At last week’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, the transport minister, Stephen Hammond, looked back to the birth of the railways in the UK while updating the group on the DfT’s plans for future rail development. If we have seen the “era of engineering”, the minister suggested, then this must be the “era of the passenger”. Freshwater Public Affairs’ Andy Williams explores what might be expected from this new era, and what it means for the ever growing passenger population in the UK.
Mr Hammond stated his belief that the development of major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the Northern Hub will have a seismic impact on rail which will bring considerable benefits for the whole of the country. He told the APPG that rail policy must not be viewed only through the perspective of travel times, and that improving connectivity and capacity are equally as important. For this reason, he argued, HS2 is something that the UK simply cannot afford not to build.
Value for Money
The minister was clear that reducing cost on the UK’s railways was a major priority for his department. While he argued that excellent work had already been done to make Network Rail a leaner and more efficient organisation, and to make cost savings in the refranchising model, the minister admitted that there is much more that can be done to deliver a world class railway at the lowest possible cost.
While the Brown Review showed that the current system of awarding franchises to private companies is the best way forward, Mr Hammond’s view is that passengers are still not convinced that the system is delivering the best possible returns. He argued that this could be improved with further transparency in the awards process, and through more innovation in franchising agreements, particularly in terms of ticketing systems and station facilities.
Time will tell how successful this Government will be bringing about “the era of the passenger” on the railways. If ministers in the DfT are able to ensure that the needs of railway users are held in high esteem, then their aspiration is one that has a good chance of being realised.
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