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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.
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.
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!
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.
Leave your company car at home and use public transport instead.
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.
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:
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?
Get the trains running on time. Stop them crashing. Make them cleaner. Make them cheaper. Come on, it can't be that difficult surely?
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.
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.
My message is simple, something that will ensure that you gain respect and earn yourself a good name: Under-promise and Over-deliver.
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!
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.
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.
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!
I used to be a train driver, the railway was better in the BR days.
GIVE IT BACK.
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!
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?
David Jackson, UK
Good luck !!!
You are going to need it.
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.
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.
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.
Sue Hudson, UK
If you do a good job you can come over here and do the same!
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.
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?
Good luck to John Armitt. His opening comments about putting the travelling public first are absolutely right.
Please make the trains work!
1. Be totally honest about safety issues, regardless of what the government spin doctors want, or risk becoming their fall guy.
Good luck...you'll need it.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I don't think you've got a chance Mr. Armitt and will soon be Public enemy Number 1.
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!
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.
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.
Paul Denman, 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.
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.
14 Dec 01 | Business
Railtrack appoints new chief
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