‘Great British Railways’ get cautious welcome from rail user group

‘Great British Railways’ get cautious welcome from rail user group

by Henry James (May 2021)

LOCAL rail user group, Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association, have given a cautious welcome to a government plan which aims to “prioritise passengers and freight.”

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail was published on May 20 and it sees a new public body set up Great British Railways (GBR), which will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenues, running and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.

The government has promised that GBR will “simplify the current mass of confusing tickets with new flexible season tickets and a significant roll-out of more convenient Pay As You Go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.”

A new GBR website will sell tickets and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a simple system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.

The government added, “there will remain a substantial and often greater role for the private sector.”

The Community Rail Network, has welcomed the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, especially its commitments to make the railways more responsive to communities.

Alan Fantom, from the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA), told the Champion: “It reads like it is a development of good practice and is welcomed. For example Northern Trains would already consult with OPSTA and similar groups over timetable changes and collaboratively we have seen some improvements brought in.

“While the words are good, however, we need to see the action and there are grounds for scepticism – why does it appear that simultaneous to this announcement train operators have been instructed to reduce their services to the base Department for Transport specification and lose those gains?

“OPSTA expects and will seek involvement just as we engage with the rail sector now.

“We have around 300 members and pride ourselves for basing what we do and campaign for on evidence. This is recognised in the rail sector and we have ongoing dialogue and already work with the train operator (Northern Trains Ltd), local transport authorities (Lancs County Council, City Region Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester, and our local authorities.

“It is the passenger and destination data that we have collected and analysed that has underpinned the robust response by the MPs for Southport and West Lancs, local authorities and business groups to the renewed threat to our Southport Manchester Piccadilly service.

“With our long held objective to see the Burscough Curves re-opened and previous work on this, it was pleasing to be asked to prepare the application for funding from the Dept. for Transport for a business case on behalf of Lancashire County Council and four sponsoring MPs.

“These are examples of how a rail user group can make telling and important contributions bringing in an understanding of local travel requirements and hence why OPSTA is keen to be involved.”

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