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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 15:39 GMT
Small things could make a big difference
Passenger information boards
Rail passengers want more travel information
Jon Yuill

Seasoned commuter Jon Yuill looks at what the new changes to rail company franchises will mean to passengers.
The last few days have been as bad as ever on my train line into work. But I'm hoping today will be a turning point for my fellow rail commuters and me, even if we don't see the difference for a while yet.

Things were dreadful following the big storm the weekend before last, and the one-hour commute that I'm used to was taking up to three-and-a-half hours.


Jon Yuill
BBC News Online rail commuters' champion
  • Name: Jon Yuill, married with three children
  • Age: 41
  • Winner: Jon won an interactive vote to become your rail champion
  • Role: To speak up for the beleaguered commuter through BBC News Online
  • Commute: Witham (Essex) to London Liverpool St

  • But the trains have settled back to normal now, although by normal I mean the regular 15 or 20 minute delay that everyone now just accepts on my line.

    So I'm glad to see things are changing at the top. The Strategic Rail Authority says it's going to get tough with train companies by setting them what it calls "key performance indicators".

    These will be written into the contracts of rail companies when they sign their new franchise agreements.

    A lot of what the SRA is saying is not rocket science, but that's not a bad thing.

    It's often the small, simple problems that cause commuters so much anguish. At last, they seem to have recognised this.

    Communication is a good example. The only thing worse than being stuck on a train going nowhere for half-an-hour is being stuck on a train for half-an-hour and not being told why it's stopped.

    Richard Bowker
    God of small things? SRA chief Richard Bowker
    The SRA says that in future, train operators are going to have to brush up on "passenger information provision".

    I welcome that but announcements are not enough, they will have to mean something. Last week I was on a late train when we were told "this train is delayed because the one in front was late". That's not a reason, it's an excuse.

    I understand passenger safety is also going to come under the microscope. That's important. Time and again I'm going home in the evening I've seen yobs get in the carriage, shouting and throwing things at each other. They intimidate other passengers.

    Clean sheet

    Cleanliness is another of the new criteria. Again, I welcome that. I often get on a train and find myself kicking bottles underfoot which have been left behind by the last lot who were on the train.

    Passenger on a platform
    Will this mean better standards across the board?
    I can't help thinking that all these issues are tied together and could be easily solved if train companies put a uniformed staff representative on every train, whose job it is to walk up and down and make sure everything is alright.

    For example, last night I was coming home and the heater was turned up so high in my carriage that some of the people standing were about to faint. If the driver had known, he could have turned the thermostat down.

    Finally, one of the most impressive ideas the SRA has come up with is what it calls "single operator London terminals". The station I come into, Liverpool Street, currently has three franchises serving it. When these come up for renewal in 2004, they will be combined into one.

    Waiting train
    In future trains may not have to wait so long to 'park'
    The idea is that it gets rid of the crazy situation where one rail company can reserve an empty platform, waiting for its train to arrive in 20 minutes, while right outside the station a train-load of passengers are waiting for another platform to become free.

    So, in brief, I'm glad to see the SRA is thinking about passengers at last and realises that small things can make a big difference. Now I just want to see these changes put in place as soon as possible.

    See also:

    06 Nov 02 | England
    29 Oct 02 | England
    01 Oct 02 | Politics
    10 Oct 02 | Archive
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