THE railways are booming, with
record numbers travelling by train.
Amazingly, even through the double
dip recession, there’s only been one
year when the annual passenger
count has fallen.
There are lots of reasons for this
including increases in the number
of train services and the ability
to use electronic equipment on
trains and cheap deals through
advance booking. Consequently,
Britain is enjoying a new age of
However, while there’s no doubt
that things are getting better for rail
passengers, there’s still room for lots
So here are five possible ways that
the railways could ease passenger
journeys and attract even more
people onto the tracks in 2013.
■■Information. While there is now
very good information provision for
finding out about train times and
basic fares, it is when things go wrong
that information and advice is often
not up to scratch.
Those scenes of thousands of
bemused passengers looking at
screens with the word “Cancelled”
plastered all over them do nothing
for the industry’s public relations.
Moreover, in these days of Twitter and
other social media, passengers are
often better informed than the railway
staff about the cause of delays and
their likely length.
The Office of Rail Regulation, which
is taking a greater interest in trying to
improve passenger experience, has
recently produced a report setting
out numerous ways in which the
operators can improve.
Operators are now supposed
to abide by a code of practice but
standards can still vary considerably.
While some have understood the
advantages of using Twitter to
communicate with their passengers
and to ensure that staff have iPads to
keep themselves up to date, others
still seem to be relying on pigeons and
■■Fares. This issue too is partly about
information, but goes well beyond
that. It is unlikely that there is any
rail passenger in the country – apart
from my fellow columnist on Rail
magazine, the fares expert Barry Doe
– who understands the fares system
and is able to ensure they always get
the cheapest deal.
The problem is that it has been
designed to serve several needs.
The train operators want to
maximise profits and fill off-peak
seats by selling advance tickets,
while the Government wants to make
sure that season ticket holders and
long distance passengers are not
So the fares system has ended
up being a mix of regulated and
unregulated fares, with deals available
for advance tickets and with season
ticket holders effectively getting
almost 20 per cent off.
Add in railcard holders of various
types, occasional deals that mean
first class is cheaper than standard,
and competition between operators
so that some tickets are only valid on
one company’s trains, and you get a
flavour of the complexity. Navigating
some of the websites requires a degree
in maths and the patience of a saint.
Lots of people end up paying more
than they need to.
The Government has announced a
fares review due out in 2013 but the
promised simplification is unlikely
to materialise – and it certainly had
not before this week’s above-inflation
increases in ticket prices.
It could start with reducing the
crazily high walk-on fares at peak
times and then go on to provide
a simpler system that is easy to
understand and which will help
bring people back on to rail.
Overall, fares are too high and an
end to the formula of increasing them
by one per cent above the rate of
inflation would be welcome in these
■■New rolling stock. Many people in
the North are travelling in rickety old
rolling stock built in the 1980s to a bus
design. These draughty Pacers are
unacceptable for modern travellers
and their replacement with newer
trains would provide much needed
new capacity. Most lines in the UK
now have decent rolling stock and
the North has been the exception for
■■Local control. In several parts of
the UK, such as London, Scotland
and Merseyside, local democraticallyelected
organisations have been given
a measure of control over their local
rail services. The Government has
been consulting on this issue and
Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport
Secretary, has already announced
that Transport for London is going
to be allowed to expand its highly
successful London Overground
network by taking on some
suburban routes from the existing
franchisees. This is a good sign that
control of the Northern franchise
may be given to the passenger
transport authorities in the North,
although the precise arrangements
are likely to be quite complex and no
announcement has yet been made.
However, in all regions where local
people have been given more control
over the railways, they have improved
and usage has risen. The year 2013
could see the biggest change in the
structure of railways in the North
since privatisation nearly 20 years ago.
■■Reducing the cost of the railways.
Following on from that, a key issue
is trying to reduce the high cost of
the railways which feeds through
into fare rises. Costs have soared
since privatisation because of the
need to have rigid contracts and
legal agreements between all the
various players such as the operators,
Network Rail, and the rolling stock
companies which were created out of
British Rail at privatisation.
The key to reducing costs is to
bring these various bodies together
as much as possible. Already there
is an experiment for the services out
of London Waterloo where the train
operator, South West Trains, part of
the Stagecoach group, has melded in
with the local part of Network Rail so
that their activities are co-ordinated.
One benefit, for example, is that there
will be fewer weekend closures and
these will be co-ordinated to ensure
that they minimise disruption to
There are, of course, big plans in
the offing with the projected new
HS2 for which the detailed route to
Manchester and Leeds is going to be
published in 2013.
However, this will not be completed
until 2032 at the earliest, and it is vital
that the railways obtain sufficient
investment to keep on improving in