What do passengers want from the Rail Review?

It is good to hear that Keith Williams will be speaking at the upcoming Rail Summit where David Sidebottom, Transport Focus director and I will both be chairing sessions.

Most passengers on Britain's platforms today may not be waiting for the Rail Review. They are waiting for trains - hoping they will come and arrive on time. Against the backdrop of news like that about several operators taking longer than planned to implement the use of new rolling stock, many will be wondering why so much of the long-awaited investment is proving so painful and challenging to bring to life? Or after the problems of last summer, recent fare rises, or perhaps with the awareness of on-going patchy performance on their particular route, they will just want to see changes ensure things get better.

So at the half way point of his root and branch review Keith Williams was absolutely right to acknowledge in his George Bradshaw Address last week that the rail industry has lost sight of its passengers and must put their needs and experience at the heart of what it delivers.
This focus on improving the passenger experience, improved access to compensation and driving better value for money outcomes from the substantial passenger and taxpayer investment is a step in the right direction.

That approach is also something Transport Focus re-enforced in its first submission to the Rail Review. This paper is not however the last word from Transport Focus on the subject of the Williams Review. There is more research to come on what non-users of rail want before they are likely to be tempted to use the train. Likewise, there will be a new analysis of what has happened to trust among passengers over the past few waves of the National Rail Passenger Survey, and there will be a summary of what Transport Focus has learned about passenger views of rail industry structure when it ran a series of focus groups recently up, down and across the country.

Having consulted promptly, Keith Williams also knows that Transport Focus' research shows that passengers want to know that there is someone in overall charge of delivering their service and that they are accountable to passengers for the quality of those services. This does not necessarily have to be a single body for the whole country – there is scope for devolving this to regional administrations – the key point is that there should be clear responsibility and accountability.

This is not new. It was there in 2004 when Transport Focus surveyed passengers during the last wide scale review of the railways took place. As well as clarity on the delivery of services, passengers also wanted a clear sense that there was a strategic vision for rail – something else that still chimes true today. Likewise, way back then, passengers were equally clear that services had to improve – a review must not become a distraction or an end in itself and outputs must drive tangible changes that are clearly communicated and phased in gradually.
First and last, passengers will judge the success of this Rail Review on how far it meets their priorities for improvement: more punctual and reliable services, more chance of getting a seat or standing in comfort and better value for money.

There will be a further opportunity hear and quiz Keith Williams at a meeting of the Transport Focus board that takes place in public on March 12th. Please be sure to let us know if you plan to come along.

The UK Rail Summit is taking place on 13 March in London. There are limited tickets still available. You can view the full agenda and book here

Anthony Smith is Chief Executive of Transport Focus