Since being re-appointed to the Department for Transport in November last year, Rail Minister Andrew Jones MP had spent time travelling around the country meeting people working on the railway at all levels.
Delivering the keynote speech the UK Rail Summit 2019 this morning, he said it had been “a hugely useful exercise”.
Speaking to over 200 delegates at the event, held at KPMG’s offices at Canary Wharf, he said the railway faced a key challenge. After over two decades of growth, passengers and political leaders in the North in particular were frustrated about performance, following the chaos of last year’s timetable change.
He said the overwhelming priority must be “operational excellence at every level, to deliver the reliable service customers are seeking.”
He had found that “everyone in the railway wants to do a good job”, but the industry had “over-promised and under-delivered”.
The department wanted to help the industry rebuilt trust, he said. “We will do it by being a champion for the passenger and for a customer-centred railway industry.”
There was a need to focus on fundamentals: running on schedule, being increasingly accessible, and dealing effectively with customer issues.
He added that “The more stable timetable introduced in December last year is now bearing fruit.” He called on the industry to build on this progress “to make 2019 a great year for the railway.”
Meanwhile, record investment was going into the industry. The Williams review would look at reforms and would provide a chance to change the fares system. There were “good reasons to be optimistic” that rail would remain a priority for the Government.
New capacity and digital signalling were in prospect. “Ultimately these big changes are for the same reason as the small changes we can all make,” he said, “to improve service and show customers their voice is being listened to.”
He continued: “Where the interests of the industry and passengers are misaligned we will take measure to bring them back together,” he said. This was the thinking behind the Williams Review.
But he had seen outstanding work on the ground. “I am optimistic that by working together we can improve the railway, and build on two decades of [passenger] growth. The industry underpins economic growth. We must get the basics right.”