Transport User Voice – December 2021 – Chief executive’s editorial

29 November 2021

What will passengers make of the Integrated Rail Plan?

There is lots to like in this plan, which sits under the Government’s recent transport decarbonisation plan. It will help keep the post COP momentum going.

The commitment to start work on scoping a mass transit system for West Yorkshire is exciting. This could make a big difference. Assuming the planning starts by framing the consumer questions rather than rushing to an answer then there is hope. ‘What is the best way to offer people in West Yorkshire more sustainable and better value for money public transport choices?’. ‘How can such a project be built in a value for money way that causes as little disruption as possible?’ Such questions could produce some interesting and, perhaps, less obvious answers.

The development of the Midlands Rail Hub, the electrification of the lines to and from the East Midlands and London, the confirmation of the first phases of HS2 will all, in time, provide more choice, more options and more reliable services. This along with the £360m investment into contactless pay as you go will make choosing public transport far easier, especially with capping fares.

The upgrade of the Leeds to Manchester line seems more problematic. Upgrading existing railways is messy, lengthy and expensive and will mean more disruption. For example, the Great Western upgrade is good, but it was hellish and expensive getting there. While a tunnel under the communities on the east and west side of the Pennines and the hills themselves would have been pricey and slow it would, in time, produce the step change that would have transformed the region’s transport.

Bradford seems especially hard done by. I went there some forty years ago and have only just revisited. Great people, great place but it needs a bit of help. Grand Central, the ‘open access’ private operator, does a great job in linking Bradford to London and places in between. However, connections to places like Manchester are not so good.

Could we re-name HS2?! The priority at present seems to be shifting the focus to more trains which are, in turn, more reliable and have more seats. If they can go a bit faster on bits of dedicated track even better!

So, prepare for the next plan arriving at your desk soon. The consultation on the rail industry’s 30-year ‘Whole Industry Strategic Plan’ will be along soon. This should add the missing bits of the jigsaw. Moves towards more digital retailing, workforce planning, the basic operation and maintenance of the railway, industrial relations as well as train fleet plans might all feature. Finally, after the legislation to implement the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, Government will have to decide how much it can spend on the railways. Great British Railways has a big task ahead in knitting all this into a coherent, value for money and deliverable whole.

On the roads our plans to set up new benchmarking experience surveys on electric vehicle charging and roadside facilities for lorry drivers on motorways and major ‘A’ roads are moving ahead. More on all this next month.

In the meantime have a listen to the Transport in Focus podcast that I recorded recently with journalist Lucy McDonald. I got to talk about everything current in transport and looked back on my career. Tell me what you think!

The weekend’s announcement is sobering. Unless exempt, wearing a face covering on public transport will again become mandatory in parts of England where it isn’t already compulsory. We will look at information provided by transport operators to ensure it is as clear as possible. We will feed back where we think more could be done to help passengers understand the new rules, and to know what is expected of them during their journeys. We’ll continue to measure passengers’ perceptions of the safety of public transport and face covering compliance through our weekly surveys.


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