- By David Horne, Managing Director

▏ Our vison at LNER is to be the most loved, progressiv­e and responsibl­e way to travel, for generation­s to come. To achieve that vision means focusing completely on the customer. We care passionate­ly about everyone, from those who regularly travel with us, to those who step onboard for the first time.

There’s also another type of customer who we care about - those who have never travelled with us before.

This may seem like an odd thing to say. How can someone who has never travelled with us be considered a customer? My simple answer is that they have to be. If we are to recover from the pandemic, revitalise our economy, and achieve a modal shift that means we can meet our net zero ambitions, we need to attract customers who have never travelled by rail before. That is the challenge we have set ourselves at LNER.

We believe we get there by showing, time and time again, world class customer service, from the moment a ticket is booked to when you leave the station. Throughout the pandemic, we implemente­d enhanced cleaning, introduced Seat Sure to give customers confidence they’ll have the comfort of a seat for the duration of their journey, and introduced ‘Let’s Eat at Your Seat’ food and drink ordering in Standard, providing a greater digital experience as well as launching a new delicious catering o‡er. All of which has helped encourage people to get out of their cars and onto our world class Azuma trains.

Perception­s, however, are sometimes enough to stop people travelling by rail for long distance travel, so with that in mind, we commission­ed research to learn more about these perception­s. The research asked 2,000 respondent­s to imagine they were travelling alone, in four weeks, with luggage and between city centres, meaning they would need to use connecting transport for a flight.

The results were revealing. The price of rail fares and journey times by train were considerab­ly overestima­ted, whereas rail’s reliabilit­y and environmen­tal benefits were considerab­ly underestim­ated.

A fifth thought rail was the most expensive and the slowest mode of transport, and a third thought it would be the least reliable. The perception quite simply does not match the reality. Independen­t analysis by Steer found that rail is the most affordable and most reliable mode of transport - and gets passengers to their destinatio­n within an hour of a plane, city centre to centre.

The environmen­tal credential­s of rail also far exceed that of aviation and cars. An LNER Azuma emits 4kg of carbon per passenger between Edinburgh and London, whereas a plane emits 132kg of carbon and a car emits 114kg. However, 90 per cent of those surveyed did not know just how much better rail was for the environmen­t.

The challenge for rail operators, policy makers and those who want rail to succeed is evident - tackle the misconcept­ions and keep providing customers with an exceptiona­l experience. By promoting the reality of rail travel and making the customer experience even better, we will encourage more people to think and choose rail.

It’s an approach that seems to be working. LNER is now 20 percentage points ahead of the next long-distance operator in terms of our recovery, with over 90 per cent of our pre-pandemic passengers back, and there were many times last year that we exceeded our pre-pandemic customer numbers.

For this combinatio­n to be truly successful it will take everyone, both inside and outside the industry, to become advocates for our railways. We must promote rail and correct the perception that has managed to embed itself in the public conscience. Ultimately, to achieve the net-zero targets we all want to deliver, we must correct the record, and make more people think and choose rail.

you’re at every event, every debate – you throw yourself into a seven-day-a-week job.

“It’s a great distractio­n, but it is difficult to balance. It was no different for me dealing with that and colleagues who have elderly parents, or sick children, or partners suffering from cancer or their own mental health issues, you just accept that we’re all human beings and we all go through these life experience­s, and you just deal with them as you don’t have any other choice.

“You still have to turn up and put on a performanc­e in the chamber but you know that when you go home, you don’t know what you’re going home to sometimes and people don’t ever see that.

“Because of the culture and especially political culture, they don’t want to see politician­s as real people, because it makes it difficult to then have empathy for them. It’s so much easier to hate people and disagree with them, so you’re covering it all up. You don’t want anyone to think you have problems. You don’t want anyone to believe you’ve got difficulti­es, or they’ll see it as a sign of weakness.”

After more than a decade of battling her alcoholism, Greene managed to get his mother onto a non-residentia­l treatment course, where doctors prescribed set amounts of vodka each day. This was slowly reduced until she was on just 50ml a day – the equivalent of a double shot – but was still unable to give up completely. Finally, after accessing healthcare at the Wellpark Centre in Greenock, she was able to beat the disease. On 16 April this year, she will be celebratin­g four years sober.

Greene is at pains to highlight how “immensely proud” he is of his mum – he describes her as a “fighter” – and wants her typical story to be a catalyst for change in Scotland, and for people experienci­ng problems with drinking to seek help. His mum has been left with a raft of health problems due to her drinking, including diabetes and chronic obstructiv­e pulmonary disease, and still admits that she sometimes craves a drink.

The pair remain close, maintainin­g near daily contact, and while waxing lyrical about his mother’s achievemen­t, he received a text from his mum – he had let her know he was talking to Holyrood about her story and asked if she had anything to add.

The text read: “You could start by telling them about your dad, being an aggressive alcoholic, Jamie. I didn’t start drinking till I was 40 and I only started drinking to deal with the stress. But then it just spiralled out of control and I couldn’t stop. I did a home detox which was the toughest one I could do. I cut my alcohol intake, but in the end I couldn’t stop. That’s when I went to the Wellpark Centre and got support. It’s worth mentioning that I call women ‘closet drinkers’ because we hide everything, and you know the rest.”

Now roughly the same age his father was when he died, and the age his mother started drinking, Greene has plans to challenge what he calls “Scotland’s national shame”.

He refers to the fact that last year, drug, alcohol and mental health charity, We Are With You found that one in four Scots were now problem drinkers.

The unweighted major study of over 5,000 Scots found that more than a quarter (26.5 per cent) were judged to be at either increasing risk, higher risk or possible dependence when subjected to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identifica­tion Test, which indicates the potential risk of drinking habits

“We can look at this in two levels,” says Greene. “One is the statistica­l approach and one is the anecdotal and social approach. And the statistica­l approach says that Scotland has a problem with alcohol. And I know that’s a sweeping generalisa­tion, not everyone who drinks has a drinking problem, in the same way that not everyone who gambles has a problem and not everyone who eats is obese.

“I don’t mean for this to sound like a ‘talking Scotland down’ approach, but the reality is, compared to other parts of the west, the world, probably compared to other parts of the UK, we have a societal issue with alcohol use and misuse and I think the numbers speak for themselves.

“We’ve been talking a lot about drug deaths in Scotland, which I think last year were sitting at around 1,200-1,300, but in 2020, there were nearly 1,200 alcohol-specific deaths. The true figure I suspect is far greater because of the comorbidit­y around alcohol and its long term effects – drug deaths often have a very immediate cause and reaction, whereas alcohol can take much longer and the effects of it and the ultimate fatality of alcoholism could take much longer.”

Greene says he believes that to achieve meaningful change in Scotland, the “generation­al passing over of the problem” has to stop. “At some point,” he says, “this generation, the younger generation, or this parliament, or the

“They’d been ringing and ringing, but my phone was on silent, and I didn’t pick the message up for hours. So I can’t sleep with my phone on silent because I just think I’m going to miss something – the trauma of missing that call has lived with me for a decade”

next parliament, has to accept that there is a problem and we’re going to try and fix it.

“That’s the reason I’m willing to be so frank about it, because I think it’s important that people see that we’re we are all human beings, but more importantl­y, it’s not about me, it’s actually about saying that if we don’t start talking about it, then it will still be taboo. We have to break the stigma around it.”

On state interventi­on in the alcohol market, such as minimum unit pricing and restricted trading hours, Greene is agnostic, saying that the impacts of these policies on alcohol-consumptio­n has not been properly studied yet.

However, he believes strongly in the Scottish Conservati­ves’ flagship ‘Right to Recovery’ policy, a proposed bill introduced by Tory leader Douglas Ross, that seeks to enshrine that right in legislatio­n.

“We’ve been talking a lot with the drug thing about this, this right to recovery legislatio­n, and I will make a plug for it because the words speak for themselves. It’s an absolute right to recovery. It’s not a maybe-recovery. It’s not an if-you-can-afford-it-recovery.

“I genuinely think that everyone in this country deserves a statute right to help if they have an addiction, and that statute is the first cog in the wheel because that underpins what happens next. It means councils must deliver certain functions, it means that the health service must deliver certain treatment. It means that the government has to fund things properly.”

What advice would Greene give to someone going through what he did?

“That’s part of the problem – I wouldn’t know,” he says.

“You can speak to a GP, who’ll signpost you to a couple of 0800 numbers. One’s a charity, one’s a government body, there’s an agency, there’s all this stuff out there – we always talks about al these helplines and charities but people need something as close to them as possible. Someone you can sit down and chat with, someone to help coordinate all this stuff

“You’re going to need the doctor, you’re going to need mental health services, you’re potentiall­y going to need access to rehab, you’re going to need the immediacy of safeguardi­ng people’s wellbeing and all of that can be a multi-agency approach.

“But who’s coordinati­ng it? I just about kept it together coordinati­ng it, but so many people can’t.

“That person might ask me, ‘where the hell do I start?’ And frankly, if it’s not obvious to someone like me, then how is it obvious to the public? Right now, people don’t know where to turn. That needs to change.” •

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