The Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson and the Leader of Birmingham City Council and spokesperson for the West Midlands Combined Authority Councillor Ian Ward, have today (Friday 28th February), published their hard-hitting recommendations and findings of their recent Public Hearing (Friday 21st February 2020).
The public hearing was held due to major public safety concerns due to totally unacceptable overcrowded trains and platforms and the poor provision of services currently provided by some West Midlands train operators.
Two of the main recommendations were:
1) That there must be a stronger passenger voice as the public feel abandoned and are frustrated that West Midlands Trains appear not to be listening to them
2) That in its current format, there is no one single body currently holding the train operators to account. They currently feel the mayor is too weak to effectively carry out this function and that the government must enhance the Mayor’s powers to improve the Mayor’s ability to hold West Midlands Trains to account
Extensive evidence to the Public Hearing panel, which included members of the Police and Crime Commissioner Board, was taken from the following representations:
- Nearly 1,500 online responses by rail users
- Personal presentations by local rail users
- A personal presentation by Transport for West Midlands
- Written evidence from West Midlands train operators, Network Rail and the Department of Transport
- Evidence from Guide Dogs for the Blind as a vulnerable passenger group user
- Rail Future West Midlands branch
The Key Findings:
During the public hearing, members of the public had the opportunity to state exactly what they felt were the key problems which were caused by constant train delays and cancellations. These are:
- That West Midlands Trains does not effectively listen to public concerns. A number of passengers felt that they received good customer service from staff on the trains however, there was no effective way to express their concerns directly to West Midlands Trains
- It was not clear which public body is supposed to be holding train operators to account. There does not appear to be a clear relationship between the DfT, WMRE, TfWM and WMCA over who is the main body responsible for holding West Midlands Trains to account when the franchise does not provide the service expected by customers
- The accountability process is not in public view and does not include the public’s voice
- There is poor communication between staff and vulnerable passengers when delays and cancellations occur. Evidence from the vulnerable passenger group highlighted that sometimes staff leave those who require assistance and provide them with no further information
- The rail system is too fragmented. This has resulted in a lack of accountability and the WMCA and Mayor are not strong enough to hold train operators to account for poor service.
These finding are also being investigated by Keith Williams as part of his national review into Britain’s railways.
Throughout the hearing the PCC and Councillor Ward identified other key recommendations for consideration by the DfT, WMCA, WMRE and West Midlands Trains to improve the rail service in the West Midlands. These include:
- The public voice is not being heard. The WMCA, TfWM, WMRE and West Midlands Trains need to establish a way where they can effectively listen to the voice of those who use the railway and learn from what passengers are saying to improve their service
- West Midlands Trains should publish the improvement plan soon along with timescales for implementation
- As of 26/02/2020, after the hearing took place, West Midlands Trains released a statement stating that passengers will be able to take part in a series of Customer Panels. These panels will aim give passengers a voice on what they feel needs to be done to improve the service. The customer voice needs to be strong throughout this process and West Midlands Trains must seriously consider any recommendations that passengers make.
- Improve communication to passengers when delays and cancellations happen
- Publish meeting notes between WMRE, TfWM, WMCA, DfT and the train operators to show the public what the public bodies are doing to effectively hold train operators to account. This would strengthen public confidence in public bodies’ ability to hold train operators to account
- Train operators need to build greater resilience into the timetable to ensure that delays and cancellations do not have a serious impact on rest of the line and other lines
- The government recently commissioned Keith Williams to review the rail service. The government must seriously consider the recommendations from this report when it is published, particularly around tackling the fragmentation of the railways to improve accountability of the train operators
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, said:
“Throughout the hearing, the panel was extremely concerned to learn about ongoing themes such as overcrowding on trains and platforms and constant delays or cancelations of trains. These failures are causing immense stress and frustration to passengers and threaten their safety and wellbeing which is why this hearing was held in the first place.
“We will be presenting this substantial public evidence to the Secretary of State for Transport, Bernadette Kelly Permanent Secretary for the Department for Transport, Andy Street Mayor of the West Midlands, Julian Edwards Managing Director of West Midlands Trains, Phil Whittingham Managing Director of Avanti West Coast and Dave Penny Central Route Director for Network Rail so that together, we can witness rapid improvement in rail services for the hard pressed commuters of the West Midlands.”
The Leader of Birmingham City Council and the Transport spokesperson for the West Midlands Combined Authority, Councillor Ian Ward, said:
“We’re extremely grateful to the rail passengers who took time to give evidence about the failures which currently exist on our rail network.
“What matters now is how the organisations responsible for providing rail services in the region act upon these public findings. Hopefully they will respond positively to the concerns raised by West Midlands rail users, because we need to see sustained improvement.”
A copy of the report is below