UK Rail Summit: Managing Disruption and Restoring Passenger Confidence

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Adapting to change was a major topic at Transport Times’s recent UK Rail Summit, during which a number of industry experts came together to share insights relating to current challenges and how to overcome the impacts of Covid-19.

Attendees heard how, following decades of sustained growth and challenges relating to delivering the capacity to meet rising demand, Covid-19 has turned the industry on its head. In some regions ridership fell as low as 5% of pre-pandemic levels, and while the average has since recovered to around 30%, huge challenges remain.

One interesting observation related to the relatively high level of leisure travel (in contrast with commuting, which remains extremely low), and a suggestion that the country has in some ways returned to the 1950s, with people travelling by train to UK holiday and tourist destinations.

With the present circumstances outlined, the summit’s main theme related to the rebuilding of passenger confidence, and tactics for encouraging people to travel by rail, whether for business or pleasure.

There was a strong sense that operators must be more flexible with timetables, ensuring the services are in-line with current levels of demand. One extra challenge here relates to demand and ridership patterns that are now varying across all areas of the UK, especially in light of local lockdowns and varying degrees of public confidence.

An obvious conclusion to take from the summit is that if we accept that the modern world is less certain, then flexibility and speed of adaptation are now even more essential than before.

As an industry our collective challenge is to entice people back. We must show them that trains are not only clean and safe – we must also deliver reliable and completely efficient services, even in the face of unprecedented disruption.

Today’s planners are therefore more important than ever before, but they cannot do their essential work alone. Fortunately, they have never been better supported in terms of available tools.

Signature Rail’s range of technology solutions support planners from long-term demand simulation through to timetable creation and on-the-day changes. We help train operators to create flexible new timetables ready to be implemented in as little as a day, providing the resilience, robustness and stability required to manage disruption and ensure passengers can travel in confidence.

While Covid-19 has certainly sent a shockwave through our industry, it has also accelerated trends we have been seeing for some time. We believe that by working together we can not only ensure the rail sector recovers from this difficult period; by improving the way we manage disruption we could actually emerge from this pandemic better equipped to face the challenges ahead.

Get in touch for more information on managing disruption and ensuring resilience in rail planning

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