Rail firms react to new regulations


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The Independent Online

Train companies - heavily criticised over the quality of passenger information during last winter's disruption - have expressed "disappointment" at the rail regulator's decision to tighteninformation regulations.

New obligations on train companies to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information for passengers were announced today by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

The ORR said it would take action against any company that failed to meet its information commitments.

Association of Train Operating Companies chief executive Michael Roberts admitted companies needed to do more.

But he added that millions were being spent to improve things.

He went on: "We are therefore disappointed that despite acknowledging positive improvements to the quality of passenger information during disruption, the ORR is proposing new licence obligations for the rail industry.

"The rail delivery group, recommended by the (Sir Roy) McNulty report (on rail costs), has been set up to strengthen industry leadership in tackling these sorts of issues.

"We hope the Government's upcoming (rail) command paper will support an industry-led approach, especially at a time when ministers are seeking to reduce the burden of red tape on businesses."

Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "The failure to provide information to passengers during last year's winter's disruption made a bad situation worse for so many passengers.

"I want to see the industry working together and taking all reasonable steps to prevent this from happening again.

"As part of that, I want to see train companies working with ORR on how the new licence obligation can best be delivered on the ground, rather than dispute its need.

"The travelling public has a right to see rail services provided by competent operators who are committed to great passenger service.

"Operators who also believe in great passenger service have nothing to fear from the new licence condition."

ORR chief executive Richard Price said: "Rail passengers in Britain today rightly expect to receive reliable information so that they can plan their journeys and make sensible decisions when services are disrupted.

"This is a fundamental requirement, not an optional 'add on', and we need to do all we can to make sure the railways deliver."

He went on: "I welcome the rail industry's leadership in developing its code of practice for improving passenger information.

"The code sets out standards for the provision of consistent information at regular intervals, as well as investing in staff training and communications technology.

"But challenges still remain - only one third of passengers think delays are handled well."

Mr Price continued: "Providing appropriate, accurate and timely information for passengers requires every train company, every station operator, and NR to work consistently and co-operatively together. If one side fails, it can have a significant impact on passengers.

"The new passenger information obligations we propose will allow the regulator to take action against any organisation consistently failing to meet commitments under the industry's own code. Good performers have nothing to fear.

"This greater accountability will ensure that poor performers are not allowed to undermine the industry as a whole."

Mr Price went on: "It is time for passengers to have certainty that, at all times and across the whole network, all parts of the industry are working together to deliver the best information that can reasonably be provided.

"We look forward to working with the rail industry in their push for further improvements on passenger information."

Mr Roberts said: "Significant progress has been made in recent years and the industry is investing millions of pounds to provide better, more consistent information to passengers when there is disruption.

"We know we need to do more. That's why we're working with the rest of the industry to improve, now and over the next few years, how we communicate with passengers, including the introduction of the most up-to-date technology and special training courses for staff."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog, Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers need accurate, consistent and timely information to help them plan their journeys - particularly when services are disrupted.

"Our research has made the ORR and wider rail industry aware of the problem and making passenger information part of a train company's licence should ensure greater focus on gettinginformation right.

"We will continue to work with all parts of the industry to encourage good practice, that should drive up passenger satisfaction with information, particularly during service disruption."