26 January 2016
Yesterday saw a positive exchange of ideas between local Green Party members and the South Western Franchise Consultation representatives at Weymouth Station. There was clear recognition by all that recent increase in rail use was a positive step towards reducing air polluting emission from car journeys.
Dr. Jon Orrell and other local Greens consult on rail services
However, questions over the way our railways are best operated and for whose benefit were raised.
Dr. Jon Orrell, Green Party member and rail user expressed a number of concerns over the current rail service “As you may know, we would like to see the end to the Great British Train Robbery, and see private profiteering franchises phased out, returning the railways to public ownership over time” Jon informed Department for Transport rep Jaz. Jon sited the East Coast mainline as a good example of how a publically owned train service had achieved highest passenger satisfaction rates and returned over £1 billion to the Treasury.
However, within the framework of a privatised railway, key considerations for the upcoming Weymouth-Waterloo rail franchise competition included rail fares and speed of service.
“Prices are going up and up, average rail fares have increased 25% in the past 10 years, whilst the speed of the service between Weymouth and Waterloo has not improved for over 100 years highlighted Jon. “This equation does not provide good value for money”.
Passenger safety was another issue raised by local member Russ Parrett, such as concerns for over-crowding on trains and the importance of ‘Keeping the Guard on the Train’. When asked if there were specific criteria for train staffing, the Rail Executive rep suggested there are guidelines but no regulatory necessity. “It’s concerning that a rail company could win the franchise by being the cheapest service provider if they remove guards from the trains (which some rail companies have suggested), but at real cost to passenger safety, security and confidence?” asked Caz Dennett.
The 20-minute long consultation produced several positive ideas from the local Greens, some which Jaz described as “valuable and innovative”. These included improving journey times through an “express service” to London once an hour at required times, measures to prevent further fare rises and increase % profits rail companies re-invest in services and guaranteeing adequate levels of train and station staff.
Overall, the service through to London currently offered by South West Trains was felt to be reasonable. However, the Green Party team advised the service provided by Great Western Railway between Weymouth and Bristol is absurdly slow (average speed of 27 MPH), unacceptably over-crowded and frequently unreliable. This service does not fall into the South Western Franchise Competition, but will be due for bid in the next few years.