Baker: time to refund passengers forced on to rail replacement buses

Ah, the joy of train travel – you buy your ticket, possibly costing you a small fortune unless booked in advance, only to discover you’re chucked off the train and onto a bus if there are repairs being made to the line. Well, no more, says Norman Baker, the Lib Dems’ shadow transport secretary.

Stormin’ Norm is proposing that the Lib Dems would radically overhaul Network Rail, replacing its executives with a ‘Public Interest Board’ made up of representatives of customer watchdog Passenger Focus, the Local Government Association and independent experts. They would be charged with putting the interests of passengers first, and making the organisation more more accountable and transparent – including refunding passengers who are forced on to rail replacement buses a third of their fare.

Trailing a major speech to the Campaign for Better Transport last night (currently not available online, it seems), Norman said:

Train passengers have been given a raw deal from Network Rail, which is completely unaccountable and pays far too little attention to their needs. It is disappointing that the Government has done nothing to put this right.

“The Liberal Democrats would put passengers at the heart of the rail network by creating a system that puts their interests first. Key to this is reforming Network Rail, as well as reopening railway lines and stations, speeding up the electrification of the network and the delivery of new trains and carriages.”

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  • And the shortfall in income would be met by … ?

    a) increased fares?
    b) bigger subsidy?

    Not necessarily against the idea – just pointing out a consequential issue.

  • So Stormin’ that he has failed to say anything about the huge elephant in the corner of the room of Lib Dem transport policy – the lamentable failure of rail privatisation.

    I have read our policy document on this and it says NOTHING about this huge problem the country faces with its transport system. It is one of the key issues for transport in the UK, yet there is complete silence. Scandalous.

    What we need to say is that when franchises collapse, they will be run in the public sector for at least three years to see if service improves. If it does (which is very likely given the experience of e.g. South Eastern), then it will be permanently taken back into public ownership. We should look at management structures from other European countries like Switzerland where rail runs properly and produce organisational proposals based on those.

    “Lib Dems want Swiss-style railways” would be a positive proposition to put to the electorate and offer a way out of the current ridiculous impasse and collective state of denial.

  • Robert, I suggest you write a policy motion and get your local party to promote it to Conference if you want to change party policy….

  • Robert C

    Agreed. Rail privatisation has been an horribly expensive disaster and we certainly need to put it centre stage of transport policy.

    One thing I would like to see pending a further-reaching reform is that any fines for poor performance or whatever should not be paid by the operating companies out of their funds (which is to say paid by the taxpayer via the subsidy) but as a deduction from their next dividend (or that of their parent company). That would concentrate a few minds.

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