Response to post-pandemic challenges lays foundations for future growth

  • Rail industry is working together to make the changes necessary to respond to different passenger needs after the pandemic and support future growth 
  • New voluntary scheme launched to support train operator employees who choose to leave their current roles
  • Together with unions, rail companies are also looking at how ways of working can be improved to support a more integrated, passenger-focussed railway while providing long-term job security for employees

The rail industry is working to create a sustainable, more passenger-focussed future for the railway, as it addresses the challenges they face after the pandemic and lay the foundations for future growth.  

A key step of this process is the launch of a voluntary severance scheme today as part of a vital set of reforms to create a more modern, reliable and passenger-focussed railway as it builds back from the pandemic and responds to changing travel patterns. The scheme - part of an agreement between rail companies and trades unions signed earlier this year - covers train operator employees and will provide support for those who are ready for a change and would like to volunteer to leave their current jobs. Running over the next three weeks from midday today, eligible employees will be able to get a calculation of the support available to them and then express an interest. As part of the reforms there will also be new opportunities for employees to move to new even more rewarding roles, supported by re-training and re-skilling programmes.  

The industry has been working hard to adapt to a new, post-covid environment – particularly within the commuter market which made up nearly half of all journeys – after passenger numbers dropped to their lowest levels since records began and trends towards changing travel patterns accelerated dramatically. From the outset of the pandemic, rail has received unprecedented levels of taxpayer support to keep vital services running and protect jobs. While the industry is working hard to adapt and bring passengers back through the ‘Let’s Get Back On Track’ marketing campaign and innovations such as new part-time season tickets, hundreds of millions of pounds a month of taxpayer support is still being provided and journeys are not expected to fully recover to 2019 levels for some time. 

With revenue and journeys currently at around 65% of pre-pandemic levels, a number of working groups are being established, involving rail employer and trade union representatives, to review historic working practices so that the railway can respond to changing passenger needs and enable future growth. This includes helping employees to better support passengers at stations and on trains, and providing greater flexibility in ways of working to help passengers during disruption, minimising delays to services.

The railway is the backbone of national connectivity, with recovery from the pandemic offering a once in a generation opportunity to build back around a new, clean economy, while supporting the livelihoods and businesses that depend on it. Train companies are currently working with government to maximise the benefits of the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, boosting innovation on the network, and unlocking a golden age of low carbon internal connectivity across the UK. 

 Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said: 

“The railway can grow and become more customer focussed, with new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people working on it, but to do that we must adapt, and we cannot take more than our fair share from the taxpayer. Working with trade unions and our employees, our aim is to secure even more rewarding long-term careers for those that want them and offer support for those who would like to leave, reshaping the railway to deliver a strong, green recovery across all parts of the country as we rebuild.” 

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Notes to editors

  1. Rail sector working together to secure a sustainable future: In June 2021, Network Rail, UK government contracted train operators and trade unions agreed to continue working together, through the Rail Industry Recovery Group, to support the recovery of the sector from the pandemic and ensure it has a sustainable future. A voluntary severance scheme was set out as part of this agreement. Further detail can be found in the Enabling Framework Agreement.
  2. New voluntary severance scheme for rail employees: The scheme is open to eligible employees working for the employers listed in the Enabling Framework Agreement, except those at Southeastern as the opening of the scheme will be reviewed after it changes ownership on 17 October. The scheme will be open to employees in specific areas as described by their employer. 
  3. Government support for the railway now and in the future: As set out in Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, the government has committed over £12 billion in emergency funding to keep the railways running and 240,000 people in the sector in work. As set out in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Fiscal risks report in July, rail will be competing with health and education spending if changes are not made.
  4. Rail journeys over time, during the pandemic: The government publishes regular statistics on transport use by mode, including on National Rail services.
  5. Rail travel trends and changes to working patterns: Part time working and self-employment grew by a third between 1996 and 2018 according to the Office of National Statistics. The amount of people buying season tickets fell over the last decade, with 45% of all journeys taken using a season ticket in 2009/10, down to 32% in 2019/20. 
  6. Future rail journeys analysis: Analysis conducted by the Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London, undertaken independently via Imperial Consultants, following the first lockdown in the summer of 2020 suggested that rail commuter journeys could still be down 6% by 2025.
  7. Future rail commuting: A survey from Transport Focus suggests that 64% of people will commute two days a week or less in the future. This figure was 18% before the pandemic. 6% of people in the survey says they would commute five or more days a week in the future which is down from 42% before the pandemic.
  8. Boosting customer satisfaction by changing how we work: For example, the introduction of one-team working at London Victoria station, in which colleagues from Network Rail, Southern and Southeastern worked as one team, reduced duplication and led to a 13% increase in customer satisfaction.