Our letter, which was written at a time when we felt that it was important for the government to re-affirm its commitment to rail investment, had identified our top 10 recommendations for rail investment to promote economic growth. Since then the government has made its commitment clear, so at the meeting we focused on the following three key areas which must be addressed for these investments to be effective and efficient:
  1. Create a customer service culture. Successful businesses have excellent customer service woven into their culture, gaining the trust of customers and so ensuring that growth continues. We feel that the rail companies are not there yet - currently they are focused on trying to deal with growing demand rather than on developing that growth further. Railfuture aims to help operators to develop a customer service culture and to give passengers an easy journey, with best practice over fares, ticketing, performance, communications, connectivity, onward travel and information. We are happy to help to develop incentive regimes to encourage this, and to offer our expertise to help remove the anomalies in the fares system. We are also running the Go and Compare campaign to publicise examples of excellent customer service. The minister was concerned that passengers felt disempowered and intended to address this as a priority, noting that train operators would welcome this as well. The minister agreed that changes to fares and ticketing, implemented in stages, were needed to provide good customer service and to maintain trust between the railway and its customers. His approach to proposals brought to him is to ask ‘What is in it for the passenger?’ and only to approve if the benefit to passengers was demonstrable.
  2. Network Rail delivery capacity. We are concerned that Network Rail does not have the capability to deliver the expansion programme in the timescale needed. This is having serious effects on the reputation of the rail industry as a whole and is impacting on the rolling stock cascade and on opportunities for smaller schemes with significant local benefits. Railfuture supports the approach of prioritising schemes on the basis of maximising passenger benefit, and is happy to help as a stakeholder to identify ways to increase delivery capability and to define priorities in the interim. The minister commented that not all of the Shaw report had been implemented, nor had devolution within Network Rail. He would welcome ideas for smaller projects that would meet a rail need, for areas currently unserved or to meet the demand for growing capacity and provide tangible benefits for passengers.
  3. Realistic forecasting. Forecasts of passenger usage for new lines and stations have been very inaccurate, with for example up to three times predicted passenger usage at some new stations on the Borders Railway, leading to inadequate services and station facilities. Forecasts which do not recognise that people change their travel patterns when new journey opportunities are offered also affect the business case, making opportunities which could promote local economic growth or regeneration seem unviable. Railfuture have used the information given recently in the 2011 census results on travel to work for areas with demand for new stations to project figures for possible rail use. We recommend that this information be used in future business cases, and that 2021 census information be made available sooner. The minister supported better forecasting as a step towards more realistic assessment of projects.
It was an enjoyable and productive meeting, and we appreciated the Minister’s interest in and responses to the points that we made. It followed shortly after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, which included the following rail initiatives:
  • £450m for digital signalling trial – location to be defined
  • £80m for smart ticketing rollout for season tickets
  • £5m for development of Midlands Rail Hub proposals – which had been a topic at our recent Birmingham conference
  • Local Majors Fund, which includes the ‘Sheffield Mass Transit scheme’ to refurbish and possibly extend Sheffield Supertram
  • National Productivity Investment Fund, where the ‘Roads and Local Transport’ section (£1.945Bn) is available for local rail enhancements to be defined.
The growth in rail travel and the importance of good customer service are amply shown in the Rail Trends and Rail Passengers factsheets issued by DfT the following day. Perhaps more satisfying is the speech given by the Rail Minister three days later on 1st December, when he expressed his vision for the future of rail:

‘I want to see passengers receiving exemplary customer service from the moment they decide to make a journey.
I want to see a reliable, punctual, timely train service, where the passenger has a decent chance of getting a seat.
My radical vision for our future railway is one where the passengers always come first, and are never just an inconvenient afterthought in the process of moving pieces of metal along other pieces of metal.
Is this really radical? Do you think that’s what customers get already? I am concerned that, far too often, and despite the best efforts of committed rail staff, it remains undeniable that they don’t get it, day in and day out.’

We would only note that the movement of freight is equally important.

Speech by Rail Minister Paul Maynard MP: Putting passengers first

Department for Transport Rail factsheets 2016

Railfuture Letter to Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary

Rail development reset article