Improving Railway Travel

Meeting chaired by Rodney Tye

Mike Greedy

Passenger Link Manager, Passenger Focus

David Redgewell

Transport 2000 (a campaigning group)

30 March 2006

The intention of the meeting was to consider the importance to the economy of rail services for passengers in the main, but also with regard to freight. There has been a growing volume of complaints and concerns in the media on variations in the quality of service, complications in the fare structure and general uncertainty on who was responsible. Operating companies were changing. However there seemed to be important improvements in safety measures, with nearly five billion pounds a year being spent on subsidies.

A summary of the different organisations that had a share in responsibilities was distributed, but more were revealed during the discussion.

The European Commission issues regulations from time to time that affect the running of the Railway network. A European Railway Agency (based in Lille, France) will have been set up by May.
The European Parliament has adopted a committee on Transport and Tourism. Is currently considering the deployment of the European rail signalling system.
The Minister of Transport, Alastair Darling seems effectively to run everything, but uses front organisations to take day-to-day running decisions.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer presumably controls the amount of investment (subsidy put into the railways). At present about £5 billion annually, but possible threats for this to be reduced.
NETWORK RAIL a not-for-profits company which owns Britain’s rail network and is responsible for safety. Receives grants from Government of £1.8 billion annually (and rising). Also receives funds from the operating companies. Has 113 ‘members’.
RAILTRACK previously responsible for network, but after shortcomings in maintenance forced into administration.
STRATEGIC RAIL AUTHORITY was a ‘special member’ of Network Rail with important powers. Has now been abolished and powers taken back to the Department of Transport.
OFFICE OF RAIL REGULATION established in July 2004. Is the independent economic regulator for the national railway network. Responsible for safety regulations. Is the competition authority for the rail sector. Is a statuary Board. Has six members appointed by Government, but takes decisions independently of the Government. There is an office in support and delivery of policies is led by a Chief Executive.
As well as the two opening speakers, two more spoke from the floor that were closely involved in making representations to the authorities on behalf of their groups. One was from the South West Passenger Transport Users Forum (comprising a gathering of some eighty member organisations) and the other, Keith Walton, Chairman of Severnside Community Rail Partnership, mostly concerned with services through Bristol.

Some of the matters of concern to Bath travellers were the discontinuance of services direct to Waterloo; cutting out of some trains stopping at Keynsham and Oldfield Park; and repairing the disused lift at Bath Spa Station.

The members present all thought they learnt quite a lot but were depressed by the complicated structure of responsibility, including recent changes. Although there was passenger representation both official and unofficial this seemed to be on relatively minor matters.

Mr Redgewell outlined some examples where freight had returned to rail, and postal services might follow. But any wide scale shifting of resources, as advocated by the Green lobby seemed impracticable.

Rodney Tye