Talks begin over new passenger contracts, but RMT protests

Talks begin over new passenger contracts, but RMT protests

Private sector transport operators were invited to a market engagement exercise on Thursday by the Department for Transport as a first step towards awarding Passenger Service Contracts, while the Rail Delivery Group said travel is recovering in the wake of the Covid lockdowns, although travelling to work by train continues to be much less popular than it was. In the face of calls for a greater degree of government control, the RDG warned that ‘squeezing out’ the private sector will ‘stifle innovation’ and leave a funding ‘black hole’. Meanwhile, the RMT held a demonstration outside the DfT offices in London, and said there must be no more talk of cuts, because the latest travel figures and polls show that confidence in rail is returning to 2019 levels.

Leisure travel by train has bounced back strongly to 90 per cent of its former total, and Network Rail has issued its traditional advice to visitors to the popular Birmingham Christmas market not to leave it too late before starting for home, because later evening trains are expected to be very crowded. But commuter business has only partly recovered, and on average stands at 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, in spite of the introduction of ‘part time’ season tickets. In London and the south east, which is by far the largest commuting area in the country, the figure is just 41 per cent, which suggests only two out of five commuters have resumed their old habits. The commuting figure around other cities is higher, at 54 per cent. The Rail Delivery Group said the changing emphasis means that the railway is now carrying more leisure travellers, at 55 per cent of all journeys, compared with 33 per cent before Covid.