One thing that has been seen throughout this crisis is how central our railways are to our way of life. It has kept vital key workers moving and provided a lifeline to communities by keeping food, critical goods and other freight moving. Now, as the UK continues to emerge from lockdown and begins to rebuild towards a new future, our railways and dedicated staff stand ready to meet the next challenge, making a significant contribution to the economic recovery. The railways have a critical role in ensuring that the economy stabilises and then recovers as more people safely return to workplaces, whilst also performing other important tasks such as facilitating social inclusion and providing more sustainable journeys.
Britain is facing some of the greatest economic, social and environmental challenges in its history. Rail travel drives economic growth by enabling a more mobile workforce spreading opportunity across the country.
Travelling with confidence
A great deal of research into the transmission risks presented by the virus on public transport is being undertaken all the time, all over the world, considering various circumstances, early indications of which seem to be promising.
In addition to this research, the rail industry is doing all it can to create the safest environment possible with measures including social distancing, enabled by the number of services running at near maximum formation, by more intense and regular cleaning of trains with anti-viral disinfectant, the provision of hand sanitiser for passengers and staff, better ventilation through open windows or modern air conditioning and improved passenger information to stagger journeys.
On top of this, the entire rail industry will continue to follow the latest Government advice. This approach combined with passengers following advice for safe journeys, such as wearing face coverings, will mean we can all travel with confidence on our railways.
Reform to improve
Of course, all the industry-wide efforts and encouraging findings from studies into Covid-19 transmission does not mean that it is a return to ‘business as usual’.
I believe that now is the time for the industry to change for good and deliver a better experience for passengers whose new patterns of demand may no longer be fully met by products designed for the pre-Covid era. The Government’s review of the railways presents a unique opportunity to completely reform ticketing and fares so that they are transparent, flexible, easy to understand and deliver a good deal to customers.
Now is the time to accelerate the industry’s embracing of new technology, innovation and the development of efficient practices to make the railway more sustainable and reduce its reliance on public subsidy. This is especially poignant now that many in certain jobs have embraced the fact that you can be equally as productive without necessarily being at a desk in a large central office from nine until five, five days a week, to do a good week’s work. The industry also needs to be ready to facilitate and not frustrate these new ways of working with new ticketing and fares solutions.
As the railways reopen their capacity, we shouldn’t lose the opportunity to reform it and create an even better service that our customers rightly expect and deserve.