Hundreds of millions of pounds could be freed up to invest in a major programme of station refurbishment and rebuilding if train companies were given longer and more flexible franchises, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) will say today.
Speaking at a conference in London, Tom Smith, Chairman of ATOC will call for a package of reforms that would give train companies a more significant role in the upkeep of Britain’s 2,500 stations and greater incentive to invest more of their own money to improve and enhance stations to respond to what passengers want.
Tom Smith will also suggest the creation of a ‘National Stations Trust’, which would see a proportion of train operators’ premium payments to the Government put into a sinking fund. The fund would be administered by an independent trust that would make investment available to run-down stations in need of basic repair.
ATOC proposals for reform include:
- Longer franchises to encourage operators to invest; this would also allow them to undertake much more significant improvements to stations, including substantial changes to older stations or even the option to demolish and rebuild where necessary.
- Giving operators complete responsibility over the refurbishment and updating of stations through ‘fully repairing leases’, which could save £250m or more from Network Rail’s spend, money which could be channelled back into further improvements.
- A guarantee that operators could continue to benefit financially from their investment even once their franchise has ended.
Tom Smith will say: “With a handful of honourable exceptions, stations have been at the neglected end of railway funding priorities. It is welcome that the question of how much money we should spend on our stations is rising up the political agenda.
“The current arrangements as to who owns and manages stations are too complex and leave train companies with little or no incentive or opportunity to invest. Targeted reform that gives train companies a greater stake in stations would bring in much more private funding and encourage operators to take a longer term approach.
“We need to move to a situation where train companies become responsible for the whole station and its upkeep. As private sector operators we have a real incentive to respond to passengers’ needs and would be able to do the job more efficiently than it is done at the moment.
“With longer franchises, train companies could finance greater investment and would be able to undertake more significant changes – even demolishing and rebuilding older stations.
“I am also proposing today that we should treat stations as a long-term, national asset, and set up a sinking fund, making a source of money available to maintain them in a consistent and regular way. Just as the National Trust has protected and improved so many historic buildings – so too the creation of a National Stations Trust would carry out a similar role.”