Posted on May 30, 2017 · Posted in General IRO news, North West & Wales

On the evening of 3 November 2016, the Institution of Railway Operators’ North West and Wales Area had the pleasure of welcoming Ian Yeowart, Managing Director of Alliance Rail.

Whist only some from within the industry will have heard of Alliance Rail, all will have heard of a number of Ian’s and his colleagues’ achievements, having been a part of the team that set up Grand Central Rail, and that also came up with the well known and respected brand of Great North Eastern Railway, which rights were sold to Sea Containers; a company that my own railway journey started with.

Ian outlined a brief history of Grand Central Rail and open access more generally, the legislative framework that it works under and the challenges of dealing with the civil service, which personally sounded all to familiar to the well-known comedy of Yes Minister (although I am sure that’s not quite how it is in reality!). It seems as though that there is a myriad of opinion out there of exactly where open access should sit within the industry and some of the myths surrounding. At this point, it’s probably more helpful to share Ian’s thoughts directly:

  • Not cherry picking: Open Access has taken on huge risks with private capital to re-establish regular rail links with locations long off the long distance high-speed franchise map;
  • Not bad for taxpayers: franchises which face Open Access have recorded rising Premiums for DfT – value of franchise increased, not reduced;
  • Spare capacity exists: on each Open Access application the incumbent franchise has always claimed no capacity exists – independent timetable analysis has identified paths;
  • Franchise v Open Access has led to a bigger and more innovative and competitive long distance high-speed railway on the East Coast Mainline;
  • Competition has grown the railway and is good for passengers.

It should also be noted that the provision of extra services from stations that had long disappeared from the ‘Intercity’ map has lead to investment in those stations. Lord Adonis said of Wakefield Kirkgate that it was the worst medium-large station in Britain’ following a multi-million pound upgrade that is now no longer the case. Is that purely as a result of Grand Central offering services direct to London from it? Probably not, but I am sure it helped; and what of the improvements at Eaglescliffe. Yet another station that has benefited from infrastructure improvements, it’s easy to see that Open Access operations does help to build the case for these improvements that improve the customers’ experience of rail irrespective of whether these be customers of franchised operators or that of Open Access.

Ian then went on to talk about the future of Alliance Rail and their plans to use Pendolinos on Open Access services from Blackpool to London; how the business plan stacked up; and how they obtained the train paths against opposition from some within the industry. I am sure all of the attended delegates look forward to GNWR’s entry on the network.

The event was well attended and well received by all. The Chairman, the IRO North West and Wales Area Council and the attended delegates would like to thank Ian for volunteering his time to provide what was an informative and interesting event.

Christopher Mackenzie
Chairman, IRO North West & Wales