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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 10:45 GMT
Railtrack's new boss: What is your message to him?
A former boss of a UK construction company has been appointed chief executive of Railtrack.

John Armitt will be asked to improve the performance of the rail network which has been worsening since the government withdrew its support for the company.

Mr Armitt, formerly chief executive of Costain, is the man who is taking on what is commonly described as the toughest job in British industry.

What would your message be for the new man running Railtrack ? Can any one person improve Britain's railways?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of our comments below.

A major reorganisation is probably called for

Peter, UK
From past experience of dealing with Railtrack, they gave the impression of being totally disorganised and lacking any clear strategy. A major reorganisation is probably called for. The challenge will be to retain the skills and experience necessary for running the railway, whilst at the same time getting rid of the public sector ethos of providing unsatisfactory levels of service to its customers (and thinking they can get away with it). The Tories were slightly naive in thinking that by simply transferring an organisation to private sector control it would magically adopt private sector values and mentality at all levels.
Peter, UK

My suggestion would be to re-introduce the nightly security patrols that were scrapped a few years ago to "save money". It's obviously a coincidence that the amount of graffiti and vandalism multiplied immediately after that decision was taken. What will be vandalised next - signalling equipment? I would also strongly recommend the new boss of Railtrack makes St John's station in South London his first visit, to see how appalling it is. It must be the most vandalised station in Europe.
Rob Holman, England

Ignore every cynical comment you've heard about the state of the railways and public transport in general and get on with doing a good job!
James Pittman, England

The root of the current railways problems lie back many, many years ago

Tony, England
As a part owner of 3 ex British Rail Steam engines which run on private and Railtrack lines, I can assure everyone the root of the current railways problems lie back many, many years ago. The average age of the track in this country is over 27 years old. That shows exactly where the blame lies. It has taken enthusiasts 20 to 40 years (and an awful lot of money) to restore to a reasonable standard some of the railway lines we took over when they were shut down by governments under the Beeching Plan. And that is roughly the time its going to take to restore the main network as well. Unfortunately governments want quick results and are continually interfering in the running of the railways. Railtrack was not perfect although it actually did quite a lot of things very well particularly in its last year of life. But the last thing we need is governments (of any political party) trying to run them instead.
Tony, England

Build the TRUST of the public - and that will be a tall order. Forget the station cosmetics. Update the railway infrastructure with safe signals and track, and make it reliable again. Faster track and other improvements can come in good time.
Phil W, UK

Leave your company car at home and use public transport instead.
Steve Wehrle, UK

Don't always schedule engineering work at weekends, erect permanent signs on platforms with written apologies (so we don't have to listen to any more insincere announcements), and fix the station tannoys so announcements sound like they're being spoken in English.
Gary Dring, UK

You will be just like the fat cat executives of old: mess up big style and award yourself a big pay rise

Ex-rail customer, UK
I expect you will be just like the fat cat executives of old: mess things up big style and award yourself a big fat pay rise into the bargain. Don't forget the share options so you can milk the system for even more in the future!
Ex-rail customer, UK

Having seen how large companies behave to get themselves out of trouble, I think I have learnt how it is done, and can offer Mr Armitt the following advice:
1. The name 'Railtrack' is associated with failure, so get a new name for the company. There are many consultants out there who will come up with the name for only a million or so.
2. Once you have the new name, you will also need a new logo. Again, a million or so ought to do it.
3. You can now have a massive programme of repainting all your stations with the new name and logo.
4. Design smart new uniforms for the staff.

I am sure everyone will agree that the above four steps will produce the modern railway system we all need. If there is a new logo, why should anyone care whether the trains run on time or not?
Adam, UK

Get the trains running on time. Stop them crashing. Make them cleaner. Make them cheaper. Come on, it can't be that difficult surely?
Alex Keenleyside, England

Every senior manager in Railtrack should be travel in standard class in rush hour, Monday to Friday

Julia, UK
Mr Armitt and every senior manager in Railtrack should be obliged to travel in standard class on their own train services in rush hour, Monday to Friday. That would soon concentrate their minds on getting things put right.
Julia, UK

Instead of appointing somebody that the government classes as being qualified to be in charge, find somebody who works for Railtrack who is dedicated to their job and feels passionate about getting the problems sorted. Who cares if they haven't been in a high-powered position before, who cares if they are a janitor? If we keep relying on so-called professionals then things can only get worse because usually they don't know what is really going on and aren't interested, as long as they are doing OK.
Jamie Edkins, England

I can't afford to travel by train any more. It's too expensive and there's no guarantee I'll reach my destination on time. In my business life it's too much of a risk.
Molly, Ipswich, UK

My message is simple, something that will ensure that you gain respect and earn yourself a good name: Under-promise and Over-deliver.
Will Faulkner, Hale, Cheshire, UK

Please, please please come to Japan and talk to the rail companies here. The busiest line in Tokyo has a train every 3 minutes in the rush hour and is up to 150% of capacity. It's hardly late and is incredibly cheap! Please don't do things the same as they have been done before!
Lee, Japan

If there was the possibility of a decent rail network in this country, it would have happened a long time ago

Bryan, UK
Don't even try, just do the same as all the others, show willing for a bit then take the money and run. You won't win, because the politicians won't let you. If there was the possibility of a decent rail network in this country, it would have happened a long time ago.
Bryan, UK

I worked for Costain for 19 very happy years and you saved it. I firmly believe you will do the same for Railtrack. Good luck.
VN, England

Make peace with the City and its shareholders. You're going to need shed-loads of cash to put right the decades on neglect. This Government won't give it to you despite what they may say now.
Al, UK

I have to drive everywhere at great expense due to your predecessor's incompetence, lets hope you can do better, best of luck, I fear you are going to need it!
Jamie Nelson-Singer, London, United Kingdom

I used to be a train driver, the railway was better in the BR days. GIVE IT BACK.
Steve Davies, USA (ex Brit)

To make trains work you simply need to approach the problem from two independent issues. The first problem to overcome is cost. Public transport should be cheaper than convenient transportation such as cars. To overcome this the Government must put a good proportion of taxes collected on petrol sales back into public transport. Unless the train journey costs no more than 50% of the equivalent car costs (petrol tax + depreciation) why would anyone want to take the train.

The second point, and one which I feel is often overlooked, is the issue of public transportation once one has reach the destination. When I visit relatives or friends I drive such that I am mobile once at my destination. Therefore the only way people are going to return to the trains is if it is fully integrated into other forms of public transportation such as buses. I would pay a good sum of money (200 pounds per month and over) to be supplied with unlimited use of a reliable and regular national train and bus service. If a service like that can't be made economic, then some at the top is skimming too much!
Chris R, Gloucester

To Chris R in Gloucester: The reason for privatising the railway infrastructure was an ideological conviction on the part of the Tories that the private sector could run the show more efficiently. Today Railtrack costs the British public more in subsidies than British Rail did in its day. So what is the point in letting Railtrack continue to waste public money? And how can we expect affordable train travel when government subsidies are wasted on tenth rate private sector management?
Edwina Ramsay, UK

A campaign to educate the public about the rail network would certainly help

David Jackson, UK
Public relations has not been one of the best aspects of Railtrack in the past and this needs to improve. A good example of this is the leaves on the line saga. Every railway in Europe suffers from the same problem but only here is it made to sound like a feeble excuse rather than the genuine problem it is. A campaign to educate the public about the rail network would certainly help to improve the way Railtrack is perceived by making it clear that not all delays are due to incompetence.
David Jackson, UK

Good luck !!! You are going to need it.
Viv, UK

Seeing that you can buy First Class and Standard Class tickets, is there a chance that you can sell 'Cattle Class' tickets that are at least 50% cheaper for those who constantly have to stand up in carriages.
Tel, UK

Don't bother. Public transport is a failure and cannot be made to provide a service that meets 21st Century expectations. The reality is that private transport is the future and public transport is history. Sure this means problems like congestion and pollution have to be overcome so let's try to overcome them instead of attempting to go backwards to a previous age when every journey was made by bicycle or train.
Alan Tong,

At last, some good news for Railtrack. They've finally put an engineer in charge. It might even tempt me into buying shares. After all, it can't get any worse, and Mr Armitt has a good record.
Alex Banks, UK

Please bring back smoking carriages

Sue Hudson, UK
Go to France, take a look at their TGVs, come back to the UK, and do the same thing! And please bring back smoking carriages - it's not much fun for those of us smokers to be stuck on a train going nowhere and not being able to light up!
Sue Hudson, UK

If you do a good job you can come over here and do the same!
Victor D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Since the Transport Secretary scrapped Railtrack, a service that was shabby and crowded but reliable is now shabby, more crowded and completely unreliable. The deceased Railtrack appears to have given up, which is not surprising since its employees find themselves thousands of pounds poorer.
Philip, UK

I thought that the privatisation was structurally inept and needed a root and branch review; so unless this is done, what's the point of a line of new Chairmen - unless of course Mr Byers has put his own man into bat?
Julian Jones, UK

Good luck to John Armitt. His opening comments about putting the travelling public first are absolutely right.
Richard, England

Please make the trains work!
Paula, UK

1. Be totally honest about safety issues, regardless of what the government spin doctors want, or risk becoming their fall guy.
2. Remember that passengers are suffering so do cheap things now that make life more tolerable, warm waiting rooms (we do a lot of waiting) clean toilets, parking ticket machines that do not need exact change and so on.
3. Commute by train once a fortnight. You will soon understand what needs changing and where the interface between Railtrack and the train operators fails.
Kathy, UK

Good'll need it.
Garry, Scotland, UK

This is a poisoned chalice of a job

David Moran, Scotland/Australia
My advice - get out now! This is a poisoned chalice of a job; he won't be allowed to run the railways as a proper business, there will be too much government interference for that. I give him 18 months or until the next rail crash, whichever comes sooner.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Approaching 2002, parts of Britain still rely on nineteenth century, oil-lit semaphore (mechanical) signalling. The few major projects that Railtrack took on are now hopelessly behind schedule and overbudget. But 50 years of under-investment should not be allowed to become 55. Together with Bowker at the SRA, please SORT IT OUT!
Jerrel FH, London

Get "everyone" involved from the outset. Contractors, train companies, rolling stock builders, the SRA, passenger groups, the lot. Then show what you're doing, justify your existence and let everyone know where the buck stops. Only when there is full collaboration between all interested parties and clear lines of responsibility will things get going again. This is the same in any line of business and something Railtrack has so far ostensibly failed to do.
Stuart, Scotland

Those of us who use the trains continue to suffer from a wholly unreliable service. This unreliability is increased by those within Railtrack who have taken it upon themselves to further compound the problems. Last Friday evening I was travelling on a 125 that had to travel at a snail's pace because a signalman had put a local service in front of us. The result was that our train, which had been on time, arrived at my destination 30 minutes late. This situation is not the exception but rather the norm. To get onto a train that arrives on time is worthy of a diary entry.
Edward Boswell, UK

The rail system cannot be held together by one individual and I would think that rather than have one person why not break down the top office into smaller parts each having ownership of their territory whilst there is a CEO who makes sure they are work in a cooperative harmonized relationship with each other.
Lee Hayes, UK

I don't think you've got a chance Mr. Armitt and will soon be Public enemy Number 1

Anthony, England
I wonder if Mr Armitt has 20 years spare and maybe 200 million in his back pocket. Is he deaf so he can ignore the Politicians bleating in his ear, especially as the election approaches. The one thing he won't be able to achieve is to run the trains on time. All forms of transport whether road, air or rail just can't be run to a timetable if you place safety first.
I don't think you've got a chance Mr. Armitt and will soon be Public enemy Number 1.
Anthony, England

Unfortunately, the task before you will be as much about the public's perception of your effectiveness as it will be about the actuality of it! You don't me to tell you, but just stay focussed ... under promise and over deliver!
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK

Please, please get this rail network out of the dark ages. I am a regular commuter and it takes me two hours to travel 58 miles from Canterbury to London. The same journey was 40 minutes FASTER 50 years ago. The only thing that has remained the same in that time period are the trains that are being used.
Anna, UK

This morning I waited over an hour for a late train. I wouldn't mind but it's the fifth time already this week. How is the new director going to address the problem of late running trains.
Ian Sealey, England

Make us proud of our railways without any excuses

Paul Denman, England
Tell us how we should judge and measure you, then work like hell to deliver and make us proud of our railways without any excuses.
Paul Denman, England

Dave Hartley, Stourbridge, England

Maximise profits for your shareholders. We don't just expect our share value to go up, we want huge dividends as well. Remember, you have a monopoly so squeeze every last drop of profit out you can, and to hell with safety, punctuality, modernisation or customers. We, the shareholders and our money (and your share options) are your number one priority.
Bob, UK

For the commuter railway how about accepting that it's obsolete and shutting it down. Almost nobody lives within a convenient walking distance of a station so, with modern technology, the choice is:- A short drive/bus journey to station, spend two hours a day on trains and work in the city. A short drive/bus journey to local drop in centre. Work remotely. Option two is environmentally and socially far more acceptable. One way to achieve this would be the abolition of season tickets which just encourage people to waste transport resources. For the freight railway please get your filthy noisy trains out of our towns. The railways should be far more like the motorways which, for the most part, take their inevitable noise, danger and inconvenience around built-up areas, not through the middle.
Brian W, UK

See also:

14 Dec 01 | Business
Railtrack appoints new chief
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