Posted 26th February 2021 | 6 Comments

More trains for leisure and a new name for Network Rail?

THE chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy has predicted that leisure and holiday travel by train is set to increase, while commuter traffic is likely to continue to fall, confirming a trend which had started before the pandemic.

Sir Peter suggested that demand in the rush hours could fall by perhaps 20 per cent, at least for the next three years. One consequence could be a rethink of maintenance timetables, with more engineering work taking place on ‘quieter weekdays’.

Less demand from commuters would mean fewer trains during what had been regarded as the classic Monday to Friday peaks.

Sir Peter said: ‘A lot of leisure travel is going to be within Great Britain. Last year we saw a lot of really packed trains … It wouldn’t surprise me if on summer Saturdays we have more demand than in the working week. 

‘I used to watch the trains to the Cornish Riviera from Paddington and it was packed. The railway might have to get used to that. If Saturday and Sunday get busy in summer, we should do engineering works at another time.

‘We’ve got to be dextrous. There’s no point in us saying: we planned these engineering works on a Sunday 18 weeks ago. We should be prepared this summer to say: they want to come and we’ll take them.’

Sir Peter also welcomed the prospect of fewer trains on suburban lines. He said: ‘The service doesn’t run any better if you put too many trains on the track. We’ve proved that. You shouldn’t try to get more out of the infrastructure than it can give you. All of my experience is that people prefer reliability to journey time.

He added that the changing patterns of demand could affect the design of train interiors, with more space being provided rather than as many seats as possible. He said: ‘People are going to be much less willing to cram in and have their nose stuck in somebody’s armpit.’

The Network Rail chairman was addressing the National Rail Recovery Conference, which also heard from Keith Williams, whose delayed review of the railways is said to be due out soon.

Mr Williams gave few firm indications of what he is set to recommend, but he did say his review had been ‘far from being stuck in the sidings. Over the last nine months the review has been tested against the pandemic. It would have been foolish to think that long-term reform could happen in isolation without considering the short-term changes.

‘We are now all keen to get to the end so the task of recovery can begin.’

Although Mr Williams gave more hints than details, Sir Peter did reveal that one change could be ahead for Network Rail: ‘We wouldn’t want the name continued, and we certainly don’t want some of its reputation or history or costs … maybe it’s easier to turn it into something different than start afresh. We don’t want some of the bad reputation [it] had for failing to listen and being very expensive.’

Meanwhile, regulated fares will rise by 2.6 per cent on Monday. The Department for Transport only announced the rise in December, and this was too late for changes to be made at the start of January as usual.

The increase has been criticised by transport campaigners and commentators, while there have been renewed calls for flexible, part time season tickets.

The Campaign for Better Transport said: ‘Public transport will have a vital role to play in a green recovery. To encourage more people to return to public transport post-Covid, and avoid an increase in car use, we need to put in place the right financial incentives. The Chancellor should use the Budget to commit to a public transport discount scheme to help stimulate the economy and get people moving again when the time is right.’

Reader Comments:

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

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    Throw the Williams review in the bin. After what he did to BA between 1998 & 2011, he shouldn't be let anywhere near our railways.

  • Matthew Ellis, Woking, Surrey

    To make weekend rail travel attractive you need to look at availability, price, journey time and reliability.

    For car owners this is even more relevant given the cost difference between moving one person in a car and 4 (or more) is effectively zero.

    And while the weekday patterns may change substantially you still need to look after the commuters.

    Regarding maintenance, personally I would opt for more multi day closures- having been impacted by the Waterloo works a few years back, this was overall easy to plan around (albeit there were issues after the main work was completed) and far preferable to long term disruption to do the same work.

    The big change may be getting people used to big infrastructure works during ‘normal’ work weeks rather than holiday periods.

  • Steve, Milton Keynes

    So let me get this right... what they're saying is NR has had a poor history of getting itself a reputation for being expensive and costly, slow, failing to listen, etc. And their solution is to... change its name! Brilliant!

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    It seems that the original privatisation of the mid 1990's has bit by bit become something never intended at the time - a series of state directed private monopolies, with total dependence on the state for public accountability.

    The main downside of the postwar nationalistions has been just this same thing, with any accountability neutralised by inertia, lack of expertise and far too little parliamentary resources , alliied to remoteness .

    Much more effective public accountability could be through directly elected "transport commissioners", akin to existing police and crime commissioners, for those areas where there are significant local / commuter operations, whilst longer distance / intercity type operations, where commercial competition can be effective, to have accountability through this.

  • H. Gillies-Smith, South Milford

    Hang about, is in not for the TOC's to decide on the level of service not Network Rail? Isn't their job to ensure the railway is fit for purpose and ensure adequate paths are available?
    [Not any more. The TOCs are now only what Richard Bowker (I think) once dubbed 'delivery units'. The railway is effectively run by the DfT and its agency Network Rail.--Ed.]

  • Stuart Porter, Leeds

    Sir Peter Hendy oversimplifies matters when he says "that people prefer reliability to journey time". Some passengers want both. They also want more through trains and better accountability.

    He is right to highlight how the industry ought to plan for summer Saturdays potentially having more demand than in the working week.

    My solution to both problems is to transfer the weekend orientated Cross Country services to a nearby operator and make them responsible for planning and sometimes running those important services.

    It needs to be a two way process for example with East Midlands Rail operating Birmingham to Stansted Cross Country and West Midlands Rail operating Nottingham to Birmingham and beyond Cross Country. The reliability statistics for BOTH services should be counted in BOTH operators statistics. Deliberate double counting like that should make Cross Country services more reliable.

    It would also allow more starburst services such as LNER's Kings Cross to Leeds and beyond services - which now serve Bradford and Harrogate every 2 hours. They should also be double counted in LNER's and Northern Rail's statistics.

    An interesting article.

    John/Stuart Porter