A passenger focused Rail Review 

07 December 2018

Govia Thameslink Railway didn’t lose its franchise for its part in last summer’s timetable crisis but it was fined a hefty £15m on 4 December and told to spend this money well to deliver improvements for passengers.  

It’s crucial that decisions about how to spend this money are made in a transparent manner and that passengers both see and feel the benefits. Transport Focus will be working with GTR and other passenger groups to ensure decisions reflect passenger priorities. Based on what we already know rail passengers want, it’s fair to predict that swift changes to speed and improve complaint handling, the introduction of automated delay repay and a price freeze for season ticket holders are all good contenders.   

Meanwhile, most passengers are struggling to accept the 30 Nov announcement that rail fares will go up 3.1 per cent again in January. Moreover, with many frustrated by repeated bouts of ‘autumn’ disruption (and a fair few still reeling from the summer timetable fiasco) few passengers will draw any comfort from the findings confirmed today in Stephen Glaister’s final report from his review into the debacle that unfolded from 20 May.    

Until day-to-day reliability returns – with fewer significant delays and cancellations – fare rises are hard to defend and passenger trust in the railway won’t begin to recover.  

In pursuit of that recovery of trust it’s time for ministers to insist that fare increases are calculated using a fairer, clearer fares formula based on the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Price Index.  

With passengers now pouring over £10 billion a year into the rail industry alongside significant government investment, the rail industry cannot argue it lacks the means to deliver long term improvements. The key question now is how and when will all this cash translate into a more reliable railway that offers better value for money for passengers?   

Ironically, Thameslink passenger satisfaction scores in the National Rail Passenger Survey were soaring before May 20. So given that its basic product was already seen as more reliable, it will be interesting to see where the timetable crisis push this train operator’s satisfaction ratings when the results for the next NRPS wave appear on 29 January 2019.   

Well before then, from this Sunday many passengers will see more timetable changes – big improvements in Scotland and the delivery of new services on Thameslink that were postponed in the chaos last May. Needless to say, Transport Focus staff will be watching services affected by these latest changes very closely, as it continues to watch rail operators Northern, Transpennine, Southwestern and Transport for Wales as they struggle too with the delivery of adequate routine daily performance on their networks.   

Looking back over this past year it’s clear that the railway isn’t operating as a coherent whole – let alone more than the sum of its parts. That is what makes the Williams Rail Review commissioned by the Department for Transport so important and his deliberate focus on what passengers want so valuable. Industry structure and funding needs reform if train operators are to deliver better value for money and performance for the people the railway exists to serve – passengers.   

In support of robust passenger input to that Review, Transport Focus will begin fresh research early in the new year looking at what passengers think about industry structures. We look forward to publishing our findings and our submission to the rail review panel.   



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