Putting passengers at the heart of rail reform

23 February 2024

On Tuesday the Government published the long-awaited Draft Rail Reform Bill. This is an important milestone in reforming our railways.

At its heart is the creation of a new rail organisation, Great British Railway. Passengers could be forgiven for wondering why this matters and what difference it will make for them. During the rail review consultation process we asked passengers what they wanted from reform. They were quite clear – they wanted it to be clear who is in charge of the railway, with someone taking overall responsibility for planning and running services and who was accountable for the decisions made. They sensed that the current structure was too fragmented with lots of bodies pulling in different directions with the emphasis sometimes being placed on ‘who is responsible’ for a problem rather than ‘how can we fix it’. Passengers told us:

“I think that’s why people are dissatisfied, because there’s nobody actually in charge of it”.

“Maybe there should be not so many fingers in the pie and maybe a specific person, body, group that if there are issues they can be held accountable for it”.

“I think there’s too much pass the buck. The passengers blame the train operators, train operators blame government, government blame the train operators and it all comes back to the passengers.”

Setting up Great British Railway could achieve some of the clarity needed for passengers. It would create a single organisation with powers to bring together activity from a range of organisations including Network Rail, train companies, the Department for Transport, and the Rail Delivery Group. It would be able to align industry incentives and get all parts pulling in the same direction, enabling a more efficient and reliable railway. It could also lead to quicker decisions, especially when responding to problems.

But key to its ultimate success will be in putting passengers at the heart of the railway. This means adopting a more passenger-focussed culture and introducing targets and incentives that make sense to passengers and drive the types of behaviours they want to see. For example, targets based on passenger satisfaction – all our research shows that if you want happy customers you have to run the trains on time. Today we published our latest Rail User Survey reports. The train operator results shows how patchy passenger satisfaction is across the network, with overall journey satisfaction ranging from 92 per cent (Great Northern and London Overground) to 74 per cent (Transport for Wales). Although this is low, Transport for Wales have recently seen improvements. However, they now need to deliver them over a longer period to build customer confidence. The railway as a whole needs to drive higher standards and deliver them more consistently.

Being passenger-focussed also means engaging passengers and showing them that their voice matters and that the people in charge are listening. The culture of engagement has undoubtedly improved in recent years, and this needs to continue, especially in relation to the accessibility of the railway and involving people with a lived experience of disability.

Transport Focus also has a role to play. The reform envisages us building on our role as the independent voice of rail users in the new rail industry. We look forward to playing our role in making sure passenger interests are at the heart of how the changes are implemented.

This will not be a quick fix – transforming the railway will be a huge challenge for all involved – but the Draft Rail Reform Bill brings all this one step closer.

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