Rail service improvements and disruptions

09.03.18

Rail must do more to support local communities, economies and environment, experts warn

The rail industry could do more to support communities, local economies and the environment, a new report has found.

The report, ‘Ensuring a sustainable rail industry,’ produced by think tank Tracks, says that the rail industry could play a greater role in the delivery of sustainable development in a wide variety of policy areas.

However, it argues that the current franchising model pose challenges to sustainable development: “The model was devised at a time of stagnant revenue and falling passenger demand with the objective of reducing net public expenditure on rail rather than delivering wider public policy objectives in the form of sustainable development.

“It is only through successive reforms that wider social, economic and environmental outcomes have been sought.”

It warns that having “only temporary custodianship of trains and stations,” without ownership of tracks, and neighbouring franchises to work with, makes long term planning and investment “problematic.”

In order for progress to be made in promoting rail’s sustainable development role, change is needed, the report says, by developing a Social Return on Investment (SROI) model for the industry and new delivery models for station management.

It also calls for the Department for Transport to take more ownership of sustainable developments a policy area, ensuring that franchise holders are making appropriate progress through devolved structures and local oversight.

Franchise bid scoring should reflect the wider benefits of good rail services, and there should be better data and guidance, the report suggests.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, which enables the Tracks programme, said: “A strong railway brings all kinds of good things with it.

“Well-run rail services help cut carbon, improve air quality, support local economies and can make stations a hub for the community.

“While franchise competitions are rightly judged primarily on timetabling, fleet and performance, the wider benefits from rail are significant and need to be given proper consideration.”

Joseph also explained that the franchise agreements Tracks looked at were heavy with process objectives such as strategies and working groups, and very specific actions such as numbers of cycle racks.

“We need to move beyond this and think about how franchising can actively support objectives like a low carbon economy, integrated public transport, air quality targets and sustainable housing growth,” he continued.

“Building sustainable development into the very fabric of franchises would help deliver better outputs and give a more meaningful picture of what the railways contribute to the country.”

Top image: Gareth Fuller PA images

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