Posted 28th February 2017 | 4 Comments

Railway industry at ‘crucial turning point’

THE new chairman of the Rail Delivery Group will warn today that trying to recreate a non-existent ‘golden age of rail’ is not the way forward for the modern industry, which instead needs to ‘embrace change,’ having arrived at a ‘crucial turning point’.

Chris Burchell, who is managing director of UK trains at Arriva, took over as chairman of the RDG at the start of the year.

He is giving the annual Bradshaw address in London this evening, when he will say: “We are at a crucial turning point, and must manage change, embrace change and lead change now.

“There are those who believe that the way forward is to go backwards, to the structures and systems of the past, in pursuit of the golden age of rail. If such an age ever existed it was only in our imaginations. It certainly didn’t exist for many of the customers who experienced it. 

“If we want to be true to our past, we need to embrace change. And we don’t have long to do it.”

Mr Burchell is outlining his vision of a modern industry, ‘driven by customer demand’, and also calling for a new relationship with the railway’s customers, workforce and government.

He says the industry needs to do what its customers want: “Clean, safe, comfortable trains which run on time, fares which seem reasonable, Wi-Fi and a seat, and clear information and redress when things go wrong. We need to harness technology to drive further improvement. Doing the right things in the right way builds customer confidence and trust.

“I want to see the ongoing industrial disputes resolved as quickly as possible, and all sides need to recognise that the way we work is changing. There can be no attachment to old ways of working. Failure to modernise puts future investment at significant risk.”

He will also call for changes to the industry’s relationship with the state: “As we look to greater democratic devolution to Britain’s nations and regions, and 20 years on from the end of British Rail, it is time for a more mature relationship between industry and governments.  We need freedom to innovate, to grow and to access new sources of investment. We need governments to help us where they can, and to remove any obstacles which may hinder progress.”

Once again the industry is trying to simplify fares, having come under intense pressure from many sides, including consumer groups such as Which? Mr Burchell says such simplification is ‘a great example of a tough nut to crack’, with industry and government working together.

However, his message has already received a bleak reception from the RMT. General secretary Mick Cash said: “When Britain’s private rail companies talk about modernisation we know that what they really mean is hacking back on jobs and passenger safety in the drive for fatter profits.

“That is exactly what Mr Burchell is now planning on his Arriva Rail North franchise where he is threatening to axe the guards in order to deliver bundles of extra Euros to his German-state paymasters.

"Local politicians need to be aware that the threat to guards is wholly politically and profit motivated and need to stand alongside RMT in the fight to save these safety-critical staff from being bulldozed into the ground."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    To quote Chris Burchell , the new RDG chair, as above "we need freedom to innovate, to grow and to access new sources of investmentt".

    Back in the early years of privatisation, innovatory new service ideas were emerging and beginning to get implemmented. But then along came the Strategic Rail Authority. A pity Chris wasn't around at the time.

  • ChrisJones-Bridger, Buckley

    Fine words but the rail industry is no stranger to change. If the industry is slow to adapt much can be said of the constraints of the contractual barriers imposed by the industry's present structure. These if anything sap valve from the industry for little tangiable reward. Arriva, Mr Burchell's company, is certainly a mixed blessing in the UK rail market. At it's best it is the parent of Chiltern however as users of Cross Country or ATW will note while contractually compliant it is a less than dynamic operation.

    Franchises & management come and go but the workforce provide continuity and should be a valued resource of the industry. While modern technology may seem to accelerate cost saving & efficiency the modern consumer also appeiciates & demands human interaction. While DOO is a long established operational practice much has changed since it's intoduction by BR. While the traditional guard's role may be seen as dispensible operatiinally rather than removal, for revenue, security and certainly during service disruption safety critically trained personnel should increasingly be valued.

    What remains unresolved in the current industry structure is the inherent overhead cost imposed by the clumsy contactual relationships between companies extracting value from the Industry. For those who look back through their rose coloured specticals it is through the knowledge that latter day BR knew where cost efficiency could be realised.

  • Noam Bleicher, Oxford

    The answer starts with scrapping the franchise map, which is a classic production-led approach to service provision, more remiscent of the BR regions than anything else, and which leads to wildly different service standards being offered to similar customer segments in the different parts of the country. The customer offer needs to tailored to customer segments; Intercity/HS, Interurban, Rural, and lastly an Overground/S-Bahn network for all-stations services in and around cities.

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    Well said Chris....common sense

    The industry needs to be dragged into this century as a minimum. So much time and money is spent on antiquated processes, maintaining battered old rolling stock and with Union power struggles

    Chris is right; it's time to put the customer first and stop arguing about who opens the doors (or who's industrial action is most damaging)

    Unfortunately the reaction appears to be the punishment of industrial action on Northern with no concern for the impact on customers - try singing a different tune Mick?