Switch to Swiss-style railway would see fewer but more timely trains

Here’s another example of how events are overtaking the GESP.

It demonstrates how wise the EDDC Strategic Planning Committee were to recommend pulling out from the process, a lot of which is based on ten year old reports.

Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 
Many commuter trains may have to be scrapped in favour of a “Swiss-style” network that relies on fewer but more punctual services, according to a rail watchdog.

Transport Focus said that Britain’s railways would “look different” within the next two years as bosses adapted to a sharp drop in passengers combined with the need to social distance.

In a study published today, it said that half of people who previously classified themselves as regular rail commuters were expecting to work mainly from home for the foreseeable future, with their travel into towns and cities being limited.

Boris Johnson has signalled the end from next month of government advice that people work from home but the research indicated that this would have little impact, with commuting into offices “seen by many to be inefficient in terms of time and cost”.

Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, said the shift would signal the death of annual season tickets, with people refusing to spend thousands of pounds for a five-day pass that largely went unused. Great Western is introducing a three-day part-time season ticket and flexible fares are being trialled on commuter lines in the north and southeast of England.

It is possible that the long-term drop in passengers will mean that regular services, including those operating into London every few minutes at peak times, will no longer be sustainable.

In a briefing, Mr Smith said that Britain’s railway would increasingly mirror those in Switzerland, with trains a “little bit slower” and less frequent but with more carriages being used to maintain social distancing. It would also improve reliability by reducing crowding on the network, he indicated. The Swiss network is held up as one of the best. In the past year 92 per cent of Swiss trains arrived within three minutes of their scheduled time compared with less than 85 per cent in Britain.

Mr Smith said: “The only certainty at the moment is that we are all going to travel less for work than we did in the past. How much less and when; that’s going to be a moot point.”

The government has handed emergency contracts to train companies to run services until the end of September, with the taxpayer subsidising loss-making lines. It is likely that a similar arrangement will be put in place for a further 18 months. Industry sources have told The Times that extensive cuts will probably have to be made to make them sustainable.

Transport Focus, an independent body set up by the government to represent passengers, found that public transport use “remains very low” despite the reopening of the economy. In a survey of 2,000 people, it found that only 3 per cent travelled by train last week. It said that many had “avoided public transport because of safety concerns”, with three in ten saying they “don’t feel safe using public transport”.

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