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Bring back belief to Britain’s railways

Credit: Adobe

Mark Phillips, Chief Executive Officer

Mark Phillips, Chief Executive Officer | Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB)

3 min read Partner content

A Labour Government will face the unenviable challenge of how to move our railways forward. This means answering the huge questions around how rail adapts to meet the needs of passengers, freight customers, and wider society.

Punctuality. Reliability. Affordability. Accessible, clear fares and ticketing. These are fundamentals for passengers. Improving industrial relations and committing to long term investment in infrastructure are also key to securing rail as a sustainable mode of transport of choice in the future. These are ongoing issues that will need to be tackled. With over 680,000 responses submitted to the consultation on ticket office closures, the idea that rail is not a priority for voters is deluded. Rail is more essential and more popular than some assume.

Beyond what the typical passenger sees when they travel by train, there’s a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes. Our railway is a system. It needs people to work together across traditional industry and political boundaries to enhance safety and performance, while avoiding unnecessary cost and duplication. The good news is that they can, and they do. In the years ahead, we need to rekindle belief in rail, so full advantage can be gained from unlocking the genuine benefits of collaboration.

The new government will inherit the sector reform agenda. Regardless of the scale of change, model or framework, privatised or nationalised, rail will remain a tricky and challenging engineering system relying on different organisations, perspectives and priorities.

A lesson of the last 20 years is the value of independent and objective counsel from organisations like RSSB. We ensure a non-biased and technically-informed view, creating efficiencies and further reducing costs while maintaining safety. This can also save policy makers time and money. For example, technical rail standards post-Brexit can be converted into RSSB’s tried-and-tested standards regime. This would enable the industry to set its own path while retaining all the right independent, expert oversight.

As an industry we need to rebuild the relationship with the workforce. The cornerstone of our railways are its people, but we need to do more to earn the trust required. We are unlikely to improve things through Minimum Service Level agreements. They would likely be ineffective because the safety critical requirements are difficult to achieve and would lead to bigger impacts on health and morale.

Ticket office closures, if they happen, could mean greater exposure of staff to assaults and abuse. Do we genuinely understand the risk? We need to focus more on supporting staff health and wellbeing in safety critical spaces and ensuring rail remains an attractive career choice. Constructive relations with both employers and trade unions are crucial, and RSSB has some great work in the pipeline to enable better insight on safety and health.

We also need to release the potential for better public and private sector collaboration. This means taking full advantage of new technologies like artificial intelligence and improving testing capabilities. RSSB can also support the next government in ensuring sustainability has a clear blueprint. We need to invest in a sustainable way and tackle the huge long-term challenges on carbon, air quality, and climate change – informed by the best available data and research.

RSSB has a history of helping industry and government tackle the too-difficult-pile. Bring back the belief, and we can help bring the answers.

For enquiries or more information please contact Alexi Ozioro, Head of Government Relations and Public Affairs, RSSB:   

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