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  • Williams Review - 1st deadline: January 18, 2019
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #30 on: April 24, 2019, 12:01:20 pm »

Having mulled this over a bit more whilst waiting for a bus to come back from shopping, the myriad reasons why this wouldn't work are coming to mind.

(Just for clarification, I spent the last 20 years or so of my working life taking other people's strategies and visions and turning them into practical courses of action, so the practicalities of any given situation always interest me)

I agree with Graham's post directly after mine, and of course we have had this situation in the UK in the past for certain specific trains, anything from the Pullmans of old to WR seat regulation tickets in the 70s. But in both cases there were alternative trains (even if it was travelling at daft o'clock in the morning or at night to avoid seat regulation tickets). But things have moved on and we now have umpteen TOCs working quasi-independently in the same industry, very much like airlines.

However, if you fly and your plane is late and you miss your onward connection, your airline is legally obliged to find you an alternative flight, even if you did not book your connecting flight with them (I didn't realise that their obligations extended that far until it came within a whisker of happening to be in Johannesburg last year). Extending that principle to the UK rail network and using my example of a journey involving GWR, XC and Virgin:

The GWR train is late into Bristol so I miss my XC connection at 0830. Let's say it is now 0850 and XC's next train north is at 0900 (that was an actual scenario during my rail rover tour when a door fault on a 150 at Bath caused the 0630 PAD to BRI to sit in Sydney Gardens for 25 minutes and then make a special stop at OLF to pick up passengers in place of the failed DMU) so I have no time to speak to a GWR helpdesk at Bristol. The 0900 XC runs to time and I get to New Street just in time to see the tail lamp of my Virgin connection vanishing into the tunnel. So now I go to the GWR helpdesk at Brum. Oh, wait...

So I go to the Virgin helpdesk instead. They tell me that it's not their fault, Guv, and you need to speak to GWR because their late-running train caused the problem. But there are no GWR Customer Service staff this side of Cheltenham or Oxford. I suppose I could ring GWR, and after I'd sat on the phone for 10 minutes listening to a moronic recording telling me that all out operators are busy at the moment and how much we value your call, and have you looked at the FAQs on our website, and so on, I then have to explain my current predicament. In the meantime, umpteen Virgin trains are arriving and departing half empty because a signal failure at Shrewsbury and a points failure at Bescot have buggered up hundreds of other people's travel plans that day that also included a leg on a Virgin train...

OK I accept that that lot is an exaggeration for humorous effect, but there is an underlying principle there that would have Questions asked in The House if this hare-brained scheme ever got off the ground.
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stuving
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« Reply #31 on: April 25, 2019, 12:27:50 am »

In case anyone might want to read Virgin's proposal before commenting - and lack of it doesn't seem to have held anyone back so far - the (quite substantial)_ text is here. I've been bemused (and amused) to see everyone jump in to comment on one small part of the proposal, when there are far more problematic elements to it.

My bemusement is partly at the consensus view that for long-distance trains to only carry passengers seated is a dangerously alien, unBriish, and unworkable idea. It looks to me more long one of the defining factors of the "proper long-distance trains" that Broadgage has been banging on about for ages.
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Lee
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« Reply #32 on: April 25, 2019, 03:32:57 am »

To be fair, the Independent article focussed on 4 different aspects of the Virgin proposal (which I listed in my post) and grahame addressed 2 of those in his post, not just the reservation issue.

Also, grahame states that he is not averse to some crack, reservation only services provided that there's an alternative service, so I'm not sure that there is the clear consensus view against that you suggest. From what I can see, both grahame and Robin have their own interesting, informed and informative takes on the issue.

I agree we should read the whole proposal and widen the debate accordingly though, so thanks for posting it. It has certainly kept me up later than I intended tonight  Grin
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jamestheredengine
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« Reply #33 on: April 25, 2019, 07:56:59 am »

The plus side of making long-distance services all reserved is that it makes it easier to separate flows. For instance, an all-reserved South Wales/South West service would have the effect of removing Paddington-Reading passengers onto an unreserved mid-distance services, especially if Reading could be priced at the same price as, say, Swindon or Westbury on the reserved trains.
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« Reply #34 on: April 25, 2019, 08:28:14 am »

Having taken stuving’s advice and read the report there is much to digest. However, the argument using aircraft reservations has some limitation. The weight of an aircraft is a significant factor in the amount of lift the wings have to generate to achieve flight. It is safety critical, so you cannot afford to overload an aircraft.

There is also their discussion on separating long distance and commuter flows and the practically of so doing.

The suggestion of 20 year awards is one that has been put forward by many people and the success of Chiltern in developing their line points to that being a way forward.
They also discuss the future of Network Rail and further devolution. However there surely has to be a limit to its fragmentation in relation to major projects.

There are many other aspects that the paper goes into.
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stuving
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« Reply #35 on: April 25, 2019, 09:58:41 am »

Oh dear, Lee, was I a bit provocative there? And yes, I did judge "consensus" just by the volume of screaming and shouting.

But to pick up on one of my gratuitous sarcasms, what do the unBritish do? My universal counterexample is of course France, where the split between long distance (TGV) and local trains (RER, or Transilien in Paris) is quite clear. That is, apart for the odd collection of services that don't fit (Intercités), answering inexactly to CrossCountry. Not only that, but TGV ticketing is airline-like with reservations included, and there is some element of competing SNCF brands (and preparations are being made for open access).

Local services are of course run by regions, some of which have been muttering rebelliously about private contractors for a while now. And yesterday Hauts-de-France announced they intend to start the process, following PACA* who were first to make the threat and made their decision last month.

I don't think Virgin's suggestions for local service make much sense, and they almost say that themselves. I don't think they are really interested; their main motivation was to rescue the elements of a market-based structure that are still relevant (or at least have respectable economic credentials) and junk the bits that don't work in a capacity-limited railway. But the gaps in the proposal are as interesting as the contents.

*Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azure
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Lee
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« Reply #36 on: April 25, 2019, 10:07:09 am »

That was actually me trying to be balanced! - From patronising to a bulwark against provocation - Its back to Social Skills Workshop for me  Grin
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« Reply #37 on: April 25, 2019, 02:43:56 pm »

On the basis of not wanting the Reading passengers cluttering the South Wales/South West service, the same could apply to buses. The Newbury service from Reading is often packed with passengers who don't go beyond the boundary of Reading. Not sure all reserved buses would help the current ails of the bus industry.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #38 on: April 25, 2019, 08:44:32 pm »

Having felt suitably admonished for not reading the report and wading in and only commenting on a newspaper article, I have spent much of today going through that report in detail. Suffice to say I have had more enjoyable days…

Nevertheless, now I’ve done it I can regale other forum members with my findings. As putting sections of the report into forum quotes is a little time-consuming (and personally my eyes have difficulty in reading forum quotes anyway – the font colour and quote background colour seem to cancel each other out), quotations from the report will be in italics below.

“Our submission is deliberately high-level and ideas-driven, rather than a detailed examination of the precise nature of operation. In this way we aim to spark debate and discussion, and to give the Review team food for thought”

They can say that again…  You don’t need to read very far into the report before it dawns that is, to use management speak, “Blue Sky Thinking.” Others may see it as an abject failure to see the wood for the trees, because many practical problems jump out as you wade on through it.

“The vast majority of long-distance rail travel is discretionary. Most customers are choosing to visit family or friends, using the train for a weekend break or holiday, or visiting business contacts. They have chosen to meet face-to-face, rather than use video-conferencing or the telephone, and they have chosen to travel by train rather than road or air. Whilst all of their reasons for travel are important, they are fundamentally discretionary in nature.”

Virgin will, presumably, have their own figures to back this up. Whether they have quantitative data about the reasons for the discretionary travel is less clear. As I see it, there are many distinct types of discretionary travel and to lump them all together is unwise. People using a train for a weekend break could probably specify their outbound and return trains before they travel. Those visiting business contacts (as in the case of Graham’s examples) may not. Those using the train to go to a hub airport like Heathrow may well be able to specify their outbound train, but would be unwise to specify the return one for fear of the plane being delayed or cancelled. Visiting friends and relatives might not be just a jolly to go to see Auntie Flo in Bognor for her 85th birthday; it might be going to see a terminally ill friend or relative and you might not be coming back until the inevitable happens. So there is discretionary travel and discretionary travel, and therefore something of a flaw in the reasoning.

“Virgin Trains’ West Coast franchise does, of course, have some customers who use us to commute to work, but they are a small minority; fewer than 10% of our journeys are currently made by season ticket holders”

Once again presumably Virgin has the data to back this up but I would still like to see some more detail. For example, it is currently only Virgin West Coast that provides a service between Wigan, Warrington and Crewe, or between Crewe, Warrington and Preston. If there is commuter traffic between those locations (and I’ be surprised if there wasn’t), Virgin provide the only current rail service.

“There are also significant problems with congestion and ticket complexity. Train companies are often obliged, by regulation, to accept ‘walk-up’ fares which means they have no control over the number of people getting on a particular train (unless it is physically unsafe). These walk-up fares are regulated by the Department for Transport (DfT) at a set price that cannot be varied by train; inevitably they are too cheap for some services and too expensive for others. This results in the all-too-frequent sight of customers forced to stand on a long-distance journey. Yet, on the same day, rigid timetables force companies to shuttle around extremely heavy and mostly empty trains, pushing up costs and ticket prices

Removing little-used trains would also improve overall network performance or could free up paths for more freight trains with corresponding benefits to our road network.”


There appears to be a large element of skewed thinking in these paragraphs. We are talking “walk-up” fares here, which essentially means anytime or off peak tickets. Then later on we are told that “inevitably they are too cheap for some services and too expensive for others.” I would like to see the evidence that they base this statement on - especially the "too cheap" bit. Then we are told that this results in customers being forced to stand on a long distance journey – or sit in a vestibule on the floor like Jeremy Corbyn perhaps… I have certainly been on trains that appear to be rammed to the gunwales only to hear the Train Manager plead with passengers to move down the train where there are plenty of empty seats. Sometimes the passengers themselves won’t even bother to look for a seat. Then there is the suggestion that the TOCs are running virtual ECS around the network to only fulfil their contractual obligations, but chooses perhaps not to mention that a single train cannot be taken in isolation because it is part of a longer diagram and, for example, a half-empty train going up to the Capital mid-afternoon will certainly not be half empty on its return working.

Finally on this particular quotation, the remark about TOCs having no control over the number of passengers on a train unless it is physically unsafe needs amplification. Bus companies have the same situation and so do ferries. They seem to suggest that the problem is one for the railway alone. I know that I personally would far prefer standing on a train than on a moving bus.

“Customers are often bewildered by the range of ticketing and fare options available and have little confidence that they have purchased the right ticket for their journey. There are too many options, with too many variables and unclear language.

The second, vital, step to import the airline model into the long-distance sector is to have reservation-only trains. This already exists on some international services such as Eurostar. Customers would book a ticket and a seat for a particular train. The price would be based on demand so as the train filled up, the price would go up. But there would only be one price for that train at a given point in time

Customers would be free to choose a popular train at a higher price, or a less popular train at a lower price. There would be no peak or off-peak, which would also eliminate much of the need for complex ‘split-ticketing’ arrangements by customers seeking to minimise their bills.
It would eliminate ticket complexity at a stroke.

Just like airlines, customers could buy a flexible ticket which would allow them to change trains and make a reservation for a different service if there was space. Anyone with a season ticket would need to book a seat, and customers with ‘open’, fully-flexible tickets would also have to book a seat rather than simply turning up at the last minute for any train.
These flexible ticket holders could of course change their reservation to another train (assuming seats were available) but could only hold one reservation at a time for a given day and journey”


Hmm… So prices would be higher for “popular” trains than for “unpopular” ones, and customers could buy a flexible ticket (presumably for a higher price as that is how the airlines do it), Fantastic idea – we could call them Anytime, off peak, super off peak and advance tickets – I wonder why no-one has ever thought of it before…?

“…everyone understands what’s involved in flying. It’s almost impossible for customers to get on the wrong plane, and everyone accepts that they are booked on a particular flight with a particular seat – and if they miss it, they either don’t travel or have to rebook at their own cost.”

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, this ain't necessarily so. In the aviation industry if a flight operator is responsible for a delay which makes a passenger miss their flight, they are responsible to rebook that customer. This is especially pertinent in the railway industry given that many people will use trains operated by multiple operators over one journey.

“…if a long-distance operator served a commuter market as part of its route, these commuters would still be required to reserve seats if they wanted to use this long-distance service rather than local commuter services”

I’d like a seat reservation for my 9-minute journey from Wigan to Warrington please…

I could go on but this post has now exceeded 1300 words so, if you are still reading, thank you!”  Grin
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eightonedee
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« Reply #39 on: April 25, 2019, 10:06:46 pm »

Thanks Robin - I'll put my hatchet back in the drawer....
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grahame
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« Reply #40 on: April 29, 2019, 11:40:05 am »

A piece on the future of franchising - an opinion piece from Jim Armitage in The Standard.

Quote
Britain’s train franchising system is about to be shunted into the scrapyard, and not before time.

Under the dysfunctional Department of Transport, mandarins are making such extreme demands on companies running rail franchises that British firms have been all but pushed out of the market. Only foreign state-owned companies can afford the risk.

National Express quit UK rail in 2017, and Stagecoach has just ....

[snip]

One executive today said “anything is better than the status quo”.

Maybe, but surely we can reach higher than that.

An excellent read ... I was tempted to quote the whole thing in fact ... which may well help / open further discussion
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PhilWakely
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« Reply #41 on: April 30, 2019, 08:16:23 am »

From the BBC 30th April 2019
Quote
Rail firms want independent body to oversee network



An independent body should oversee the rail network, according to Britain's railway companies.

In submissions made to a government-appointed review into rail, the firms also said long-distance routes should be serviced by more than one company.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) added that control of commuter routes could be handed over to local authorities.

It suggested commuter routes could be organised in a similar way to Transport for London in the capital.

Local government oversees timetables and organisation in London, with private operators subcontracted to provide the services.

"We are suggesting replacing the current franchise system as it stands at the moment," RDG regional director Robert Nisbet told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"These proposals would result in a much more joined-up railway and greater accountability to passengers.

"We believe that would be best done by a system of dynamic contracts around the country.

"There would be an overarching apolitical body that would be in charge of this system, dealing with the trade-offs, but also policing it and issuing rules that bind and fines that bite.

"We are putting forward what we think is a compelling vision for both the public and private sectors working together in partnership, underpinned by an easier fare system which would deliver the best fare for any passenger whenever they took their journey."

The Strategic Rail Authority, which was established in 2000, used to carry out this role, but it was abolished in 2004.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "In the major northern cities, and across the Northern Powerhouse, this devolution would make it possible to integrate transport better.

"This is already being worked towards, with more touch-in-and-out travel within - and in between - our towns and cities in the North.

"This would be used by more of us as passengers if the government supports the fare system being reformed more quickly."

Currently, most UK rail services are operated by fixed-term franchises, which involve the Department for Transport (DfT) setting out a specification covering areas such as service levels, upgrades and performance.

Train companies then submit bids to run the franchise and the DfT selects one of the applicants.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said the RDG was proposing a "deregulated free-for-all" that would lead to fare rises for customers.

The RDG's vision is likely to be seen as an attempt to stave off nationalisation, as proposed by Labour.

But the government has said privatisation has helped "transform" the industry.

The UK's rail network has been beset by problems, with the East Coast Mainline brought back under government control in May - for the third time in a decade.

Image copyright PA

Last year, hundreds of trains were cancelled amid a huge timetable reorganisation on services including Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern.

This month, Virgin and Stagecoach were barred from three rail franchise bids. The DfT disallowed the bids because they did not meet pensions rules.

Virgin was bidding to renew the West Coast franchise in partnership with Stagecoach and France's SNCF.

Stagecoach had also applied for the East Midlands and South Eastern franchises, both of which have been rejected.

Keith Williams, former chief executive of British Airways, is due to deliver a report on the future of the industry this autumn.

*** edited as the article was changed just as I posted! ***
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Lee
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« Reply #42 on: April 30, 2019, 08:43:16 am »

So effectively, is the RDG submission to the Williams Review is a hybrid of this and this?
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« Reply #43 on: April 30, 2019, 11:51:10 am »

Light Blue Touch paper.....
https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/media-centre/press-releases/2019/469773861-2019-04-30.html

Quote
Rail companies 'call time on short-term fixes' with plan for 'generational system upgrade'

Written on 30 April 2019.

Following months of consultation with passengers, businesses and communities, the Rail Delivery Group has submitted proposals to the Williams Review that would create a generational step-change in accountability and customer focus.

Proposals would replace the current franchising system with TfL-style networks on some mass-commuter routes, more choice and competition for passengers on some long-distance routes, and services running on other routes with tough outcome-based targets and incentives to meet customer needs.

Accountability would be strengthened by putting a new independent national organising body in charge of the whole industry, acting as the glue that binds it together.
New system would be underpinned by the industry’s proposals to deliver an easier to use, better value fares system.

Plan to be taken round the country to consult about how the benefits of the proposals could be maximised.
Britain’s rail companies are proposing a radical alternative to the current franchising system that would better join up the railway, improve accountability for passengers and result in easier, better value fares for all.

The proposals to the government’s rail review, independently chaired by Keith Williams, are informed by conversations with passengers, businesses and communities across the country and set out the building blocks of a future system. They would see a new independent organising body put in charge of the industry, acting as the glue that binds it together so that everyone is working to meet the same customer-centric goals. Sitting outside day-to-day politics, the organising body would drive up accountability and standards, helping to end the blame game when things sometimes do go wrong and giving penalties where rail companies fall short.

With this new organising body in charge, the current one size fits all franchise system would be replaced with different types of services designed to suit the needs of different groups of passengers.

On some mass-commuter routes there would be democratically accountable, TfL-style single-branded concessions, where an integrated transport body is given more devolved control and rail companies are better integrated to deliver services for passengers.

On long-distance routes, where appropriate, multiple operators would compete for passengers’ business, making services far more responsive to their needs. Whether its quicker more comfortable journeys or faster Wi-Fi, demand would shape the market - with passengers able to vote with their feet if they wanted change.
On other routes, where passengers have less choice about how they travel there would be tough targets and incentives for train companies to deliver the outcomes their customers want, instead of today’s tightly specified inputs-based contracts. This would give operators the freedom to innovate to improve, while only being rewarded for good performance.

The new system would be underpinned by an easier to use, better value range of fares, delivered by updating decades old regulations. This could see pay-as-you-go with a price cap introduced on commuter services across the country, giving flexible workers a better deal. It would also enable greater local control over fares in devolved areas and better integration of rail fares with those for other modes of transport.

For long distance routes, updating fares regulations around peak and off-peak travel would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, incentivising more people to travel while spreading demand more evenly across the day - potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services.

With a fully reformed fares system, for the first time passengers would able to benefit from a guarantee that they would pay the best fares for their journey, every time, with no need to split ticket.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail companies, said:
“These proposals call time on short term fixes and set out the once-in-a-generation system upgrade the railway needs if it is to help the country prosper over the next 25 years.

“We want to move forward with a rail system that is more focused on customers, more responsive to local communities and more accountable, letting rail companies deliver what people want in each area of the country and rebuilding trust between the industry and passengers.”

Over the summer, rail companies will continue consulting with passenger groups, business groups and local and regional bodies on how the benefits of the proposals could be maximised.

The proposals would also reinforce rail freight’s central role in delivering for Britain’s economy, highlighting the need to maintain a joined-up, national approach to coordinating the railway in order to ensure the access needed to keep supermarket shelves stacked, the lights on and the economy moving in the global marketplace.

To deliver these ambitious proposals and enable rail to meet the challenges of the next 25 years, a motivated, engaged and happy workforce is key, and the proposals highlight the need to invest in the rewards, skills and resources they need to secure long-term, rewarding careers for this generation and the next.

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General said:
"Business wants an efficient and reliable rail system that delivers for the economy and that means reinvigorating the public private partnership that runs the railway.

“These proposals from the rail companies mark a necessary break from the status quo. They seek to drive innovation through private sector competition while improving accountability to passengers.

“It’s good to see an industry recognising the need for change and making serious proposals that could be part of the solution."
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« Reply #44 on: April 30, 2019, 10:50:08 pm »

The RDG's proposals look like a recipe for chaos to me. 

Where is this strong independent regulator to come from? All that will happen is a new figurehead is appointed and the same DfT civil servants will get moved across. And they are supposed to take whole load of different bids to run individual services and make so coherent pubic service out of it.  This is fantasy and high level - even by present day standards.

So the railways companies get a chance to run riot and make lots of money - just not pay it out in bonuses. 

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