What are our railways here for?

Simon Danczuk, business consultant and former MP, shares his thoughts on the recent DIB London dinner with Anit Chandarana, Lead Director for the Great British Railways Transition Team, and Lord Andrew Adonis, former Secretary of State for Transport.
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Words: Simon Danczuk

Anit has a tough job. The railways are something the British like to complain about – justifiably on occasion. And now the Government are creating something called Great British Railways (GBR) – an overarching body which will take over from Network Rail, running infrastructure and commissioning services.

We learnt that this has come about on the back of the Williams Rail Review which was established in September 2018 to look at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered.

What I particularly liked about Anit’s approach – and it’s important if GBR is going to work – was that he was taking a fresh perspective. Instead of the usual engineer’s view, all too common in transport, he wanted to know what people, customers, wanted.

He asked, “What are our railways here for?” He said, “Connecting people is what’s important…” and that people cared most about getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ efficiently, so that they could spend more time with family.

He said the overall aim of GBR was to “bring the industry back together again” but that would need a decentralised model. He made the point that “customers need to be at the heart of what we do.”

Lord Adonis’s perspective was just as engaging. As a proponent for large infrastructure schemes, he celebrated the recent opening of the Elizabeth Line in London, pressed the case for HS2, and reminded us that many countries were way ahead of us with these types of projects, not least Japan, who are now moving on to magnetic trains, which travel even faster.

He went on to point out that we have less train electrification than any other major European country, and that needed to change, and that HS2 was about capacity with the new line freeing up existing lines for more local rail travel and haulage.

As well as the detailed discussion on transport, there was an excellent conversation about mental health, initially led by Anit sharing his experiences and perspectives. Trevor Steven, the former professional footballer, also talked about how himself and Causeway (the software management company) are working to reduce mental health problems in the construction industry, and others in the room shared their knowledge and experiences. With great food and service provided by M Restaurant, interesting discussion and fascinating guests, the evening was an excellent occasion, and one I was pleased not to have missed.

Simon Danczuk

Simon Danczuk

Simon Christopher Danczuk is a British author and former Member of Parliament who represented the constituency of Rochdale between 2010 and 2017. He has co-written two books, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith and Scandal at Dolphin Square.
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