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!

Roberts’ Rant: Fireworks every day!

Dear Readers,

It’s November and Guy Fawkes is just around the corner. Parliament is about to be shut down, legally this time, but not because it has been blown up but because our illustrious MPs have decided to give us an election for Christmas. Whichever way we vote we can be assured that we are in for fireworks long after the 5th!

Ladbroke Grove

In the 1970s if anyone referred to Ladbroke Grove outside of London it was usually when singing along to One Man Band by Leo Sayer.  This all changed in early October 20 years ago when Ladbroke Grove became synonymous with a train accident.  I was on holiday at the time with my wife, in a caravan, and we were both glued to the television awaiting the latest updates; both of us in a state of shock as to what we were hearing and seeing.  Twenty years on and now we have one of the safest railways in the world. Is this a fitting tribute to those that lost their lives, of course not, but it is a start, laying the foundations for a railway that everyone of us wants it to be. 

Les Bird

What a lovely act from my colleagues at MTR, Elizabeth Line to name their brand new training centre after Les.

Les was my first Guards Inspector when I joined British Rail at Leamington Spa depot back in 1985.  He gave me good advice then and continued to do so when I took over the Chair of the BRSA club at Leamington. Les was, at that time, Secretary of the Nuneaton BRSA club. The last time I met Les was in 2014 when we discussed train driver training. It was a very sad time when he passed away, but this move by MTR demonstrates that, at its heart, the railway is still a family.


The CER (Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies) and EIM (European Infrastructure Managers) had their respective Operations Support Groups and then a joint meeting in Rome. Included on the agenda were discussions on ETCS Change Requests and the results of a TSI interface meeting which included a strange request from the European Commission (EC) that would have meant that every railway in Europe would have to send its internal rules relating to fixed assets to them (such as bridge strikes). The EC was asked for the reason that they would need these and what added value to harmonisation this area would bring. This was too much for the EC and they withdrew their request to think again!

Rome to Venice

Time for a train ride on a line that I have previously not travelled along. After paying the suplements and seat reservations I caught the 1250 from Rome to Venice which is scheduled to take a mere 3 and 3/4 hours – which it did! The train stops at Florence and Bologna plus a few other places. Travelling first class, I was offered a free Italian newspaper (as I cannot read Italian, I didn’t take them up on it!) plus a bottle of water (other soft drinks were available, an espresso and some salted snacks (which resulted in me drinking the water faster). The downsides of the trip were that most of the window blinds were pulled down and therefore the views of the Italian countryside were limited and that all around Bologna the train travelled in tunnels making this stylish city invisible. The plusses though outweighed these slight negatives; fast, quiet, comfortable seats, friendly staff and very efficient. If this is standard for Trenitalia then the West Coast and eventually HS2 are in safe hands!

Queen’s Speech

So before the election was called we had the spectacle of her Majesty giving the Queen’s Speech, the government will do something following the “Review”, what this entails is, like all government policy, a little bit of a mystery! Still, the Secretary of State has also spoken by stating that this is the first comprehensive review of the railway for a generation and that it will result in more focus on the passenger and running trains on time. Now, to my mind, a generation lasts around 25 to 30 years (even Google seems to agree) and I’m sure that I have been subject to numerous reviews during this time! Also, during my time on the railway, both public and private, if trains were not on time or putting the passenger first this would be picked up at weekly meetings – we wouldn’t have waited a generation to do something! Still politicians have an unique timescale.

Nationalise Northern?

Do I believe that nationalising the railway will bring benefits to passengers – well yes it could. Is it a panacea that solves all rail’s challenges, certainly not! It is structure that will make the railway run better rather than ownership. That said, ownership does have influence, nationalisation fits better with a public service ethos rather than a business led approach. I actually believe an innovative approach to public ownership could actually satisfy the dilemma. Commuter railways should have local ownership through bodies like Transport for the North. This would make these railways more locally accountable and be putting their passengers at the heart of their railway.  Intercity style services should be looked after by a national accountable body overseen, but not managed, by DfT. So should Northern return to the public sector – under this model, yes!


Bordeau and St Pancras have been twinned. Tallis and Eurostar have proposals from SNCF to merge. I believe that we in the UK should be really pleased that despite the Brexit caused rancour we are still showing that the UK is open to partnering with European organisations. Both sides of the Brexit debate did not argue for isolationism and these moves Foster hope that we shall be good European partners, if not members, of the EU.


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 whole process of delivering engineering work needs looking at. In the past we have had reviews that look at key aspects of possession management such as safety, efficiency, etc. What is required now it a wholesale look at engineering work delivery. Determine the best way of delivering the work required and design the processes to facilitate it. People, processes and equipment designed in harmony to meet the objective.

Rant over! Please agree or disagree with my views, it’s your right!


October is such a cool month!

Dear Readers,


If September is the month to get over the summer, then October is the month to prepare for the winter. First of all, though, Autumn beckons bringing with it the dreaded leaf fall season. A recent article in the Times highlighted the innovative work that is being carried out by the rail industry to tackle this perennial problem. You would have thought the railway press would be pleased that a good news story was being published in the main stream media? Oh no, comments from Rail magazine and Modern Railways journalists ridiculed the industry experts by suggesting that they were over promising and misleading the mighty Thunderer. I was brought up with the adage that “all publicity was good publicity”, not for our self styled communications professionals, I’m afraid.


Reorganisations come around at Network Rail almost, if not more so, as the seasons! This latest one is well intentioned and led by the excellent Andrew Haines, CEO of Network Rail. It is disappointing though that the appointment of 19 of the most senior managers (Regional Managing Directors and Route Directors) only includes 3 women and no-one from a BAME background. I’m still hopeful, though, that one day we will have a railway whose leaders do reflect the population they serve but this, I feel, is a missed opportunity.


HS2 is being reviewed, the industry structure is being reviewed and soon we may be in a position where the government itself is being reviewed by the public. In these unstable times its good to see that the focus by many companies and the trades unions is on mental health. The anxiety caused by uncertainty can be overwhelming for some so now is a good time to look after each other.


I’m off to Rome this month to meet with colleagues from the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies as well as colleagues from European Infrastructure Managers. We will be discussing various ETCS change control proposals. Afterwards I will be taking some holiday as well as taking the train to Venice!


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.

Final Words

Every couple of months or so, I read of cases where a truck has hit a bridge resulting in heavy delays and cancellation of train services. This is accompanied by calls for the truck driver to be handed a prison sentence of various lengths. Why are we so quick to condem the working men and women of this country to having a criminal record? No truck driver that I have ever met (my father was an hgv driver – no bridge bashes!) has ever deliberately driven into a bridge! This is a challenge which is desperately crying out for a technical solution. If they were train drivers we would have found a way of mitigating the risk by now.

Until next month,


S and L Roberts (Railway Consulting) Ltd

Operations TSI — S and L Roberts (Railway Consulting) Ltd

As many of you will know, the latest version of the Operations (OPE) TSI became legally binding on the UK in June of this year. During the lead up to the implementation of the OPE TSI, I ran a number of successful sessions to help prepare companies for the changes. In these sessions the three […]

via Operations TSI — S and L Roberts (Railway Consulting) Ltd

Operations TSI

As many of you will know, the latest version of the Operations (OPE) TSI became legally binding on the UK in June of this year.

During the lead up to the implementation of the OPE TSI, I ran a number of successful sessions to help prepare companies for the changes.

In these sessions the three most frequently asked questions are reproduced below:

Q1 – Is all of the OPE TSI in force in June 2019?

A – No, the paragraphs on Route Compatability and Appendix D came into force in 2019. Most of the other changes come into force in 2021, however, Appendix C isn’t in force until 2024 as are the requirements for the rear-end signals on freight trains.

Q2 – What are the major changes in the OPE TSI.?

A – The major changes to the OPE TSI are concerned with Route Compatibility, Rear-end signals for freight trains, Signaller-Train Driver communication, introduction of new common operating rules, introduction of fundamental principles of operating the railway.

Q3 – Surely Brexit means we don’t ha e to comply?

Even in a no deal Brexit scenario, the UK will be affected by the OPE TSI! The UK Rail market deals with European suppliers, we operate cross border through the Tunnel and we run services in Europe by contract.

If you are interested in finding out more then please email me on or write to:

S and L Roberts (Railway Consulting) Ltd

1 Bishops Walk, Coventry CV5 6RE

Or telephone:

07880 503102

Happy September




Merry Christmas

Dear friends and colleagues,

At this time of year it is good to say thank you to all those of you who have enabled the business to have another successful year.

To my customers, I thank you for your custom and look forward to trading with you in the coming year.

To my suppliers, I thank you for your service and I look forward to relying on you next year.

To my colleagues, it has been an absolute pleasure working with you. I look forward to working with you again next year.

So to one and all, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.