Great British Railways Call for Evidence Consultation. January 2022
Updated: Jun 28
Submission by Herefordshire Sustainable Transport Group
Using the Strategic Objectives blueprint, these are the HSTG comments and observations.
Meeting Customer Needs
It is perhaps opportune that the creation of Great British Railways and this call for evidence are taking place at a time of great change in our economy and society in a post-Covid situation. It is becoming clear that our railway system will not return to the same level of passenger traffic as pre-Covid.
Two principal changes are taking place in the passenger market:
the reduction in the level of commuting by rail as companies and workers adapt to a new working from home ethos in a highly electronic communications country.
a potential rise in optional journeys as a result of more leisure time being available. Changes in passenger customer needs will inevitably follow such changes in travel patterns. The result:
Commuting will still exist, but given lesser density flows the commuter need will turn to looking far more to comfort, advantageous fares that will more than rival the use of the car. Informal interviews held with people who travel from Herefordshire to Birmingham indicated that reliability was far more important than reducing journey times. The lack of modal interchange with bus services at stations was also a deterrent to travelling by train. Fringe benefits such as the reintroduction of buffet/ club cars, better station environments, under cover cycle storage and off railway services such as getting your car serviced and valeted whilst at work can also help.
Optional travel needs will be different. Here the emphasis will need to embrace family and group travel. Capturing family travel is important in that given the right journey experience, travel by train becomes embedded in a family trend e.g. children are more likely to opt for the train when they grow up and have their own family. Group travel was already showing potential in the pre-Covid situation amongst clubs etc, quite often linked to artistic pursuits. It is this long term market capture that will be important on both long distance and local routes. These groups will be looking for reliability and advantageous reduced cost deals that can match small coach and minibus private hire. Such deals should include free seat reservations, keeping groups together, window seats and tables and importantly paying closer attention to the needs of the disabled and their carers.
Changes in rail freight markets stem from 1. the disappearance of traditional bulk haul of coal and a significant contraction of the steel industry and 2. the impact of Brexit on imports and exports and a move in the economy to buying local.
Unlike the passenger sector, rail freight operates in a free market situation, with currently four main freight companies bidding for traffic. Apart from single commodity bulk loads such as stone and china clay, success in rail freight has been in intermodal container traffic. This allows even small single container loads to be accommodated between designated terminals. The extension of intermodal hauls by rail to designated distribution depots, e.g. for supermarkets should be encouraged and developed.
All the above points to a major reassessment of the market for rail travel in a partnership between Great British Railways, the train operating companies who are appointed to run the system and local transport authorities. It is important that the three are closely involved and integrated in a future short and long term marketing strategy.
Delivering Financial Sustainability
The UK rail system over the last two decades has been suffering an accelerating and deteriorating level of trust between train operator, infrastructure provider and central government. This has reached an all time low in franchise debacles such as the East Coast Main Line, Northern Rail and South-eastern Railway.
However, delivering financial stability cannot be achieved until that trust is rebuilt. In return for a contract and working to provide a reliable service with fair cost to passenger and government alike, a train operating company will look for long term security and finance in the contract. We have seen already the devastating results of short termism in the franchise system. Before we can even consider cost reductions, efficiency of operations and balancing fares, the long term level of government funding for our railways has to be determined and set in tablets of stone. Without this we will end up with a flawed system which may prove even more disastrous than the franchise system it is meant to replace.
Contributing to Long Term Economic Growth
Railways have always contributed to long term economic growth. Their ability to do so is determined by how far they are involved in government economic and social policies, both central and local. But since the 1960s, the railways have been considered as the poor relation in the transport sector. British Rail did move to change matters in assessing markets, obtaining new traffic flows and modernising the system. But there was never any wholesale support from the various governments.
To achieve effective contribution to economic growth, railways need::
To be involved in major land use developments for industry, distribution and housing. This has taken place in the past where, especially in Passenger Transport Executive areas, many new stations and some lines were opened as part of planning/transport integration.
A level playing board in respect of cost of operation that can improve rail’s competitiveness. Currently, road haulage and the private car are heavily subsidised through the continuous freeze on fuel duty which gives them an unfair competitive advantage over rail.
Levelling up and Connectivity
Discrepancy and incompatibility between the level and quality of train services in different parts of the UK have been evident for many years. Considered as the result of an overcentralisation of control in London and the south east there has been a move towards regional devolution over the last two decades.
Rail services in Scotland and Wales have already been devolved to those governments and it would seem sensible to extend this to the English regions, especially with regard to the metropolitan areas of the Midlands and the North. The argument for this is that local needs are best determined by local people.
How this dovetails with GBR is as yet still a grey area. There are currently eight regional transport bodies covering England. Devolution of responsibility for local rail services to these (as currently in Scotland and Wales) may well be the future course.
In this respect the structure of GBR as the overseer of Britain’s railways should follow a course of determining railway business sectors which would be:
The inter city network, the mainstay of rail connectivity within Britain
Regional networks of local services
Levelling up can also take place at a highly local level. This is already well demonstrated by the expansion of the Community Railway concept over the last thirty years. This valuable tool is helping to bridge an often lost gap between the railway and communities, whether they be rural, suburban or inner city. It is now extending into the formation of Community Station Partnerships that encompass groups of stations along one line. The success of Community Rail means it deserves a significant place in the policy making and implementation mechanism of GBR, the contract train operators and Network Rail.
Delivering Environmental Sustainability
The attached table tells it all. Rail is already top when it comes to low emissions and can do more to reduce emissions from other transport sources.
Percentage emissions by modes of transport in the UK for 2019
Cars and taxis 55
Heavy goods vehicles 16
Light vans 16
Buses and coaches 3
Total road transport 91
Rail 1Domestic aviation 1
Domestic shipping 5
Total non road transport 9
Net domestic emissions all sources 455 MtCO2e Transport as % of net domestic emissions 27% Source: (www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics)
Rail can be an active mechanism influencing transport modal shift for all journey purposes if it is reliable, convenient, safe, comfortable and at a fair fares level. This can in turn lead to reduced traffic levels. To achieve this:
Rail has to be allowed to operate on a level operational cost field. At the present time private motoring and road haulage have an advantageous subsidy through the continuous freezing of fuel duty. Domestic aviation has just had its taxes reduced. Yet rail fares are to be increased by government. This is a big incompatibility in thinking when it comes to emissions reduction and tackling climate change.
Has to have a continuous programme of main line electrification and the conversion of secondary lines to battery or hydrogen powered traction rather than the stop-start programme currently being experienced.
Both the above can assist rail freight develop future markets in long haul bulk commodities and inter modal containerised distribution thus reducing heavy commercial vehicles on our congested roads.
Great British Railways presents the opportunity of putting Britain’s railways on a sound basis for the future as part of an integral transport policy necessary for the future well being of the nation in tackling climate change, economic and social adjustment. This can be achieved by trust, partnership and integration leading to the fair implementation of GBR strategic objectives and bringing to fruition its worthy ambitions. We hope HSTG has provided some evidence of how this can be achieved.
HSTG/GCD 24-01-22 contact: firstname.lastname@example.org