To consider the attached update report.
5.1 The Chair invited Rob Niblett, Senior Planning Officer, to present this item. The report was taken as read and members noted the following points:
· The impact of Covid on passenger numbers had been catastrophic; they had reduced in proportion to the level of restrictions in place.
· As a result, the Government put all franchises into emergency measure agreements where they take the risk on revenue and the train operating companies were paying just to run the services.
· Cancellations and reductions in services have had a major impact on school pupils travelling to and from school in the county, which continued for forest residents returning from schools in Cheltenham and Gloucester.
· The long term impact of the pandemic on rail passengers and services was very difficult to foresee. It was very unlikely that commuter levels would return to pre-Covid levels due to the increase of working from home, and the morning/afternoon peaks we used to see were likely to be more spread throughout the day, if experienced at all.
· There was likely to be some form of bounce back in leisure travel, which we experienced to some extend last summer when restrictions were eased.
· The industry was in a state of flux, similar to many others.
· It was highlighted that rail played a significant role in tackling climate change/reducing carbon and congestion on our roads and as such Network Rail were continuing their long term planning for demand post-Covid and GCC have been heavily involved in this.
· The Council were very keen to remain engaged in future planning as any prediction on future demand could have an impact on critical routes for the county.
· The recent Network Rail traction strategy document highlighted all the rail lines in the county for future electrification but no dates/timescales were given for this work and it was clearly going to be a very expensive exercise.
· GCC was also a member of the North Cotswold Line task force which dealt with services from Worcester through to Oxford that residents in the Cotswolds relied on.
· In terms of new stations, in line with the LTP, officers were committed to working with rail industry to explore any possibilities.
· Unfortunately officers had recently been advised that the improved half hourly service from Gloucester to Bristol that was due to be implemented in December 2021 had now been delayed until May 2022, as well as the hourly service to Worcester (which was currently only every 2 hours) being delayed until 2022. Operators had advised this was due to one of the unseen impacts of the pandemic, train driver training.
6.2 A member welcomed information on the possibility of a new station south of Gloucestershire but noted that it relied heavily on the rail companies agreeing to use it and there was a significant lead time between this being agreed/built and making its way onto the timetables. It was also questioned whether existing lines could have their capacity increased to allow more services to use them.
6.3 Officers agreed that it was a difficult process opening new stations and clearly one of the top priorities was to improve capacity on the lines which could be done through increasing speed and improving signalling. This was one of the main attractions for electrification of the network. It was also agreed that some operators were resistant to accepting new stations on their routes as every additional stop increased the overall transfer time.