Last week the Government published its review into the railways.
Fewer and fewer current rail commuters were making similar journeys during the grim reality of British Rail but for many there are still vivid recollections of a service which was a National embarrassment and drove passengers away. Plunging customer numbers were compounded by “uneconomic” line closures. Government investment was constantly being seized for other (often short term) priorities: what should have been a national asset with a great history and exciting future had become a service people tried to avoid.
Our railways have improved significantly since privatisation – overall investment has quadrupled including around £1 billion per year invested by the private sector. Investment has helped ensure our railways are among the safest in Europe and encouraged passengers back. Up to the start of the pandemic, passenger numbers had more than doubled and Britain has the most intensively used rail network in Europe. There are even lines, long closed, reopening from small commuter lines to the prospect of Oxford-Cambridge: providing a more environmentally sustainable transport network and supporting inter-connectivity and economic growth.
These are significant successes but the current system also had its downsides which could be all too apparent - especially during the dire period we experienced during the London Bridge upgrade and the change in timetable.
More recently, helped by the investment in the lines and improved working practices, the service has been on an improving trend - a change very apparent from my inbox. However problems have continued to occur including “station skipping” and punctuality. There are still steps we can take to improve performance.
The new Government plan heralds the introduction of “Great British Railways” which will integrate the network and collect fare revenue. It will bring the whole rail system back together and have a binding mandate to serve the interests of passengers and taxpayers.
Under the plan new affordable ‘turn up and go’ fares will mean that trips by rail will not have to be planned weeks in advance and the protection of capped season tickets will be welcome news to those returning to the office five days a week. For those benefitting from new working patterns who will only be returning to the office a few days a week, there will be new flexible season tickets which will offer good value to commuters travelling less frequently than in the past.
We continue to be “on a journey” with our rail services but I believe these changes will help to deliver a better and more reliable service.