The paradox of growth – challenges ahead for rail companies’ reputations

A painful paradox lies at the heart of the Government’s rail policy – and discussions at a recent Bell Pottinger round-table with transport industry leaders made it clear that it is an anomaly that is tarnishing some of the biggest brands in the sector.

The more people travel by train, the worse the experience becomes for those who catch the train to work, shop or play. In other words, success in convincing more people to leave the car at home is affecting the quality and reliability of their journey and undermining confidence in the system.

The very record passenger numbers hailed by ministers and business leaders mean that the service many endure is now intolerable. Passengers no longer trust their operator to deliver them on time and in comfort.

Paul Maynard, the Rail Minister, is all too aware of this. Since assuming responsibility for the railways in July, Mr Maynard has made it his priority to convince train companies, regulators and officials to put passengers at the heart of everything they do. The minister is under no illusion that the more this vision comes to pass, the more people will travel and the harder it will become for operators to preserve the trust of their passengers.

But it would be a clear sign of defeat if the Government set its sights on declining ridership in the future.

The way in which operators accommodate many million more passengers while also preserving trust in the network is perhaps the railway’s greatest challenge.

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