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The BBC's Alan Whitehouse
"If the predications in this report do come true it could pose a long term threat to the rail network"
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Rail Passenger's Council spokeswoman, Suzanne May
"The uncertainty is the problem"
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Philip Benham Assn of Train Operating Companies
"The picture painted is too pessimistic"
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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 14:50 GMT
Railtrack confident passengers will return
passengers waiting for trains
Passengers have endured months of rail misery
Railtrack has dismissed suggestions that the image of rail travel has been so badly damaged following the Hatfield crash it will take years before many passengers return.

A study obtained by the BBC said it could take up to five years to win back travellers' confidence in the railways - with some deserting the network for good.

But Railtrack says the views expressed in the report - which it commissioned - are described as a 'best guess' and not presented as fact.

The report is not an analysis of future passenger numbers

It also points out that the study found that following previous periods of difficulty, the perception of rail travel recovered within six months.

A Railtrack spokesman said the BBC had chosen to be "highly selective in the selection of quotes" it had taken from the report.

"The report is about public perceptions of the rail industry, it is not an analysis of future passenger numbers," said the spokesman.

"While public attitude research is useful in understanding the market, it is not a reliable method of forecasting.

"The report recognises that following previous periods of difficulty, the perception of rail travel recovered within six months."

The research paper, based on a Mori poll of public attitudes, says the chaos and disruption since Hatfield has almost certainly done lasting and perhaps irreparable damage.

It says: "It has led to a change in travel patterns for many users, some of whom will not return for some time, if ever.

Regaining confidence

"There will be a long-term loss of passengers, although it is difficult to estimate how many."

The research believes it could take four to five years to move passenger numbers back to the levels experienced pre-Hatfield.

But Railtrack argues that if the industry regained public confidence quickly, passenger numbers would rise to previous levels much faster than the report suggests.

The company's spokesman said public confidence was now its "entire focus".

He stressed that the research had found that "key drivers" for passenger growth remained the same as before the Hatfield crash.

These were traffic congestion and the rising cost of travelling by car.

Lifestyle changes

But Jonathan Bray, of the pressure group Transport 2000, has been predicting for weeks that some commuters will change jobs or lifestyles so they can make do without trains completely.

"The structure of the industry is fundamentally flawed, it's too fragmented, it's hard to know who's in charge.

"We need to get the railways running more like an army again, rather than a market place.

"That means some radical solutions from government, and the courage to accept that the current system isn't working, and that they need to do something radical about it to make it work in the future.

However Philip Benham, the commercial services director for the Association of Train Operation Companies (Atoc), backs Railtrack's confidence that passengers will return.

Hatfield crash in October
The Hatfield crash sparked widespread disruption
"I believe the picture painted is a little bit too pessimistic," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He admitted the chaos in the wake of the Hatfield crash was the "worst period I can ever remember in my 30-odd years in this industry".

But he was confident passenger numbers would return more quickly than reported once reliability was restored.

The research results come a day after many rail companies raised their fares, sparking widespread anger among passengers.

Some passenger groups claim British fares are now among the most expensive in the world - a standard open return fare between London and Manchester now costs 150, a 50% rise in less than two years.

New timetables on affected lines come into force on Monday following an intensive track repair programme over the holiday period.

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08 Jan 01 | UK
Who'd take a train?
07 Jan 01 | UK
Anger as train fares rise
21 Dec 00 | UK
20m for delayed commuters
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