On 12th January Transport for the North looked at opportunities to take more of an active role in shaping the post-pandemic development of the rail sector, discussed at the Rail North Committee meeting. The committee suggested that simplifying ticketing would encourage passengers back to rail and highlighted the need for rail to be seen as good value. Transport for the North recommended that a flexible ticketing model would be needed in order to achieve this goal. Leeds City Council leader, Judith Blake, echoed this sentiment and emphasised the need to respond to industry insiders' reluctance to look at fare reductions as a way to restore passenger confidence.
During the meeting, Councillor Liam Robinson, the Rail North Committee Chair, suggested a phased approach to deeper devolution, enabling more local decision-making and ensuring that the rail system meets the needs of local people and businesses.
Transport for the North produced a paper that will be fed into the Williams Review, which looks at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered. The paper outlines the role the body could play in supporting local authorities with the delivery of their ambitions at their own pace. The paper covers six themes which are:
The Recovery of Demand theme looks at how to quickly increase rail services and the need for a plan to achieve this goal. The pandemic has significantly impacted demand for rail services, and rebuilding passenger confidence and demand will take time.
The Rebuilding Confidence theme addresses the need to plan communications and promotions that encourage people to return to rail. Negative press coverage during the pandemic has hit the rail industry hard, and it is vital to restore public trust in the sector.
The Fares and Ticketing theme focuses on meeting passenger needs, including providing flexible season tickets, pay-as-you-go options, and bank card payment methods. This will enable passengers to choose the most convenient and affordable way to use the rail system.
Improved Performance is another critical theme, ensuring that current performance improvements are maintained while services are reduced. It is crucial to maintain resilient timetables that can be supported by the infrastructure, even as services are scaled back up.
Sustainable Growth is also a key theme, promoting the use of rail, particularly among car drivers during the morning peak. This will help reduce congestion on the roads and improve air quality, a vital goal for sustainable transport.
Both Transport for the North and the Rail North Committee spoke about how Investment is necessary to put the rail sector on a more sustainable long-term footing. This involves investing in infrastructure and ticketing to make rail a more attractive and viable transport option.
Leeds City Council leader, Judith Blake, supported the suggestion for cheaper ticketing fares and emphasised the need to address the reluctance of industry insiders to consider fare reductions to restore passenger confidence. Meanwhile, David Hoggarth, the Strategic Rail Director for Transport for the North, described the paper as a 'roadmap to recovery' and stressed the importance of building demand and patronage backup for the long-term sustainability of the rail system. He emphasised the need for rail to be reliable, provide good connectivity and easy access, offers a quality product, and be perceived as good value for money.
The Rail North Committee meeting was a critical event for the UK rail sector, where potential Transport for the North's involvement in shaping the post-pandemic development of the sector was discussed, and a roadmap to recovery was presented. The paper presented Transport for the North’s contributions to the Williams Review and the role it can play in supporting local authorities with their ambitions, covering six key themes: Recovery of demand, Rebuilding confidence, Fares and ticketing, Improved performance, Sustainable growth, and Investment.