Railway forum demise shows railway industry cannot get it together

The Railway Eye blog reports that the Railway Forum has quietly been put to death, even though its website makes no mention of this. Indeed, it still has the smiley face of its director general – a grand title for an organisation with a staff of fewer than half a dozen – Paul Martin stressing that the organisation has membership across the rail industry.

It was the membership that was the problem. Created in order to bring some semblance of order to the industry in the wake of privatisation and give the railways a united voice to represent to the public, it was always structurally dysfunctional. The interests of the train operators do not necessarily coincide with those of Network Rail or of the various contractors active in the industry.

However, under the subtle leadership of Adrian Lyons, the organisation flourished. As an ex senior civil servant in the MoD – and indeed a major general – he managed to represent the industry to Whitehall and make waves through his good links with journalists and his ability to schmooze his squabbling members. The Railway Forum grew in stature and Lyons’ leadership ensured that it was listened to.

Unfortunately, his successor was unable to match that performance. Paul Martin was not sufficiently canny to know when to go public on issues and when to lobby behind the scenes. So most of the time he stayed schtum, and the profile of the Forum gradually sank in the four foot. Moreover, it was not the cleverest of moves to appoint a prominent Tory to the job while there was a Labour government.

As Railway Eye wittily points out, http://railwayeye.blogspot.com/, not many in the industry will be weeping over the Forum’s demise. Network Rail is busily trying to become the class bully, ATOC has little interest in pan industry organisations, Passenger Focus is busy cosying up to government and the Railway Industry Association is happy to plough its own furrow. The public may not notice the demise of the Forum, but the industry may rue the day it has allowed the organisation to lapse.

Meanwhile, the National Rail Enquiries website has crashed again – has ATOC never heard of the idea of redundancy – or contingency – in computer systems? Sure it would cost a few bob, but then the operators have been coining it for many years.