Few passengers on Britain’s platforms today are waiting for the Williams Rail Review. They are waiting for trains hoping they will come on time.
The Glaister report for the Office of Rail and Road on the summer 2018 timetable chaos laid bare the blurred accountability, massive over optimism and missed deadlines that incubated into a massive crisis. Any passenger who read that report will have wondered how the railways ran at all. Since then passengers have seen further fare rises and timetable changes against a backdrop of on-going patchy performance. Clearly, and despite the complexity of the issues at stake, something has to change in the way the railways are run, funded and led.
The Williams Rail Review has to sweep up key themes from Glaister, the results of the joint Rail Delivery Group and Transport Focus fares review, and the findings of other reviews that have taken place recently. Across all of these, from the key themes and questions are consistent: How can the structure, planning, funding and ownership of the industry be changed to help improve reliability, boost capacity and value for money for passengers? Speaking up for passengers, Transport Focus has sought to argue consistently that the Review must not just address the following issues but do so through the prism of the rail user:
- should train and track be brought closer together? If so, how?
- how much competition should there be in the system and where should it occur? Franchise replacement, on track or in the supply chain?
- how can industrial relations be improved? More employee involvement?
- devolution of Network Rail routes and local authorities: how can they mesh?
- contract lengths: stability versus competition?
- ownership models: who is best placed to own and run parts of the network?
Transport Focus previously looked at this agenda in 2004 – the last time a wide scale review of the railways took place. Passengers views on the structure of the railways articulated at that time remain just as relevant to this latest Rail Review:
- passengers want to see improvements to their rail services – this review must focus on outputs to achieve this and any changeg must be communicated to passengers clearly and phased in gradually.
- passengers want a clear sense of strategic direction and the assurance that ‘somebody’ has a strategic vision for the railways along with the capacity to determine strategic investment priorities and overarching rail policy. Within this context there is scope for more non-strategic decision making to be devolved to national and regional administrations. Funding should follow this.
- passengers also want a sense that there is ‘someone’ in charge of delivering services to the passengers – separate from the strategic decision-making body – with the authority to procure top-level train company and infrastructure outputs. Within this structure train companies and Network Rail should be judged and rewarded according to the delivery of services for passengers and not the delivery of services to each other.
Passengers now pay the lion’s share of the industry’s day to day running costs so their voice should be paramount in the Williams Rail Review process. In support of this, Transport Focus met with Keith Williams and made five submissions to the Review: