June 9, 2023

Industry urged to help shape future of UK rail

Travel buyers, business travellers and TMCs are being urged to join the conversation to help shape the future of the UK rail industry.

Speaking at an online Rail Forum by American Express GBT, Jac Starr, CEO of Rail Delivery Group, said the business travel industry needs to be part of discussions already taking place ahead of the establishment of Great British Rail under the Williams-Shapps plan for rail.

In May the Rail Delivery Group, set up in 2011 to provide leadership to Britain’s rail industry, would move across to GBR to become the GBR Transition Team (GBRTT).

“We shouldn’t wait for GBR to be created,” she said. “There is a Transition Team in progress so let’s use the mechanisms available to us now, otherwise there could be a hiatus.”

Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, said TMCs were poised and ready and excited to be part of the action.

“From a holistic point of view, there’s a fantastic opportunity as GBR comes into being to work, right from the Government, the DfT, to understand business travel and its impact on rail.

“Until now it’s been really disjointed and fractured and this is a once-in-a-liftetime chance to align everything to give the corporate buyer and the business traveller the product they need from rail and to get railways back, which is in all our interest.”

Rail usage in the UK has returned to 70% of pre-pandemic levels but this is largely from leisure business. Rail business travel is currently only at 30% of post-Covid numbers while commuter numbers are around 50%, according to Suzanne Donnelly, Programme Director of the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT).

Wratten said travellers and buyers need to have the ‘four Ps’ – product, price, punctuality and partnership. 

“TMCs have a huge amount of experience to share as well as wanting to learn. Let’s not lose this opportunity,” he said.

“We need a timetable and a structure and to get the right people involved.”

Earlier in the forum, WPI Economics Director Matthew Oakley said there has been a huge increase in car use and reduction in rail use in the UK during the pandemic.

“If this continues, it would be a big challenge for net zero going forward,” he said.

He outlined the annual impact on the UK if 20% of rail usage switched to car – 291 million more hours of congestion, 1,070,000 more greenhouse gas emissions tonnes and 4,990 million more car miles.