Railfuture campaigns for a bigger and better railway. In particular it promotes changes to Britain’srailway (and underground and tram systems) to provide a better service for passengers. Railfuture was therefore particularly pleased to be invited to give evidence to the Transport Select Committee about ‘Improving the Passenger Experience’ on Monday 6th June (16:05 to 17:00) at Portcullis House in London. Railfuture director Jerry Alderson, who was present for the full session, explains what happened.

At the meeting Railfuture was represented by Chris Fribbins who is its Head of Passenger Group, appointed by the board and part of the Policy Directorate headed up by Ian Brown CBE. The group appoints members to liaise with each franchise as well as Eurostar. It also covers issues of rolling stock design and strategy, and access issues.  In 2015 it completed a report into disruption that looked at the causes and handling of planned and unplanned disruption.

Railfuture was joined by Stephen Joseph OBE of the Campaign for Better Transport (a national organisation that campaigns for all public transport modes) and Neil Middleton of the Association of Public Transport Users (a rail user group representing the interests of passengers on the Thameslink line between Harlington and West Hampstead).

The 100-minute meeting was structured to hear from user representatives first, followed in the second half statutory organisations (Transport Focus, London TravelWatch and the Office of Rail and Road) along with the commercial consumer group ‘Which?’.

Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, started by explaining that most of the submissions received are to do with complaints and asked for examples where improvements had been seen recently. Railfuture felt that disruption was being managed better and there is good practice that needs to be disseminated around the network to all operators.

The chair asked if the top priorities should be frequency of service and improving punctuality. Railfuture’s priority was improving reliability of the service as people were becoming increasingly reliant on the railway and became stressed when the services were not running. It is important to reduce the number of services that were cancelled with passengers having to wait without information and eventually being put onto busses. There are too many infrastructure failures leading to unplanned suspension of service.

A key part of Railfuture’s evidence was the need to put systems in place to feed information quickly and accurately to passengers when disruption occurred. Mr Fribbins said that “information is key to the passenger experience.” Providing infrastructure such as Wi-Fi at stations and on trains enabled some passengers to find out what was happening – especially when the staff did not know – and often resorted to third-party web-sites and apps using ‘open data’ provided by the rail industry. It is important that facilities are provided now, even if many passengers did not have smartphones and tablets, because more of them would in the future.

Although the committee saw National Rail Enquiries as the source of information for passengers, and therefore needed improvement, generally the majority of users tend to use web-sites and apps from individual train operators (often because they are promoted on posters and information screens  at stations) and are increasingly reliant upon Twitter when there is disruption.

Railfuture said that a key issue is identifying the ‘one source of the truth’ - which system is telling the correct and consistent story, as passengers often experienced conflicting messages. Moreover, “a well-informed human face at a station is very welcome” even if it is an image of a person at a remote call centre.

In response to the introduction of cheap part-time season tickets and ones that avoided the peaks – good ideas and currently offered art a small number of stations – the greater concern was the overly complex tickets in place now. There are many different tickets that a passenger could buy often with different validities and the increasing introduction of evening peak restrictions to attempt to reduce overcrowding was causing immense confusion amongst passengers, especially occasional users of the railway. Nation-wide smartcards and m-tickets have a great deal to offer and - if done properly – could help to mitigate overcrowding but ultimately more capacity needs to be provided.

The last question was about how the railway could be improved to be more accessible for people with disabilities.

Railfuture said that whilst rolling stock is being been made compliant the stations are not. A key issue is platform heights and stairs. It is impractical to install lifts at every station but there are priority stations that need funding. It is disturbing that the ‘Access for All’ funding has been cut back.

Inevitably these hearings achieve little in the short term but they do provide informed members of parliament to understand issues from the passengers’ perspective in a way that reading a written submission does not. This hearing also demonstrated that Railfuture is taken seriously by the government.

A video recording of the 90-minute hearing, divided into two sessions, can be viewed at http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/162d6459-eb93-452c-a9c8-0501b212819c

Railfuture’s written evidence in advance of the hearing can be read HERE.

Railfuture is an independent campaigning organisation that is run entirely by volunteers and uses feedback from members and the public to influence its campaigns. It is entirely independent and funded by annual membership fees from thousands of members across Britain, and beyond. Please consider joining Railfuture to show your support.

Read previous articles by this writer:  Prague Compared,  Hopping to Catch a Train, Delay Repay Losers, 20 Years Going in Circles, Mountain of Ideas, Sent to CoventryFare Rises - RPI vs CPINew Year, Better Railway, Nine-Days-Rail-Surge,  Tube Usage Hits Record,  Passenger Growth Future?Felixstowe Cut-Off, Passenger Priorities , Passenger Frustration, Accessible Travel, Eurostar Snapshot SurveyStansted Experience, Widening the NET, Lacklustre Busway, Expand Eurocity network,  Government backs Wi-Fi, Cheapest fares by law?Bring Back BR?Public Sector FranchisesFare Increase Viewpoint and Tube Staffing.