So what’s the big deal about high-speed rail networks in Europe and at home? Rail Europe brings to you the seventh post in a series of interviews from top executives of high-speed trains for an inside scoop. We’re featuring their inspirational words on our blog about every two weeks for the next several months. At the end of each post, we ask a trivia question and you have 24 hours to answer in our blog comments. From all correct answers, one winner will be selected to receive two complimentary rail tickets on the featured rail company’s high-speed network – up to a $599 value. High-Speed Trivia Sweepstakes, see how fast can you answer!
Read on for the seventh post of our series: Michael Roberts, Chief Executive, Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC)
How did your railway get started?
Britain was a pioneer of the railway, with the world’s first passenger service, the Stockton & Darlington Railway, opening in 1825 and covering a 26 mile route. In the decades that followed, rail travel exploded and just 20 years later more than 6,000 miles of track were crisscrossing the country.
Following the advent of the motor car, rail travel slowly declined during the 20th century up until the mid 1990s. At this point, privately-owned franchised train operators took over the running of passenger services, introducing a more commercial approach focused on the needs of passengers. Since then, annual journey numbers have doubled to 1.5 billion and train companies are preparing for a further 400 million journeys a year to be taken by the end of the decade.
The renaissance of the railway in Britain is embodied in the proposed new high speed line that will see passengers covering the 140 miles from London to Birmingham in around 45 minutes, a far cry from the two hours it took the world’s first rail passengers to travel just eight miles almost 200 years ago.
Where do you see the future of your railway 10 years from now?
Train travel has changed dramatically over the last decade to become even more focused on giving passengers the service they expect and deserve. I can only see this trend continuing during the next 10 years.
It’s not so long ago that people were buying a small range of fares mainly from station booking offices. Now, train companies offer a range of fares to suit the needs of different passengers and tickets can be bought online, at ticket machines in stations, over the phone or at a ticket office. The trend towards making it quicker and easier for people to get the right ticket for their journey will continue, as train companies look to smart ticketing and other technology.
The on board service provided to passengers has also improved. The British system, where train companies compete to win the right to run services, and make financial commitments to Government in return, means they are incentivised to attract more passengers. The resulting focus on improving the customer experience has helped overall satisfaction with rail journeys to increase to near record high levels – 500 million more journeys are now rated ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ compared to in 1999. Over the next decade, train companies will continue to improve the on board experience as they compete to win new customers and encourage people to choose train travel over other forms of transport.
What can you say to convince an American, Canadian, Mexican to take a ride on one of your trains?
Both satisfaction and punctuality on Britain’s railway are at near record highs. Running the railway as a business means train companies here are focused on providing their passengers with the best possible customer service, on modern trains that now run more frequently to many of Britain’s biggest cities. By booking in advance, travelers coming from America, Canada and Mexico can benefit from some of the cheapest fares and best service in Europe.