A leading rail passenger campaign group has called on one of the region's biggest train companies to reverse its decision to make seat reservations compulsory on all its services.
LNER, which is owned by the government and runs trains from London through the North East to Scotland, originally introduced the policy at the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions, to allow it to operate social distancing on its trains. But now the company is saying it will keep the policy in place permanently.
Railfuture North East Branch Chair Keith Simpson said there was a strong feeling amongst passengers in this area that LNER had taken leave of its senses. He pointed to LNER's own research that admits that 14% of people will be less likely to travel by train under the new policy, and wonders why LNER is so keen to lose these passengers.
The same research states 33% of people would be more likely to take the train if guaranteed a seat. "But passengers can reserve a seat anyway, and free of charge", says Keith. "There is no need to frighten off the first group to win the second group. LNER could have their cake and eat it if they so choose - they just need to properly promote the existing free seat reservation system, and most importantly ensure it is properly enforced by on-board train staff."
Railfuture North East points to the fact that the rail industry is going to need to grow their business and reach out to new markets to recover pre Covid levels of passengers and fares income. "We don't need to throw more obstacles in people's way", said Keith. "Let's keep train travel easy".
Railfuture North East also believe that LNER has failed to understand its network is used by a significant number of commuters. Durham to Newcastle and Morpeth or Alnmouth to Edinburgh being popular routes. There are no alternative local services linking these destinations. Apart from the need to make 10 reservations per week, very few commuters can predict exactly what time they'll be able to leave the office, and what time train they'll need to get home. "What if they have to stay late, miss their normal train, and then find there are no seats available on the following services that evening? Will LNER be paying the taxi bill? And what about when disruption occurs, for instances if LNER have to cancel an entire train. There won't be enough available seats on the next service. This will leave some passengers stranded, unable to get home. Will LNER pick up the hotel bill in such instances" asked Keith.
Finally, LNER's new policy is discriminatory against vulnerable passengers who cant use LNER's app, and passengers that have the misfortune to start their journeys at stations with no wifi and are unstaffed during parts of the day. Railfuture North East calls on the new government body Great British Railways, being set up as part of the Williams-Shapps plan, and intended to bring consistency of practice and service across the network, to halt the ridiculous policy immediately.
Notes to Editors
Railfuture is the UK's leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for passengers and freight. Railfuture is a voluntary group representing rail users, with 20,000 affiliated and individual members. It is not affiliated to or funded by train companies, political parties or trade unions, and all members have an equal say.
The North East Branch covers an area from Darlington in the south to Berwick in the north, and from Saltburn in the east to Carlisle in the west. LNER operates through the area on the East Coast Main Line between Darlington and Berwick with a limited services also going to Sunderland.
The statistics quoted in this press release were published in LNER's Inside Track Bulletin, issued to their stakeholders by email on 31st March 2021
For enquiries on this press release contact Railfuture North East press spokesman Dennis Fancett on 07810 353651 or email chair at senrug.co.uk
LNER Press Office tel 07704 021208 or email press.office at lner.co.uk