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Charity urges Government's Rail Review: don't squander this chance for a better railway

29 April 2019

Evidence published today by transport charity Campaign for Better Transport raises concerns that the Government’s review of the railways could miss its chance to maximise the social, economic and environmental benefits of rail. The research shows that the railway isn't serving all parts of society or reducing its environmental impacts as effectively as it must; at present the Review is not adequately addressing these issues.

The research undertaken by the charity, along with industry consultants Teneo, has identified concerns with the direction of the Rail Review. If the Review focuses too narrowly on operational issues with the railway it will be unlikely to lead to the ambitious recommendations for reform that passengers and the economy need. The charity urged the Government’s Rail Review to ensure that its evidence base and objectives are clearer before progressing onto the industry proposals for new structures.
The research identified a number of barriers to achieving rail’s economic, social and environmental objectives, which are not currently adequately considered by the Review:

  • Rail travel is predominately used by higher income groups, with journeys centred on travel-to-work in south east England
  • Less than half (44 per cent) of the population is within easy walking distance of a station and relatively few new developments are within 20 minutes of the rail network
  • Whilst most people use the railways for leisure trips, opportunities to capitalise on this market are being missed.


  • Rail fares have become more unaffordable since 2008 as fares have risen faster than disposable incomes, pricing people on lower incomes off the railways and contributing to ‘transport poverty’
  • The rail network has been slow to adjust to changing travel and working patterns 
  • There are major variations in accessibility, service quality, usage and social benefit between regions and operators
  • Growth in passenger numbers has been strong, but very uneven, embedded by a one-size fits all fares policy and investments, which have focused on the South East


  • Rail is better for the environment than cars, taxis and aviation
  • Greater use of the railway has helped reduce carbon emissions, but the cancellation of electrification schemes has resulted in a stagnation of environmental advances
  • The adoption of electric vehicles on the roads is eroding rail’s relative greenness and this will only accelerate if rail emissions are not reduced
  • Rail’s performance on air pollutants is less good and when compared to road technology, reducing pollutants has been slow. 

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It’s clear from our research that the railways have the potential to deliver huge economic, social and environmental benefits to communities and the country as a whole. Passengers want and deserve a railway that delivers value for money and is run effectively; communities deserve a rail network that delivers access to jobs and opportunities; and the country deserves a rail network that provides economic and environmental benefits.
“The Government’s Rail Review must look at not just how to run the railways, but what kind of railway we want for the future so any reforms are designed to ensure benefits reach all parts of society. Alongside this, there must be a fundamental overhaul of the fares and ticketing system, including how fare rises are set.”
Matt Lovering, Senior Managing Director and Head of Transport at Teneo, said: "The railway is one of the country's great social and economic assets. But the country - and the role that the rail network plays within it - has changed immeasurably since the railways were privatised. The difficulties the rail industry is currently facing demonstrate that it is struggling to respond to those changes. As a result, there is a growing consensus that the rail industry in the UK needs to change, and that the structure of the last 25 years that has helped transform the railways since privatisation needs radical reform. 
"The Williams Review offers the framework to deliver that reform. But if that framework is to endure, it is essential that there is an agreement on the goals the rail network needs to achieve for passengers, businesses and communities and a clear understanding of the current and emerging barriers to achieving those outcomes. 
"We are delighted to have worked with Campaign for Better Transport to prepare this report to inform the debate around the goals and challenges, and highlight the key issues that can form the basis of a forthcoming restructuring of the industry."
The research has been published by Campaign for Better Transport as part of its submission to the Williams Rail Review Call for Evidence on objectives and assessment criteria. 
Key consumer research findings:

  • More than two thirds (71 per cent) of people travel by train (excluding underground/ metro)
  • More than half (54 per cent) use the trains primarily for leisure trips
  • Two thirds (67 per cent) say ticket prices are their biggest concern
  • Almost half also cite disruption, delays and punctuality (49 per cent) and overcrowding (45 per cent) as concerns
  • Almost half of people (45 per cent) see the railway’s primary aim as providing an alternative to the car


For further information please contact the press office on 020 3746 2235 or communications@bettertransport.org.uk

Notes to Editors

1. Read Campaign for Better Transport's Response to Williams Rail Review Call for Evidence.
2. The Williams Rail Review Call for Evidence on objectives and assessment criteria can be found here
3. Survey was carried out by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Campaign for Better Transport. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,080 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th and 14th February 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Full results are available here.
4. Teneo is a global advisory firm, working with the CEOs and leaders of the world’s largest and most complex companies. 
5. Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).

Social media image: Lars Plougmann on Flickr

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