A guest blog post by Malcolm Brown, CEO of Angel Trains Limited
The last 16 months have shaken the world in so many different ways and tragically affected many lives. As we come out of the darkest parts of the pandemic, we are starting to consider how to resurrect our economy and transition to what the new ‘normal’ will be.
Public transport, and UK Rail in particular, has the opportunity to be at the centre of this recovery; this moment offers a paradigm shift for the country. Campaign for Better Transport has recognised this and is sensibly promoting the use of public transport.
Rail, by all research, offers a safe way to travel whether for leisure, business or commuting. Yes, the balance between these three segments may shift, but none of them will disappear altogether. With each movement in the rebalancing, there is an opportunity. For example, greater work flexibility means a spread of commuters and potentially less densely packed commuter trains at the peak, which in turn affords greater comfort and ambience for the passenger. The growth in ‘staycations’ grows the leisure travel segment, with both new and different routes.
UK rail, supported by Campaign for Better Transport, is well placed to seize these opportunities. It has demonstrated over the last two decades that it can be flexible and adaptable, ultimately, dare I say commercial, responding to passenger needs. Already train operators are adjusting timetables and considering alternative interiors to better reflect customer requirements.
If the crisis of the last year or so has taught us nothing else, it is how essential public transport is. Our key workers rely on it, in a crisis it provides social inclusion and ultimately will support the economic recovery. Frankly public transport is a key part of the nation’s infrastructure. This basic need and the support by government (central or local) makes it attractive for investors - these are the pension and infrastructure funds, long-term, steady return investors. They can see the essential nature of public transport and are willing to invest in improving and growing the network.
UK public transport also provides a very attractive sustainably sound home for these investments. As investors, big and small, become more critically aware of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) they are actively searching for opportunities with strong ESG credentials, and public transport in the UK provides that home. The electrification of the rail route, alternative power sources such as hydrogen, electric buses, growth in cycling, the list goes on, are not just credible but are real in the here and now.
As we come out of this pandemic, our industry should be thinking about what we can do differently to draw more passengers onto our services, use this as a turning point, to capitalise on this global disruptor to make the UK a better place through public transport and a part of the nation’s essential infrastructure.
Malcom Brown is CEO of Angel Trains Limited