Good afternoon everyone.
It’s a real pleasure to be here today (7 July 2015).
And to see so many of you here - representing just about every part of this great industry.
Because this conference is about the whole railway.
And the things that connect us.
And today I want to talk about the most important of those things.
And how, if we genuinely want to modernise the railway, we must also modernise our relationship with the customer.
Network Rail announcement
To me, good relationships are built on trust.
Successful businesses don’t just make great products.
They also earn the confidence and loyalty of their market.
Transparency breeds trust.
That’s why the week before last I made an announcement about Network Rail’s upgrade programme.
That some schemes would take longer to deliver than hoped.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do.
But it was the right thing to do.
To level with the public, and with all those passengers who are patiently waiting for better services.
This is a service industry.
Yet in the past, fragmentation made it difficult to hold the railway to account.
To many outsiders, the industry seemed like a large, powerful, but slow moving machine.
So when passenger concerns were not addressed, its size and complexity often made the railway seem impersonal.
But those days are over.
Network Rail was reclassified as a public body last year so it could be held to account.
And that’s what last week was about.
Of course most of this infrastructure work should have been completed a long time ago.
We are trying to fit decades of improvements into just a few years.
On a scale never attempted before.
On lines constructed as long ago as the 1830s.
It’s a huge challenge.
Nevertheless, Network Rail’s performance has not been good enough.
So it was important to be open.
Sir Peter Hendy
I know that’s something Sir Peter Hendy agrees with.
And I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Sir Peter to Network Rail.
As London’s Transport Commissioner, and the man who kept London moving during the Olympics, I can’t think of anyone better qualified for the role.
Sir Peter will now develop proposals to ensure that this vital work can be carried out.
And report back to me in the autumn.
So we can get on with the programme.
And deliver what we’ve promised.
What we’re delivering
Let’s not forget there’s an incredible amount of activity taking place right across the railway.
Crossrail and Thameslink.
Fantastic new stations.
Thousands of new carriages coming into service.
New electric trains in the north west.
World class manufacturers building trains here in Britain.
More people travelling by rail than ever before.
And safety levels among the best globally.
These are tremendous achievements.
Which you are delivering.
But if we want to develop a real service culture, we have to look beyond infrastructure.
To offer more than great performance and reliability.
Of course there are many examples of exceptional customer care on the railway today, where the industry goes the extra mile:
the excellent Assisted Travel scheme, for instance, which helps older or disabled passengers use the railway
the team that repaired the line at Dawlish in just 4 weeks after last year’s storms
all the staff who’ve worked with the Samaritans on the suicide prevention programme, and who have used the skills they learnt to actually save lives on the network
These are just a few of the outstanding projects that put a human face on the railway.
And change perceptions.
But I want us to do more.
To focus relentlessly on the customer.
So passengers feel personally valued every time they take the train.
Increasingly, the best way to achieve this is through franchising.
I’m proud of the system today.
Because the first thing I dealt with as Transport Secretary in 2012 was the problem with the West Coast competition.
Then – like today – it was important that we took a hard look at what had gone wrong.
We acted to put it right.
We restructured the franchising team at the department.
We redesigned the programme around the customer, while providing operators with more incentives to invest.
Since then, the system has gone from strength to strength.
So today it is the bedrock of the entire industry, that delivers the passenger improvements that are so critical to the railway’s future, and that has made the rail sector increasingly attractive to investors who are funding the next wave of customer initiatives.
Franchising will continue evolving.
In particular to reflect devolution.
I want the franchises of the future to really listen to the views of local people and customers.
So communities and passengers have a greater stake in the railway.
And in decisions affecting their services.
It is precisely because franchising is in such a good place that we can now envisage its future role.
As the driving force behind a customer-centric railway.
And as we’re talking about rail customers today, let’s not forget freight.
Because freight growth is going to outstrip passenger growth over the next 5 years.
We are working with you to prepare for that.
Providing gauge clearance on strategic routes.
Making room for longer freight trains.
Boosting capacity through schemes like Doncaster North Chord and Ipswich Chord.
For faster journeys in and out of ports like Immingham and Felixstowe.
So the railway is moving emphatically in the right direction.
And to keep on doing that, the customer must come first.
We will work together to make that happen.
Through our investment programme.
Through our Passenger Services team at the department.
When an industry of this size is changing this fast, investing on a scale not seen for over a century, there will be setbacks.
But when they happen, we will be open about them.
We’ll work together to fix them.
And we’ll emerge stronger.
Not just to deliver better services.
But to enhance the customer experience across the whole journey.
That’s what passengers want.
And that’s what they will get.