Proposals to make the railways more focussed on the needs of the passenger and to ensure value for money for the taxpayer are being set out today by train companies.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) argues that the best way to ensure that the railways can become even more customer-focused and cost-efficient is by making use of train operators’ expertise and enterprise to forge a stronger relationship between the public and private sectors.
ATOC wants to see the Government focus less on the detail of running rail services and a greater role for train companies to be able to deliver improvements that passengers want more quickly and at a lower cost than at the moment. In a leaflet published today, ‘Passenger Rail: the Way Forward’, the Association is calling for:
* A greater role for train companies over infrastructure, ranging from train companies working much more closely with Network Rail at a local and regional level, to possible integration of track and train operations in some cases.
* Targeted, sustained investment to deal with demand for rail travel which remains strong. Plans need to be reviewed in the current climate to increase the focus on schemes which are in the best interests of passengers and taxpayers.
* A smarter fares policy which makes a closer link between fares and investment.
ATOC is also setting out more detailed plans about how changes to the way in which train companies work with Network Rail would benefit passengers and taxpayers. The creation of stronger regional or route-based business units that would work much more closely with train companies would encourage decision-making in the best interests of passengers and help to drive down costs.
New local partnerships could vary from an informal ‘alliance’ approach, in which both parties work together voluntarily to reduce costs, to a formal commercial relationship overseen by a regulator, depending upon what works best in that part of the country. ‘Vertical integration’ - allowing one organisation to operate both the trains and tracks – may even be an option in parts of the country and could be proposed by train companies in future franchise bids.
Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of ATOC said: “The railways have achieved a great deal since privatisation. Record levels of customer satisfaction, punctuality and passenger numbers are a reflection of the hard work of the industry to provide services that continue to improve.
“The challenge now is to focus more than ever on the passenger and to ensure that we are providing genuine value for money for the taxpayer. Giving train companies a greater role and freeing them up to bring more commercial nous into the railways would help to improve services more quickly and effectively and has the potential to save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds every year.”