trains managing director David Brown said: ‘We have long called for reform which builds on the very best of what the rail industry does and delivers cost-effective, modernised services for customers and communities.

‘It is welcome news that the focus has moved from diagnosing well-understood challenges to delivering action for the post-pandemic age, including through change that doesn’t require legislation and ensures customers quickly experience improvements and the taxpayer benefits. Arriva are ready and willing to help the railways grow and generate revenue to reduce taxpayer subsidy through our commercial expertise and understanding of what customers want.

‘It is particularly pleasing to see government commitment to supporting more open access services where it benefits passengers and taxpayers. We know through our stewardship of Grand Central and by watching other open access operations, the innovation and customer-focused improvements that can be delivered through such services.

‘We are calling for an Open Access Summit bringing together government, the regulator, industry, Network Rail and the Great British Railways Transition Team to collectively work through the barriers and blockers and agree practical steps for unleashing more of these innovative services, including through making best use of unused capacity on the network.’

The original plan for railway privatisation in the 1990s had envisaged a ‘right of access’ which could have meant almost unlimited open access, but this idea was abandoned at a very early stage in favour of ‘moderation of competition’ to protect those operators who had a government franchise.

Arriva UK Trains owns open access operator Grand Central. It also currently operates Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry under risk-free contracts with the government after franchises were abolished in September 2020, during the Covid pandemic.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    Will Chiltern Railways still be operated by Arriva. Or will another rail company take over the Chiltern franchise and to retain the existing rolling stocks that Chiltern Railways currently has. Grand Central should still remain with Arriva as they provide excellent rail service from London King’s Cross to Sunderland and Darlington. And might operate to Scarborough if the Grand Central franchise is to extend or let LNER to operate a new service to Scarborough.

    [A couple of points, Andrew. There are no franchises, because they were replaced by other forms of contract in September 2020. Grand Central is an open access operator and never was a franchise. Arriva currently holds a National Rail Contract for Chiltern which is due to run until 11 March 2025.--Ed.]

  • david C Smith, Bletchley

    Yes, as per the opening sentence in my previous comment, I am only basing this on information available via memories of 30 years ago. It does seem that if competition is to be an acceptable part of rail operations , it should not be "destructive"; proper legal considerations should govern such competition ( hence the need for people like Tom Windsor). A main criticism applies, I think, at any competition there is between TOCs working on different bases ( Franchised operators on the one hand with Open Access ones on the other). The results from such will likely give very distorted results.

    I would indeed like to see competition that is well designed with an aim to give benefit to all invoved . It could be that the new structures now emerging , post - franchising will learn from past mistakes.

  • John Porter, Leeds

    I was under the impression that open access competitive services were initially (and still are) encouraged to provide extra connectivity WHERE THERE IS SPARE CAPACITY and unmet demand. Part of that unmet demand comes from people who can be attracted by the extra service and are happy to trade off frequency for lower fares.
    The established operator now also serves that market, often by offering lower fares to London from York (where there is competition) than Leeds (where there’s none).
    Bradford loses out because there is no spare capacity between Leeds & Bradford and Great Central have stepped in to provide an alternative Bradford to London service via otherwise unserved Halifax, Brighouse & Pontefract. Their efforts should be rewarded not thwarted.
    [I am not sure they are encouraged, so much as reluctantly permitted, where the case is very good.--Ed.]

  • david C Smith, Bletchley

    Correctly or not, I was under the impression that in the initial phase of privatisation, the idea was that TOCs would have a temporary monopoly of a particular service / line , as an "amelioration of competition"to allow them to initially get established, after which they would be allowed to progressively expand into each others' "territory", providing effective competition , which would in turn give public accountability.

    Of course, this could'nt happen in every instance ; some services are natural monopolies, but where it could have been viable ( most intercity / long distance services), it could have brought the maximum positive features of privatisation ( innovation , adaptability , access to investment capital ) . Since the inception of the Strategic Rail Authority, we have instead ended up with a series of operations that have fixed contracts largely dictated by political constraints. I hope we might be in line for a rethink here, so the railway's potentials are more fully realised.

    [I am afraid I don't recognise your description of railway privatisation in the opening paragraph. What is your source? On 28 May 1991 transport secretary Malcom Rifkind said: ‘We intend to allow anyone who wishes to provide rail services for freight or for passengers, and who can meet the necessary standards for safety and competence, to be able to do so.’ This ambition for ‘open access’ was swiftly replaced by ‘moderation of competition’ when the realities became clearer. On 7 October 1997 Rail Regulator John Swift said: ‘It is my role to ensure that where competition does develop it is in the public interest. Of course, before relaxing the constraints on competition, I would need to be satisfied that adequate controls were available to prevent the emergence of “rail wars” type competition, and to ensure that network benefits were maintained.’ Indeed so.--Ed.]

  • John Porter, Leeds

    Greenguage21 have produced a thoughtful report - Sheffield–Leeds: What's Next? - which suggests hourly extensions of EMR London to Sheffield services to Bradford via Barnsley and hourly to York via Barnsley & Castleford.
    Great Central’s (GC) open access services would suffer if either EMR extension was adopted.
    Currently GC’s London Services serve 5 of the potential extended service stations every 2 hours (counting Castleford/ /Pontefract as one community), and it would be better if those extensions were a GC/EMR joint venture initially every 2 hours to Bradford & hourly to Meadowhall & Barnsley. Both Operators will soon have similar rolling stock.
    Mark Harpur in this years Bradshaw Lecture was particularly positive about open access and tapping their apparently readily available money and expertise.
    I hope that such joint ventures are encouraged by Great British Railway legislation and the industry summit.