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How is LNER Leading Rail’s Pandemic Recovery?

5 min

After they appeared on Peloton’s SPOTLIGHT series, Quadrant Transport catches up with David Horne, Managing Director of LNER to discuss the future of rail post-pandemic, the need for a modal shift and how passengers can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.  

Kicking off the interview, David told Quadrant Transport: “The railway has gone through enormous changes in recent years, and as customer expectations have evolved, we have innovated and invested in better trains, tracks and stations to accommodate future demand.”

David Horne, Managing Director at LNER

COVID-19 set unprecedented challenges for businesses across the UK, and rail was no different. Emergency timetables and enhanced cleaning regimes were implemented at a rapid pace and, although it felt very unnatural, LNER switched overnight to discouraging rather than promoting travel.

Looking forward, the recovery of rail is vital and already underway. Rail is the greenest and most sustainable way for people to travel around the UK, and at speed – it supports destinations and businesses, and it brings people together.

Continuing, David explained: “As the country rebuilds and people return to travel, we need to remember the vital part we all play in reducing emissions, including encouraging people out of their cars and off domestic air travel, and onto the rail. Both our existing customers and potential new customers are increasingly telling us this is what they want.”

We are already witnessing demand for leisure experiences, especially staycations, grow strongly following the relaxation of restrictions

Research conducted by YouGov for LNER last year found that 27 per cent of people say the pandemic and its side effects have motivated them to adopt more environmentally friendly travel behaviours – more than double the amount influenced by environmental activists Greta Thunberg.

Younger generations are leading the way in this trend, as 48 per cent of millennials say they will spend time on home soil than overseas.

Delivering the next step-change in rail is essential for permanent change

During the pandemic, LNER completed the biggest modernisation of their fleet in over 30 years, introducing 65 Azuma trains serving destinations between the Scottish Highlands, the North of England and London King’s Cross.

Azuma trains are the most environmentally-friendly mode of public transport. At present, a domestic flight expels six times as much carbon as a train.

Azuma makes this an even bigger margin, emitting 4.3kg of carbon per passenger between Edinburgh and London – 97 per cent less than a flight.

Alongside developing a major timetable uplift to make the most of these investments, LNER is focused on delivering the innovations for customers that will attract them back to rail. “By harnessing modern technology and maintaining a focus on customers, we can and are innovating to offer personalised, connected and sustainable services – delivering the next step-change in rail travel” explained, David.

Discussing this in further detail, Quadrant Transport heard: “That is not only our plan at LNER but our ambition for the whole railway. It has developed from an understanding of how to serve a highly discretionary market, meeting changing customer demands and encouraging a modal shift to reduce emissions.”

Fares reform is essential to encourage people back onto trains

According to research, LNER undertook pre-COVID-19, 55 per cent of people who consider taking the train for a journey do not then do so because they find it poor value for money. This is not only about price, but they also find fares complex and inflexible, and journeys overcrowded.

Further hesitations about using public transport will have developed because of the pandemic so the industry cannot afford to continue to turn away customers with complexity.

“We know if customers do not have a great digital experience, they will not be satisfied. In response, we are investing in innovation and partnering with start-ups to bring forward improvements at pace as part of LNER Future Labs.”

We have delivered an enhanced customer app and an improved loyalty scheme, whilst investing in a partnership with O2 to boost phone and Wi-Fi network coverage between Edinburgh and Newcastle

LNER has introduced ‘Seat Sure’, which gives everyone a seat reservation, and a new Let’s Eat At Your Seat onboard food delivery service which shows how can LNER improve its customer’s experience using technology.

Moving more journeys to rail is the top priority for LNER

The industry must also think beyond rail, to deliver enjoyable end to end travel with sustainable rail journeys at their centre. This includes continuing to invest in stations and ensuring stations are well-served by public transport, active travel facilities and car parking, but it is also more than that.

It requires the rail industry, nations and regions to work together to take an outcomes-led approach to transport, making the most of what we have and investing where necessary to deliver the journeys customers will need and want in the future.

Rounding up the interview, David said: “By putting customers at the heart of all our aspirations and recognising the changes likely brought to commuting by the pandemic, we can ensure rail continues to play an essential role in our economy, destinations and communities for the long term.”


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