More ambition is needed if we’re to have the railway the country needs and deserves’ is the conclusion of a new detailed report into the public’s view of what they want from Britain’s railway in the future - “at some stage we have to get ahead of the game” said one business owner in Birmingham commenting on the need for investment in our railway’s future.
Rick Haythornthwaite, Network Rail’s outgoing chairman, who instigated the in-depth study said: ”The railway is a vital piece of the wiring of this country, a view that has been reinforced across Britain as we talked to people about our railway and about its future. They wanted us to be confident and ambitious, to plan and invest properly in a growing and successful railway, a railway that they want to be proud of.
“We were not clear if the public would be interested in the future of our railway, especially non-rail users, but time and time again our scepticism has been found to be misplaced. The public have shown a great affection for their railway and strongly recognised its economic and social importance. This is a moment to grasp as we plan our railway for the next decade. The rail industry and the government can take confidence from the findings of this study - that the people want a strong, healthy, well financed railway that can deliver for today and for decades to come.”
From chefs to nurses, plumbers to teachers, over 300 people were involved in 10 detailed workshops held across the length and breadth of the country over the first few months of 2012. Represented at these workshops were a range of people representing different interest groups and perspectives on the railway; commuters, small businesses, rural communities and non-rail using taxpayers.
The findings from these workshops has been compiled into a report published today called ‘Our Railway’s Future’, which found that the public is willing to engage in a strategic debate about the future role of the railway. The public recognise the railway’s role in economic growth and in bridging the North/South divide. They see it as an alternative to an already congested road network and want it to be universally accessible. And strikingly, people also want the railway to be a symbol of national pride. “They want us to be ambitious for the railway; they want us to have a vision for the future”, Mr Haythornthwaite added.
But the public also recognises the trade-offs on punctuality, efficiency and capacity that the current railway has to make on a daily basis. The workshops indicate that, contrary to common misconceptions, there is a significant body of opinion which is prepared to back a considerable and sustained investment programme, even when the cost implications for fares and taxes are spelt out. However, transparency is essential and the government and rail industry need to be upfront about how money is spent and what people get in return.
Tim O’Toole, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group and chief executive of Firstgroup, said: “Growth for most industries is a sign of health and celebration; in rail it is too often discussed as if it were a burden. The rail industry was invented in this country; it is thriving and much improved in this country, so why isn’t the public debate punctuated by pride and ambition, instead of timidity and crankiness? When Rick announced his intention to find out, his audience was supportive but sceptical, and yet here it is, the start of the conversation
“The rail industry is difficult to comprehend. It is in many parts. But the fact remains, it is enjoying unprecedented growth and handling that growth with ever safer operations and ever improving performance. If we are to craft the future those facts call for, we must elevate the debate as the effort reported on in this document attempts to start.”