Roberts’ Rant: A Customer First Railway?

Dear Readers,

DDA 2005

I’m getting fed up with government and the rail industry over the implementation of DDA 2005.

On January 1st 2020, it will be a criminal offence to operate trains which are not DDA compliant. It’s not this fact, though, that should have driven the implementation of DDA 2005, as important as it is, the real scandal is that not all of our trains will be welcoming and inclusive for all our customers on the 1st of January 2020.

On an operational basis, TOCs will do their best by combining train formations to reduce the number of non-compliant trains but what this really means is that in these cases mobility impaired customers can only use half a train!

It is a classic case of the government and rail industry not working together to deliver the deadline that could have easily have been met. The priority should have been to beat the deadline not having derogations to get out of meeting the 1st Jan date.  And before anyone shouts about cost just look at the sums being promised by both major political parties during this election!

What do our customers want?

According to David Powell of Merseytravel, in an article for RTM, this is a question not often asked! Is this really true, I hope not!

If the customer is to be truly at the centre of the railway this is a question that must be continuously asked. We must never assume we know what the customer actually wants whether they are external or internal to the business.

In Sport, successful coaches often talk about making the 1% improvements; these are important in business as well. Theses improvements often make the difference between a scowl and a smile. Understanding what your customer wants and then delivering a great customer experience is what the railway should be all about.

Lower Fares for All

The Labour Party has announced a radical cut in train fares at the expense of the road building programme. It will effectively cut season ticket prices through the government’s power to set regulated train fares. This will have a knock on effect too and unregulated fares may be reduced by up to 74%.

Labour’s universality stance has been criticised by some (including our railway press) as not being  “thought through” properly since affluent long distance commuters would gain the most. It seems that in this particular case Labour cannot win because if it tried to restrict its policy it would be called the “politics of envy”. At least it will give the more well off the cash to pay those extra taxes!

I, for one, welcome proposals for lower train fares from whichever political party, let’s face it, we all think train fares are too high whether we pay them or not!


27 days of strike action, yes that’s right 27 days. All of them in December, which, when you exclude Christmas and associated days, means effectively the only day trains are planned to run normally is on General Election day on the 12th.  This will cause misery for our customers and leave the affected staff with empty wage packets on the run up to Christmas.

Do I support RMT members withdrawing their labour? Of course I do, it is every working persons right to withdraw their labour if they so wish.

Do I think Driver Controlled Operation is wrong? I have always believed that safety activities should be parcelled up in an integrated manner and constrained to the smallest number of people as possible to reduce human error. So it makes sense for the operational safety activities to be part of the train drivers role.

Does this mean that all trains should operate with one member of staff? Of course not! If, as a railway, we are truly putting the customer first then we should be putting our money where our collective mouth is and making staff visible wherever we have paying customers.

Now, this may not mean every train has to have at least two members of staff – cancelling a peak time service because a guard is unavailable for whatever reason is not putting the customer first! Nor is it putting our customers first when trains are running at night when we deliberately have no staff on the train or on the station. We need to give the necessary reassurance our customers, especially those travelling alone, require.

A whole new approach to staffing should take place so that the right balance between staff presence and cost effectiveness can be found. This includes having staff mingling with customers and actively looking to be of assistance. Too many platforms are unstaffed with rail employees being tied to either ticket offices or the station gateline. Train dispatch staff concentrate, rightly, on the process for getting the train away safely but we still need employees who can actually help get our customers on and off the trains.

This new approach cannot happen though until there is more trust between the workforce and management. The trust issue is the real challenge and to solve that will take sacrifices on both sides of this dispute rather than leaving it to our customers to make all the sacrifices.

Class 142 keeps rolling on

So, let me get this straight, first of all Northern announced that all Pacers (you know the bus on rails) were going to be phased out by 31 December 2019. Then it was announced that some of the slight newer buses, oops, I mean trains, would carry on to spring of 2020 but the class 142 (older buses/trains) would all be gone by the end of 2019. Now we hear that the older buses will continue in service to February 2020.  The Pacers are hated by customers the country over and yet they continue. We are told that in Northern’s case it is because of the late delivery of their new trains. That’s OK then! Is it really? You decide!

We Remember

One area where our TOCs do definitely put their customers first is on Remembrance Sunday when veterans travel free. Its the right thing to do and they should be applauded for it!

HS1 Access Charges

Are we missing a trick? Under the draft determination by the ORR, the total income for HS1 through operator charges is expected to be nearly £600m over CP3. The freight contribution makes up £1.5m over the same period not including the traction electricity charge. Could I make a bold suggestion and reduce the freight contribution to zero, zilch, nothing, nil! The charge of £300k per year could be shared equally between the international and domestic operators. This would be a small but significant step to help shift more freight from our roads to our railways. Come on ORR you can do it and wish our freight operators a Happy New Year.

West Somerset Railway

Sad to hear that this wonderful railway lost £800k over its last financial year. Quite a turnaround from the £12k profit it made the previous year.

My favourite trip on this railway was to celebrate John Mummery’s retirement from Regional Railways back in the 1990s.

Let’s hope for a marvellous summer to bring in the customers for this scenic pleasure ride.

TOC Subsidy

So we hear that TOCs in total have been subsidised to the tune of £417m by the government for the year 2018/19.  Little wonder why we haven’t heard this year about how the private sector is paying its way. Hopefully, it’s only a one off and that next year the TOCs revert to paying in to the treasury. If not the pressure on them will mount.

Train Journey of the Month

This month I have chosen the WCML between Coventry and Euston to bang on about. For a number of years this was my regular commute so it was a pleasure to see if things were different with the forthcoming change in franchise getting closer.

Getting into the station at Coventry was certainly different! No access by the Warwick Road steps due the upgrade work to the station. No first class lounge anymore for Coventry but with an every 20 minute train service to London it matters little. I’ve never really seen the value of a first class lounge on rail, to be honest, with the marvellous exception of Eurostar! The 1051 Virgin Train came in with its plain white livery (makes it look quite sad) a few minutes late but not enough to be annoying. For some reason it did overstay its welcome at Coventry by a couple minutes which did cause a little muttering. Then we were off and a smooth ride followed with engaging staff and we made up most of the time that had been lost. All in all, I shall miss Virgin Trains but by how much though will depend on First/Trenitalia! Avanti!


If you or your company require any professional railway operations advice, project management, human factors, customer experience or business transformation expertise then please get in touch at We can put a great team of specialists together to deliver your requirements.

And Finally

The Past Catches Up

A former colleague of mine sent me an extract from a diary written by John Heaton, former Area Manager of Exeter, now published and available on Amazon. The extract in volume 3 of the diaries has a brief mention of John meeting a new Senior Conductor from Leamington. I remember that meeting with John and, with my former colleague, he called us trailblazers as we were the first Guards under the Trainmans Concept to change region and keep our seniority, me from the LM and my friend from Bognor on the Southern.

They were happy days!


Feel free to agree or disagree, go on rant back or politely like and share. It’s always nice to hear from you!

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