Interviews

02.03.12

Ready for take off

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2012

Heathrow Express’s new managing director, Keith Greenfield, talks to RTM about attracting more foreign visitors to the UK onto the service, and how the operator benchmarks itself against airline business travel standards rather than other TOCs.

At the end of 2011, Heathrow Express took on a new managing director – Keith Greenfield, who had been working for parent company BAA on the airlines side.

Although Greenfield is a chartered engineer, his background has primarily been in business, including as director of wholesale business at Orange UK from 2000-2009, and airline business development director at Heathrow operator BAA after that.

He has the luxury of taking over at an operator with already-impressive performance figures in the high 90s, to the extent that he can say: “On punctuality and reliability, we are virtually where we need to be.” However, the consequences of the few service failures it does experience are especially serious, he said.

“The difference for us is that a failure can have very serious consequences for our passengers, because of the nature of our service, and the fact they’re picking up, say, a 14-hour flight from Heathrow to the Far East. If we let them down, the consequences are probably more severe than on other rail services.

“So, the absolute number of occasions of, and the seriousness of, any failure is equally as important to me as the public performance measures. It’s also very important that we know how we recover from that, and how Network Rail help us to recover from any failures that do occur.”

While the track and infrastructure between Airport Junction and Heathrow itself is owned by BAA, the company employs Network Rail to maintain and operate it, much as it does with the rest of the national rail network. Between Paddington and Hayes & Harlington, Heathrow Express runs on Network Rail’s own track.

Customer base

The good performance figures mean that Greenfield’s job can be focused on attracting new customers, and he has a definite strategy to do that, concentrating primarily on in-bound visitors to London.

He explained: “The ultimate definition of success for me is more passengers using Heathrow Express. We have a lot of KPIs, and measurements underpinning that, but ultimately that is for me the measure of success that I’d most like to move. There are a number of different levers we have to do that. We already have, by railway standards, a very good product. By airline standards, which is the benchmark we compare ourselves with, we need to catch up a little bit.

“More people need to know about Heathrow Express at a much earlier stage in their travel experience. Over half the people using Heathrow airport – and my previous job was at the airport, working with the airlines – don’t live in the UK. None of those people have cars parked at Heathrow; they are a primary target market for us, the in-bound foreign traveller, many of whom will be travelling into London anyway. We’ve got a great market there, and we need more of them to know about how great Heathrow Express is, before they even take off on their journey.”

Getting people out of the car

The transport mode that the operator is seeking to squeeze is taxis, which Greenfield suggests is the typical alternative option for many in Heathrow Express’ customer base and potential customer base.

But he said: “From a customer perspective, we’re a lot faster and cheaper than a taxi, and don’t emit anything like the carbon that a taxi does. If they’re heading to Southampton, they’re not going to be using Heathrow Express, but if they’re heading into central London, there’s really no reason for them to use a taxi.

“But one challenge we’ve got is that around the world you can probably count on your fingers the number of air-rail services comparable with Heathrow Express that exist. There’s not that many, so the bulk of our foreign passengers aren’t even aware of the possibility of an air-rail express service.

“It’s not in their thoughts because they’ve not seen it in their home countries. We’ve got an awareness challenge there – showing that it’s the fastest option, and a lot more cost-effective than road transport.”

He is proud of the company’s word-of mouth and advocacy successes, in that 96% of its users say they would recommend it to colleagues and friends. Keeping that number high depends on providing a “consistent and exemplary” service, he said.

“When we’re good, we’re very good, but we’ve got to ensure that the service is exemplary every time. We can’t shout loudly about our service unless the service delivery is worthy of that. We’ve got some work to do in making sure it is, at all points.”

Fare deal

As a privately-owned railway and railway operator – it even owns its own rolling stock, unusually for a UK operator – its fares are unregulated.

Its fares may seem on the high side for a 15-minute journey, but Greenfield says that with the myriad of competing transport options its passengers could choose, and the profile of their typical user as a business traveller, the current fares strike the right balance.

Its walk-up fares are £19 single, £34 return, with a small discount for booking online for single fares, and a £5 surcharge on-board. First class fares are £28 single, £52 return, again with an online discount, while it also offers carnet tickets, offering 12 journeys for £198 (£286 first class), valid for one year, and some other discounted options. Airport workers also get discounts.

Greenfield said: “Customers have lots of choice to get to Heathrow; both in rail terms – via Heathrow Connect, the joint venture between us and First Great Western, and also London Underground. They also have buses, coaches and taxis and minicabs. There’s a great deal of choice. Our service is obviously the fastest and most comfortable to central London, and that’s why our fares are where they are, and our investment in our service is very substantial.

“I think the price is about where it needs to be.”

Greenfield said: “Heathrow Express is different to other railways. We were specifically created 14 years ago with the mission to provide a fast, reliable and comfortable link between Heathrow and London, and that remains our aim. That’s a specific purpose, and our passengers have got a specific profile. Nearly all are catching a flight or have just caught one, and the majority are business travellers. Because of that, our product can be tailored very specifically to that group.”

He pledged improvements to the ‘service side’ of the business, meaning staff interaction and passenger information, adding: “Very often customers recommend a product or service not so much by what it does but based on the service they received while using it. We’re in the same position as other rail companies in that respect; our service is only as good as the people delivering it at the front line.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com 

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

Virgin Trains helping homeless people into work through coffee partnership

22/11/2019Virgin Trains helping homeless people into work through coffee partnership

Virgin Trains and Change Please has helped 30 homeless people become employed baristas. The train operator joined forces with Change Please ... more >
Greater Anglia brings in extra support for busy periods

21/11/2019Greater Anglia brings in extra support for busy periods

Office staff at Greater Anglia are being trained to help customers when stations are busy due to big events or disruption. Customer Action T... more >
Greater Anglia announces delays cut by almost half

21/11/2019Greater Anglia announces delays cut by almost half

Between December 2018 and October 2019, delay minutes for its Class 317 commuter trains, which run through Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Esse... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Ye... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

14/11/2019Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

Rail Technology Magazine’s Matt Roberts explains the significant role data can play within the future development of the rail industry. Standing as a cornerstone of the UK transport network, the rail industry is forever striving to innovate and maximise efficiency in all aspects of its work. Data is just one such way of achievi... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >

comment

The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >

rail industry focus

  • 15/11/2019A workforce which reflects society

    Loraine Martins MBE, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Network Rail, joins us in the studio for the third episode of our RTM podcast, talking at...
  • 02/11/2019Monica Barbosa: Women In Rail

    Director of business development and communications at Xrail, Monica Barbosa, thinks women are missing out on exciting opportunities because the...
  • 01/11/2019The dangers of fatigues

    Working long hours, poor health, too little sleep, a demanding job and more can all make us tired and affect our mental and physical performance...
View all News

interviews

Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >