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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 13:25 GMT
George Muir and Stuart Francis
GEORGE MUIR AND STUART FRANCIS NOVEMBER 19th, 2000 Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used DAVID FROST
When will our railways get back to normal, then? And can rail travel in this country ever recover from that tarnished image that it seems to have at the moment? In the studio with me now is George Muir, Director General of the Association of Train Operating Companies. Good morning, George. And also with us, Stuart Francis, the Chairman of the Rail Passengers Council. Welcome to you both. George, lets just begin with a reflection back on Gerald Corbett. The first time he offered his resignation you said it would be a great loss to the industry, and so on. What do you feel this time? GEORGE MUIR
Well since then we've discovered a lot more that is wrong with the track than we were aware of at the time. And I think it is inevitable after the events of the last month, the fall-out as it were from Hatfield, that the Chief Executive of Railtrack was going to resign. I do in truth think it was a question of time. But the key thing now from our point of view is the team that is now put in place and how we stand beside them, and work with them to get ourselves out of the problems we've got now and to move forward. This is an opportunity, I think, to sort of put the past behind us, to have clear thinking about how to move forward and to do it together. DAVID FROST
What are your reflections on the resignation of Gerald Corbett, Stuart? STUART FRANCIS
Well I just hope, David, that given the reports that are coming through at the moment that George's train operating companies are as generous with their compensation package for passengers as Railtrack appear to be with Gerald Corbett. What passengers require now, I think, is the rebuilding of confidence and it does require a fundamental rethink. And I'm not talking about re-nationalising the industry. DAVID FROST
Not re-nationalising? STUART FRANCIS
No, no. It's about getting the industry to be joined up again and the industry requires some leadership. I think we have to look to Sir Alistair Morton and the Strategic Rail Authority to come up with ideas as to how you can put the railway back together again. DAVID FROST
Do you mean to put it back together, in do you mean less than 25 franchises, or 25 franchises but working together more closely, or what? STUART FRANCIS
Less than 25 franchises. I've heard stories about perhaps Railtrack being split up into seven units. To me that just makes the industry look even more fragmented. Fewer train operating companies, but also in the re-franchising process perhaps some sort of over-arching contract that all train operating companies subscribe to, to give passengers back the network benefits that were lost in the privatisation process. DAVID FROST
But what about the beleaguered, as we've just heard there, quoting the Prime Minister, the beleaguered passengers? What's your position on compensation? If they don't get as much as Gerald Corbett, how much should they get? STUART FRANCIS
Well, first I think you have to deal with season ticket holders who've borne the brunt of this. We're looking, on average, to 3-4 weeks' compensation for season ticket holders. Let's keep it simple. We don't want complicated formula that the passengers and train operating companies are going to take months to work out. So three or four weeks for season ticket holders. Then go on to occasional travellers, they will have to apply for their compensation to the train operating companies. But I think the industry needs a big idea to rebuild confidence and next year we shall have a free day of rail travel, where if you buy a ticket to go and see your auntie in Inverness, then you get another one to go and see your auntie. We've got to get people back onto the railway, David, and the only way we're going to do that is to build confidence again in safety and performance. DAVID FROST
Right, George, going back to you. Does that sort of suggestion that Stuart's made regarding compensation for the beleaguered travellers sound reasonable to you? GEORGE MUIR
The broad directions that Stuart's pointing to are quite correct. We need to look after season ticket holders first, being generous with them, we then have to look after, look to occasional travellers. I want to encourage, now, I want to encourage the occasional travellers in the last month, if they've been disrupted please write in to their train companies. There are arrangements for compensation if their journeys have been delayed in the past, please write in. But also the big idea. Yes, we too, want to, in January or February, when the thing is operating normally, we've got the capacity back, we want to, we're going to want to kick start travel again and there's going to be a lot of good ideas and possibly some national ideas to kick start travel again. DAVID FROST
And in terms of normality and so on, when will normality return? Not before Christmas? Eighty percent by Christmas, someone said? When will it GEORGE MUIR
Possibly 80 per cent by Christmas. But I've got quite high hopes that in early January we're going to see a very, a lot of normality across the network. We're going to do a lot of work in these long possessions over Christmas and the new year and in early mid-January many journeys are going to be normal again. DAVID FROST
What do you feel about this question of the number of franchises and the number of companies? GEORGE MUIR
There's something in it. But I think that's not the fundamental issue and I think in truth there's a lot of similarity between what Stuart and I think. And indeed, what most people think. The issue now is not the structure of the industry. The issue is how the interfaces are managed and how they're worked with. All modern industries are complex, the North Sea oil industry is complex, the City is complex, the television is complex. The key is how the interfaces work together. And that's what we're learning to do. DAVID FROST
Right. And why is it though, George, some of the problems have been known for months, some perhaps for years. Why did it take a tragic accident at Hatfield to bring this all into the open and to get people working on it? GEORGE MUIR
Well, in truth, they were known but life moves through people learning lessons. And I wish it were true that one lesson would teach industries everything but unfortunately we learn, but the important thing is that we do learn all the right lessons from this dreadful event that's happened in the last few months. Ladbroke Grove, the focus after Ladbroke Grove was very properly on train protection and trying to stop trains going through red lights. But of course there's much more to running a safe railway than that. And this recent, these recent events has cast not so much a focus on one issue but a light on a broad area how we run the network. DAVID FROST
How long will it take to restore the reputation, do you think, Stuart? STUART FRANCIS
It's going to take a long time. I think the industry has to be honest with the passenger. I think once we're over this current crisis that still there is the chance that things will get worse before they get better for passengers. The fact is it's going to take a lot of money, it's going to take a lot of time to fix the network. The industry has been exposed, the process of privatisation has been exposed. The lack of any crisis plan from the industry is something that they are going to have to address so I think it will take some time. The key, David, is information. You know the worst thing is standing on a station not knowing whether a train's going to come in and now knowing how long it's going to take you. Give the passengers the information and I think you can then take them with you and start to rebuild confidence. DAVID FROST
And free tickets for anyone who has an aunt in Inverness. That's your main point. Thank you both very much indeed. END
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