Ahead of the Spotlight Rail Awards, Quadrant Transport highlights the importance of delivering for the customer to encourage and create confidence amongst passengers.
As the pandemic hit the rail sector, the Department for Transport recorded that passenger rail journeys at the lowest point in April and May 2020 were 96% less than the equivalent day in the previous year.
While the UK recovers from the pandemic, many passengers still have reservations about rail travel, including crowding, ticket prices and service reliability.
The sector must become a forward-looking, innovative and collaborative public sector to recover pre-pandemic levels of travel.
If transformation doesn’t occur, the relationship between the rail sector and its passengers will suffer.
The industry must explore what experiences fit customer needs and note different post-pandemic travel patterns to deliver for the customer. Now, travel patterns are reflected by a different travel passenger market emerging, which sees a move from business-focused to heavily leisure and weekend-focused.
Focusing on the customer as an individual and their safety is key
Safety is essential when building confidence among the travelling public Department for Transport’s Rail Factsheet 2021 revealed that in 2020-21 rail was one of the safest modes of transport.
However, Transport Focus’ Passenger Confidence Barometer reflects how only 43% of passengers feel safe about Covid-19 when using trains.
Focus on the individual and their safety will see many train operating companies (TOCs) in the rail sector becoming more customer-focused. Their projects aim to transform the passenger experience by using the most up to date technology.
Technology can play a big part in the safety of passengers. It can provide a system overview so that TOCs can manage people’s start to end journeys and get to their destination safely.
Speaking at the recent Rail North of the Border Conference in Scotland, Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Scotland’s Railway, spoke about the five-point action plan to measure the success of Scotland’s rail network by the end of 2022.
This five-point action plan included the need for a continuation of service in the face of Covid-19, the need to deliver a smooth transition to the new operator and the intertwining issue of net zero and costs. In addition to this, Alex explained that track safety is the most important aspect of delivering rail in Scotland.
We’ve got to make sure that we continue to run safe railway for passengers, the public, and the workforce as we navigate climate change.
Safety of the workforce and performance go hand in hand
Network Rail can support the importance of track safety by using technology, as it can limit people’s exposure on the track. Only sending engineers out to do effective maintenance means they will be on track for the shortest time possible, meaning they can diagnose as much of the problem without going on track and in a quick manner.
Video technology on the rail can also ensure that these engineers can use their skills and knowledge without being on-site.
Speaking at the recent Network Rail forum, CEO Mark Carne said about how important safety is for the workforce.
I am passionate about workforce safety. Safety conscious businesses are the best-performing ones. It’s clear – safety and performance go hand in hand.
Timetable changes can solve reliability and overcrowding problems
The industry still has a long way to go when combating reliability and overcrowding problems that are a constant in rail.
Moving away from the current Covid-19 train running timetables and reverting to what it was before will help to set the pathway.
Accommodating the timetables to focus on the changing climate of the passenger market is key to solving the overcrowding problem the industry currently faces, which sees business-focused moving towards being leisure and weekend focused.
Overcrowding is a chronic problem within rail. Lack of punctuality can cause issues as the travelling public want their train to be on time. On an extremely busy network, having numerous trains sitting stationary when failures occur is a safety hazard and will result in overcrowded platforms.
Department for Transport’s Rail Factsheet 2021 states that 2020-21 saw a 22% decrease in planned train services and a 9.0% percentage point improvement in punctuality compared with the previous year.
Increasing reliability through new materials and tools and supporting the productive and cost-effective maintenance of existing infrastructure. For example, investments in rail will see longer trains with additional capacity, providing passengers with more room and a more comfortable, greener, and reliable train journey.
Ticket prices must be reduced to encourage modal shift
Fuel prices are currently at their highest on record and rail fares have been raised this March by 3.8%. Due to the rise in prices, further pressure is being placed on individuals who were already struggling to afford to travel on trains.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Delaying the changes until March 2022 offers people the chance to save money by renewing their fares at last year’s price. That includes the 100,000 people who are already making savings with cheaper and more convenient flexible season tickets.”
Now, it is key to find ways to lower ticket prices to ensure more of the travelling public can afford to use rail daily.
Delivering for the customer is important because encouraging and creating confidence among the travelling public is the industry’s aim. Focusing on each member of the public as an individual, focusing on their safety and using technology can help to create this confidence.
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