The rail industry lost its way in 2018. It is time for all parties to resolve to work together in 2019 to deliver a bigger, better railway, focused on improvements for the passenger and freight customer.
Railfuture’s 10 challenges for the rail industry and government for 2019
- Customer Service. Successful businesses have excellent customer service woven into their culture, gaining the trust of customers and so ensuring that growth continues. Customers want to feel valued, and expect a personalised service for each interaction they have with an organisation, without necessarily wanting to pay for this extra level of service. Everyone who operates and designs parts of the railway should ask themselves how they would feel as a customer having to put up with the current situation, whether that be poor reliability, trains and stations that are not fit for purpose, or a transport system where modes are not integrated with one another. Then rail users will see the benefits that are important to them: reliability, punctuality, quicker journeys, more seats, comfort, wifi, car parking, toilets, value for money and better customer service. Our challenge: Put rail users first, be proactive and responsive, keep promises and show you care.
- Industrial relations - the need to find solutions. Endless strikes and power struggles with government are not in the interests of passengers, staff or the long term future of the Trade Union movement. Failure to resolve the ongoing dispute could trigger a government response of switching investment to alternative forms of transport, pushing rail into a downward spiral of service reductions and job cuts, just at a time when investment in more sustainable rail is needed to reduce UK carbon emissions. All parties must therefore act in the interests of passengers and the planet to resolve the issues by effective negotiation and all sides need the skills to do this. Our challenge: Sort it!
- Punctuality. As TV programmes such as Paddington 24x7 show, rail is a people business – managers, staff and that complaining cargo - passengers. Achieving the expected excellent standard of punctuality requires a relentless focus on operation so that each element of the operation is always executed accurately, like a well-oiled machine such as the signal interlocking above. To quote Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways and ORR director, Railway Safety: “ Restoring trust within the industry will help restore trust with the public. Communications between management and their front line staff is vital to restoring that trust within the industry." Our challenge: Focus on operation.
- Seven day railway with no cancellations. As rail travel increases it becomes part of the economy and like other essential services such as hospitals needs to provide service at weekends and bank holidays. A reform of staff conditions, giving a fair balance of work/leisure to staff and all day, every day coverage is required. The short franchise structure is not conducive to this so the right incentives need to be put in place. Our challenge: Reform rostering.
- Fares and ticketing. Railfuture has long campaigned for clearly explained, best value fares - not fares simplification, which would inevitably raise the lowest fares – and fare rises linked to CPI (the government’s preferred measure of inflation) not RPI, so that fares do not take an increasing proportion of passenger’s income. This requires the industry to contain cost increases to CPI. People are generally spending increasing amounts of money on activities, creating memories and experiences rather than on owning physical things, and increasingly purchasing them online. The railway can capture some of this extra spend if it can offer attractive value for money travel choices online. Our challenge: a commitment from government to move from RPI to CPI on regulated fares in January 2020, having retreated from this in January 2019.
- Information. Instant access to information has become the norm. Through increased smartphone usage, instant internet access and on-demand media, people have a wealth of information available to them at all times. Organisations that are slow at providing information or appear less transparent are falling out of favour with customers. Rail needs to catch up with the information revolution. The industry GPS tracking information initiative has enormous potential to bring benefits to passengers, for example: ‘The next train service calling at platform one will… let you know where it is, find you a seat and show you the nearest toilet’. Our challenge: GPS must be an all industry initiative focused on passengers.
- Resilience. Network Rail should realign its focus to providing a 7 day railway that is resilient to disruption, achieving greater capacity. All projects and project delivery plans should be stress tested against these imperatives. This is a long term issue to fix but a start can be made with a more thorough review of projects delivered in 2018, some of which were a disaster, some actually delivered well. Our challenge: Focus investment on maximising resilience.
- Programme Management. Most rail projects are much wider than putting the infrastructure in place. The May 2018 timetable implementation, Crossrail and the Northern Line extension have tried the trust of stakeholders. These should have been good news stories. The interim ORR report and presentation on the causes of the May 2018 timetable fiasco were refreshingly open - to quote Ian Prosser: "No-one was willing to give bad news upwards”. A similar level of openness is needed for the other programmes above. The rail industry must be far more joined up and agile in terms of delivery of the final service, involving all parties including trained staff, delivery of new trains and a feasible operation meeting stakeholder objectives, with everyone seeing the whole programme or project as success, not just their particular bit. Our challenge: Every programme must have an intelligent client and the necessary calibre of leadership with the authority and information to manage risk effectively.
- Government working with devolved government. It is almost as if national government is competing with devolved government for the provision of rail services. The balance needs to be moved to allow more decisions to be taken at local level so that choices can be made on rail service and integrated fares when seen against other priorities. Our challenge: Accelerate the transfer of powers to devolved bodies such as Transport for the North and Transport for the South East.
- The Rail Review. If done competently, the Rail Review is a major opportunity to address some of the fundamental issues that come together to reduce the potential of railways in terms of strategic direction, leadership, cost, therefore fares and service provision. A lot of current issues with train operators are a result of the competitive bidding process, overpromising with no time to deliver promises, especially in a non-joined-up industry with many interdependencies. This is not easy to resolve with existing franchises other than scaling back on promised initiatives. In 2019 we must not sit back and wait for eventual disappointment but work for tactical improvements which can be made if the will is there, providing ALL parties actually want this to happen. Our challenge: Make tactical improvements in 2019 and sharpen performance incentives to focus all parties on performance delivery.
Fare value and choice
Murder on the Thameslink – Northern Express
The 2018 Rail Review