Rail regulator demands improvements


Rail regulators today got tough with train companies over the securing of better travel information for passengers.

Train companies will have until March 1 to agree to new information obligations or face being referred to the Competition Commission, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said.

The ORR warned that "important principles" in the train companies' code of practice on information "must not be watered down".

The delay in agreement over information obligations "does not serve the interests of passengers" and the issue "could have been resolved earlier", ORR chief executive Richard Price said in a letter to train and station operators.

The ORR issued its March 1 deadline after train operators asked for more time to prepare for new information obligations as part of operators' licensing conditions.

Mr Price told operators today that he was "disappointed" that operators were not now comfortable that the current code of practice on passenger information was "fit for purpose as a yardstick against which to judge compliance with the new licence condition".

He went on: ""This is disappointing. Most operators argued previously that the Association of Train Operating Companies' (Atoc) code was a good basis on which to judge the operators' delivery of improved passenger information, which you would moreover use as the basis for 'holding each other to account'.

"So to learn now that the code is not, in your view, fit for purpose is frustrating and reinforces our concerns that self-regulation by industry will not deliver the benefits to passengers that accountability to the regulator will provide."

Train companies were heavily criticised over the quality of passenger information during the 2010/11 winter disruption.

There was also criticism of train companies by Transport Secretary Justine Greening in December 2011 when Atoc said it was disappointed that the ORR was proposing new licence obligations for the rail industry.

Ms Greening said she wanted train companies to work with the ORR on the new obligation "rather than dispute its need".

An Atoc spokesman said: "Significant amounts of time and money have been invested in providing better, more consistent information for passengers - both before and during consultation on the ORR's proposals. But we know that more needs to be done, which is why operators are working with the rest of the industry to improve things even further.

"Licensing is a significant and permanent step, so it is vital that we get it right. Train companies have said for some time that it is vital to ensure the code of practice is fit for purpose under this new approach. We believe a month's extension is necessary if we are to succeed in getting this right in a way that will benefit passengers and taxpayers."

Ms Greening said tonight: "The Office of Rail Regulation is absolutely right to take action to protect the interests of passengers during periods of disruption on the railway, so this delay is disappointing.

"Reliable and up-to-date information is vital if passengers are to sensibly plan and make their journeys, so I hope train operators keep to this new date.

"I want to see train operating companies working closely and constructively with the ORR on how the new licence obligation can best be delivered on the ground.

"Operators who believe in great passenger service should welcome the new licence condition and the travelling public has a right to see rail services provided by competent operators, committed to great passenger service."