David R reports.. Robin Gisby, chairman of LNER, in the course of a fifty minute talk and question session on October 16th reflected on the impact of the CV pandemic on the company’s current business and how it might change attitudes beyond the pandemic towards rail travel and to a more ambitious role long term for rail companies in the community.
Prior to the pandemic LNER’s average ticket price was £40 and the company turned over £850 million a year, returning £50 million to government. Today the average price is £28 and the Government supports the company to the enormous tune of £280 per passenger journey! Whilst the situation has stabilised somewhat during the summer there remains a widespread and worrying CV fear of train travel in the North with rail losing market share to private means of transport, and it must be addressed post CV.
Post CV, Gisby sees that the multiplicity of privatised train companies, on the ECML, in Manchester and elsewhere, is operating unneeded service capacity which would better be coordinated and rationalised, ultimately perhaps fully nationalised, and a drive made to modernise the processes of interaction between the public and the railway in such matters as a more flexible fares structure to match changed working practices post CV, and to better exploit the opportunities of digitisation and automation. Gisby is also concerned that the public perception of rail is as a green form of transport, yet Northern Trains’ diesel operation in Manchester, and likely soon in Leeds, is now the biggest environmental polluter in these conurbations. These trains must be replaced throughout the network, and with it many old practices beloved by the rail unions if the train is to retain it’s positive environmental image. Politics, national and local, not necessarily in harmony, will feature large.
Taking questions, Gisby believed that HS2 is a miss-named project, providing essential new capacity between London and the North, not only extra high speed. The project is gold plated and the feeder links must be improved first. Therefore after construction of the London – Manchester leg of HS2 currently now started, he feels the HS3 east-west Trans Pennine route should next be developed – the populations of Leeds and Manchester are significantly higher than Edinburgh and Glasgow – and should incorporate the new HS2 link to Leeds.
On stations Robin would like to see city stations being much more at the hub of commercial life and better integrated into the community: greater range of food and essential services, internet booths, work stations and meeting rooms, parcel pick ups, etc. The Victorian rail corridors through our cities are a wonderful inheritance but first it will be necessary to redesign many station premises and introduction smart technology to serve both travellers and city dwellers. Progress will inevitably be piecemeal.