“Lost touch”

Rail (UK) - - Contents - @AndyRo­den1

“The rail in­dus­try has, to put it po­litely, lost its touch with peo­ple,” DfT MD of Pas­sen­ger Ser­vices tells MPs.

THE rail in­dus­try “has, to put it po­litely, lost its touch with peo­ple”.

That was the con­clu­sion of Depart­ment for Trans­port Manag­ing Di­rec­tor of Pas­sen­ger Ser­vices Peter Wilkin­son, speak­ing at the lat­est Trans­port Se­lect Com­mit­tee hear­ing into rail timetable changes on Oc­to­ber 22.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about how the rail­way com­mu­ni­cates and con­sults on ma­jor changes, Wilkin­son told MPs: “The wider point you are mak­ing is ab­so­lutely right. The rail in­dus­try to­day has, to put it po­litely, lost its touch with peo­ple. It has lost its way in be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate prop­erly with pas­sen­gers. With mod­ern me­dia, it es­capes rea­son that they can­not com­mu­ni­cate much more pro­fi­ciently.

“It is some­thing we are very con­cerned about in the Depart­ment. In fact, I think the way that pas­sen­gers are com­mu­ni­cated with is the sub­ject of an­other ORR [Of­fice of Rail and Road] re­view at the mo­ment - par­tic­u­larly peo­ple who can­not re­ceive in­for­ma­tion in con­ven­tional ways, for the rea­sons you pointed out. We are miss­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage and to work with the pub­lic, and to con­vey trust, through very poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the in­dus­try.”

Also at the TSC in­quiry was Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port Chris Grayling, who re­jected calls for fares freezes on North­ern and Govia Thames­link Rail­way fol­low­ing dis­rup­tion in the wake of the May timetable change.

“We have looked very care­fully at the im­pli­ca­tions of freez­ing fares. We have looked very care­fully at a num­ber of changes on the fares front,” he said.

“The real is­sue around freez­ing fares is this: you just have to look at what has hap­pened to Trans­port for Lon­don with its par­tial freeze. Trans­port for Lon­don is in deep fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties at the mo­ment, and not sim­ply be­cause of the chal­lenges over Cross­rail.

“The prob­lem with a fares freeze is that if your costs con­tinue to go up every year, and you con­tinue to

pay more to your staff, you build a long-term and grow­ing un­der­ly­ing prob­lem within your own fi­nances.

“Over a pe­riod of time, you are suck­ing a cu­mu­la­tively larger and larger amount out of the money avail­able to run the net­work. The only way of coun­ter­act­ing that is that peo­ple who do not travel on the rail­ways have to pay more and more taxes to pro­vide a coun­ter­bal­ance.

“We have to make some choices. Costs rise, staff get pay rises and fuel costs go up. Do you freeze fares and ei­ther ac­cept ser­vice cuts or that the tax­payer has to pay more, or do you ac­cept that there will be in­creases in fares but you will try to keep them down as far as pos­si­ble?

“They have a per­ma­nent ef­fect on the bot­tom line. It per­ma­nently sucks money out of the in­dus­try. You could take one year and say ‘we will use this block of money to cut fares’, but then you have to find the same amount of money the fol­low­ing year, the year af­ter that and the year af­ter that, in per­pe­tu­ity long af­ter the end of the fran­chise - or at some point the tax­payer has to come up with ex­tra money or there has to be a dou­ble fare in­crease.”

LES NIXON.

North­ern 150205 leaves Grindle­ford on Oc­to­ber 22, with the 1449 Manch­ester Pic­cadil­lySh­effield. Freez­ing fares on North­ern and Govia Thames­link Rail­way, as a way of an apol­ogy for the timetable fi­asco, was ruled out dur­ing Gov­ern­ment’s ap­pear­ance be­fore the Trans­port Se­lect Com­mit­tee on the same day.

Wilkin­son: “poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions within the in­dus­try.”

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