Research: What’s heading down the tracks? The Future of Passenger Rail in Britain

The Serco Institute has launched a new discussion paper What’s heading down the tracks? The Future of Passenger Rail in Britain. Ahead of the long-awaited UK Government review of passenger rail services, our paper calls for a revolution in the sector that re-focuses policy and practice on delivering what rail-users want.

Alongside an examination of new contracting models and green initiatives, we argue for a new relationship between Government, passengers and rail operators which would see rail-users help shape services and pick who operates them through a system resembling citizens assemblies.

Passenger rail was in the process of transforming before the pandemic took hold. The pace and shape of this change has been significantly impacted by Covid-19. It has left the sector reliant on governments to ensure its survival in the short-term and unsure of the long-term habits of rail users. Government and industry must now collaborate to ensure the railways bounce back strongly.

Amongst the paper’s other 11 recommendations are:  

  • Integrating low-carbon transport solutions

One of the greatest barriers to greater take-up of rail services is the issue of the ‘first/last mile’. Rail journeys often form part of a multi-modal journey, with passengers using cars, buses, or active travel options for their first/last mile. Better integration between rail and other forms of public transport will encourage rail use and the use of other low-carbon methods of transport.  Unlocking the potential of the ‘sharing economy’ should be a particular focus of the future of an integrated transport network. Public bicycle share systems, as well as the trials underway for public scooter share systems, should be better exploited and integrated into the passenger rail network to deliver a low-carbon solution to the first/last mile issue.

  • Re-emphasising the role of passengers in performance metrics

Rail passenger contracts have developed to ensure greater consideration of passenger views through the inclusion of targets based on passenger surveys in franchising performance metrics. However, the current approach has not gone far enough. Passenger satisfaction – such as the Net Promoter Score measure – should play a central role in defining the focus of the metrics used to decide the financial penalties and incentives faced by operators.

  • A new national identity and local brand 

We need a clearer, more cohesive approach to marketing the railway. An overarching identity should be created for the railway, with regional sub-brands for each local network. The local sub-brands would allow for greater focus on messaging appropriate to different areas, for example the commuter market in and around cities, and the leisure market in other areas. Intercity travel, on the other hand, could be given a ‘national’ identity which could neatly dovetail with each of the regional sub-brands.

The analysis and recommendations in this paper are aimed to help deliver a new relationship between government, operators and passengers. This is done with one objective in mind – to ensure a thriving, future-proof rail network with the passenger given a central role in the design and delivery of services.

Read the full report here

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