How critical is the return of passengers and busy trains for railway jobs?

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Philip

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As we're now on the brink of the easing of restrictions and unlimited travel domestically; along with non-essential shops, businesses and hospitality opening soon, I am wondering just how important is a substantial pick-up in numbers and how soon does it need to happen, in relation to job security in the railway industry?

We keep hearing these figures about the railway being £7 million in debt from last year (about £9 million spent and only £2 million in revenue). A railway job has been traditionally thought of as a job for life providing you don't do anything that is considered gross misconduct. The unions are still there to fight for jobs and there have been questions about railway job security for many years, more so since the McNulty report, but of little substance away from TfL. What are your thoughts about railway job security in relation to the hopeful pick up in passenger numbers; by how much and how soon do numbers need to pick up to keep the employment foundations strong? Taking into account mobile technology in relation to retail; DOO with guards; self dispatch with platform staff; computers with signalling etc.

There can be different views and opinions, and it can be about any kind of railway job...traincrew, booking office/retail, platform, cleaners, revenue protection, HR, accounts, customer services, control, planning etc.
 
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SynthD

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That’s more of a political question than something railway specific. It’s mostly a case of public perception of the bounce back and public transports relative position. Perception can be led.
 

Watershed

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We keep hearing these figures about the railway being £7 million in debt from last year (about £9 million spent and only £2 million in revenue
Replace million with billion and that's rather nearer to the actual figures!

Given the current government messaging regarding public transport (it was only 2 months ago that the 'Coronavirus takes the train too' adverts came out), I can't see any scenario in which passenger numbers, and crucially revenue, recover sufficiently quickly as to render this a moot issue.
 

DorkingMain

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Replace million with billion and that's rather nearer to the actual figures!

Given the current government messaging regarding public transport (it was only 2 months ago that the 'Coronavirus takes the train too' adverts came out), I can't see any scenario in which passenger numbers, and crucially revenue, recover sufficiently quickly as to render this a moot issue.
Experience last summer suggests it won't take much for passenger numbers to recover pretty quickly. We were running trains absolutely full to the brim (particularly down to the coast).

The railway might have to stop relying on long-distance commuter season tickets, but I don't think we're going to see drops in passenger numbers anywhere near the level some people believe.
 

squizzler

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Is seems the railways have a great opportunity to reach new markets to replace the commuter market, which I think will be missed about as much as the thermal power station coal traffic which underpinned the rail freight industry a decade ago. I keep banging on about it but the reform of the fares system will enable train travel to be sold in completely different ways and give travellers confidence their trains will not be unhygienically busy.

New ways of dong things will indeed allow staff efficiencies to be made. But most of these efficiencies are likely to be made through natural retirement of staff who reach that age since technological advancements don't affect society as quickly as many gadget freaks like to believe.
 

Robertj21a

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Experience last summer suggests it won't take much for passenger numbers to recover pretty quickly. We were running trains absolutely full to the brim (particularly down to the coast).

The railway might have to stop relying on long-distance commuter season tickets, but I don't think we're going to see drops in passenger numbers anywhere near the level some people believe.
I would have thought they would lose quite a lot of commuter season tickets (particularly to London) - not just long distance.
 

Starmill

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To put it bluntly, a speedy return of Saturday shoppers and people going to the beach doesn't do much for the bottom line. Business travellers yield highly, though they can be quite fickle as they have the resources to get hold of alternatives at short notice, such as company cars, taxis, and last-minute flight tickets. Daily commuters, especially those who are buying longer than monthly season tickets, are the opposite. Usually low yield but very loyal indeed - they've got to get to work and if they buy that Season the revenue is very visible into the future. Leisure travellers are the worst of both worlds. They don't want to pay too much because they always have the option of staying at home, they'll be very much influenced by the uncontrollable weather in the case of things like seaside holidays and days out, and if the train isn't particularly conveniently timed or appears not to be of very good quality then they will not be compelled to return. Overwhelmingly they're also able to get discounts. Then there's an "other" category which is very small and will probably turn up come what may, including people travelling by rail for environmental reasons, staff and rail enthusiasts.
 

Watershed

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Experience last summer suggests it won't take much for passenger numbers to recover pretty quickly.
Passenger numbers peaked at around 40% of pre-Covid right at the start of September.

However, revenue is the main consideration for the Treasury and thus the government. You can be sure it won't have been as high as 40%, as lot of the recovery was in the lower revenue leisure market.

The railway might have to stop relying on long-distance commuter season tickets, but I don't think we're going to see drops in passenger numbers anywhere near the level some people believe
Long-distance commuter season tickets don't really generate a lot of revenue per passenger-km - in fact they tend to be more heavily subsidised than short-distance commuters. Commuter revenue has historically tended to be a consistent 'base', but clearly this is no longer the case.

It's long-distance business travellers using Anytime (or expensive Advance) tickets that really pay the bills. They have been largely absent from the railways over the last year - even during last summer's "recovery". That brings about a rather problematic hole in the railways' finances.
 

RHolmes

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Daily commuters aren’t the source of money for many TOCs outside of London and the South East. At my TOC we were taught during training that most of the income (around 80%) comes from passengers travelling for leisure, largely on advances.
 

yorksrob

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There will be a return of the 2/3 day commuters. It won't be as big a base, but it will be a base.

Daily commuters aren’t the source of money for many TOCs outside of London and the South East. At my TOC we were taught during training that most of the income (around 80%) comes from passengers travelling for leisure, largely on advances.

Is that an IC or a regional TOC ?
 

JonathanH

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There will be a return of the 2/3 day commuters. It won't be as big a base, but it will be a base.
They might yield the same amount as season ticket commuters if they have to buy full price tickets. The railway has a battle to have to try to keep daily fares high and not offer discounted part-time seasons.

While it is is massive generalisation, it must be remembered that many of those who have to travel five (or six) days a week are exactly the 'key workers' who are least able to afford higher fares. Many of those who have the option to work from home and are clamouring for cheaper flexible season tickets are those who are able to afford higher fares. The railway must do all it can not to pander to the latter, but politically it will be difficult.

In terms of the question for this thread, it depends on the patience of the Treasury as to when it decides it has paid enough to maintain capacity in the railway.
 
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yorksrob

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They might yield the same amount as season ticket commuters if they have to buy full price tickets. The railway has a battle to have to try to keep daily fares high and not offer discounted part-time seasons.

While it is is massive generalisation, it must be remembered that many of those who have to travel five (or six) days a week are exactly the 'key workers' who are least able to afford higher fares. Many of those who have the option to work from home and are clamouring for cheaper flexible season tickets are those who are able to afford higher fares. The railway must do all it can not to pander to the latter, but politically it will be difficult.

There does need to be a bit of a sweetner to entice those people back. A flexible season/carnet seems to be the best option to me.

From a personal point of view, between lockdowns I replaced my WY metrocard with point to point standard returns for the two days a week I was coming in, but that's a fairly cheap journey anyway compared to some commutes.
 

43096

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Many of those who have the option to work from home and are clamouring for cheaper flexible season tickets are those who are able to afford higher fares. The railway must do all it can not to pander to the latter, but politically it will be difficult.
In which case - as they have something of an option now to work from home - the 2/3 days a week people will become 1/2 days per week with the attendant revenue loss.
 

JonathanH

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In which case - as they have something of an option now to work from home - the 2/3 days a week people will become 1/2 days per week with the attendant revenue loss.
I'm not sure. That will depend on what an individual employer requires. If the employer demands attendance for at least three days, the employee will have to pay the fares. I appreciate that some will offer more flexibility.
 

Bishopstone

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The Government persist in making rail travel more expensive in real terms, whilst motoring gets relatively cheaper.

Meanwhile, as the world changes at pace, the rail unions don’t have a reputation for flexibility and pragmatism in the face of change.

These aren’t favourable starting points in the rail recovery, and something will have to give.
 

Starmill

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I'm not sure. That will depend on what an individual employer requires. If the employer demands attendance for at least three days, the employee will have to pay the fares. I appreciate that some will offer more flexibility.
Of course, in the long term, if they have to pay more (as rates are going up at faster than inflation on Anytime Day Returns) for 2 or 3 days a week than they used to for 4 or 5 days a week (typically long term Season), they will be so unhappy that they will place greater emphasis on changing things i.e. eventually they will move jobs or move home so they need not travel any more. People aren't going to do a long commute by train where the marginal pay they can earn from working in the place they commute to vs working locally is all but taken up by the marginal cost of getting there.
 

northernchris

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There does need to be a bit of a sweetner to entice those people back. A flexible season/carnet seems to be the best option to me.

From a personal point of view, between lockdowns I replaced my WY metrocard with point to point standard returns for the two days a week I was coming in, but that's a fairly cheap journey anyway compared to some commutes.

I discovered yesterday that Metro are now offering all day tickets for bus and train in West Yorkshire with them available for each of the rail zones like the MCard. Interestingly though they only seem to be available on the app, but it's definitely a step in the right direction for those who will be commuting 2 or 3 times a week
 

yorksrob

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I discovered yesterday that Metro are now offering all day tickets for bus and train in West Yorkshire with them available for each of the rail zones like the MCard. Interestingly though they only seem to be available on the app, but it's definitely a step in the right direction for those who will be commuting 2 or 3 times a week

That is definitely a step forward (although I do think they should be available in paper format).
 

Bald Rick

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Experience last summer suggests it won't take much for passenger numbers to recover pretty quickly. We were running trains absolutely full to the brim (particularly down to the coast).

On a handful of routes, on a handful of occasions. Meanwhile peak services in to Waterloo, Liverpool St, etc etc were at a rather lower level than normal.

The railway might have to stop relying on long-distance commuter season tickets, but I don't think we're going to see drops in passenger numbers anywhere near the level some people believe.

It’s revenue that’s important, rather than passenger numbers specifically.


To answer the OP - Yes, very.
 

bramling

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To put it bluntly, a speedy return of Saturday shoppers and people going to the beach doesn't do much for the bottom line. Business travellers yield highly, though they can be quite fickle as they have the resources to get hold of alternatives at short notice, such as company cars, taxis, and last-minute flight tickets. Daily commuters, especially those who are buying longer than monthly season tickets, are the opposite. Usually low yield but very loyal indeed - they've got to get to work and if they buy that Season the revenue is very visible into the future. Leisure travellers are the worst of both worlds. They don't want to pay too much because they always have the option of staying at home, they'll be very much influenced by the uncontrollable weather in the case of things like seaside holidays and days out, and if the train isn't particularly conveniently timed or appears not to be of very good quality then they will not be compelled to return. Overwhelmingly they're also able to get discounts. Then there's an "other" category which is very small and will probably turn up come what may, including people travelling by rail for environmental reasons, staff and rail enthusiasts.

I agree with this. Chasing the leisure market is the wrong way to go, as it’s too volatile.

I’m sure a lot of the commuter market will return in time, just with Mondays and Fridays being quieter than hitherto, and with the edge off the high peak. The latter probably shouldn’t be a major problem at all, in some ways a blessing as it should avoid a lot of costly infrastructure work.
 

Tw99

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Lots of news about big companies permanently reducing their office space as they've found people can work effectively enough from home . I think the railway can pretty much forget commuting for city based office workers ever going back to previous levels. Business travel likewise, Zoom and the like will mop up a lot of meetings that previously required travel.
 

47271

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I posted this in the Scotrail conductors dispute thread, but I'll use myself as an example of how a very high mileage business traveller might respond to things coming back to normal.

Pre Covid I probably covered around 70k miles per year by rail. That stopped almost entirely a year ago, and in the intervening period I dropped down to little more than seven or eight return journeys within Scotland, and I haven't been on a train since mid December.

My industry is poised for a significant comeback as soon as it's allowed to, and at that point I expect my travel to recover very quickly and throughout the UK.

However, if the railway decides that it's going to operate to suit itself, or worse suit its staff through industrial action, or price itself out of the business market, then my mileage will shift itself onto other modes very quickly.

To work for me, we need a route network, frequency and reliability that doesn't drop much below 2019 levels. I need a mix of First and Standard Class fares where I can choose what's right for the journey that I need to make at the time. What'll drive me away is crowded services where I can't sit down at a table and get on with my work, huge gaps in the timetable, hit and miss reliability, and uncompetitive pricing.

Over to those of you on the inside...
 

WesternBiker

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Lots of news about big companies permanently reducing their office space as they've found people can work effectively enough from home . I think the railway can pretty much forget commuting for city based office workers ever going back to previous levels. Business travel likewise, Zoom and the like will mop up a lot of meetings that previously required travel.
I agree: my workplace (400 staff) in Westminster used to have 5% of staff working from home: WFH has been so effective, that we're being told the new normal, from whenever we return, will be a 3-day office week and 2 days WFH, and different teams will WFH on different days, to free up office capacity permanently. There will be flexibility for individuals - but the direction of travel is pretty clear.

We also won't expect colleagues from out of London to attend every meeting in person, as they did before. The flexibility to arrange meetings in busy diaries without having to worry about travel time has been a huge bonus. So the expectation is half as many face-to-face meetings (accepting not everything can be done effectively remotely).

I'm sure that won't be unique. As with retail, it has speeded up change that was already on the way. It'll be interesting to see how the London TOCs respond to changed demand.
 

Horizon22

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Commuting can take a hit to some extent, as we can stop running peak extras and extending trains at rush hour which wasn't very economic anyway. Even if commuter numbers dropped about 25-30% I read that this would only take us back to numbers seen in 2010 which I think we can agree wasn't exactly quiet. Some of this is outside of the railway's control if central city bases close and hybrid working intensifies.

Business travellers were a core component that might be trickier to replace in this new world of remote meetings and hybrid working and may never return to anywhere near the same levels. Why would you spend hundreds to attend a meeting in London.

A growth of leisure travel is important, but that is going to require a pivot from the railway that has not in recent times be the focus of attention. It won't make up everything though.

So it will be tricky, but not impossible to achieve. It is fundamentally important although most senior management vibes seen to recognise this situation too. I also believe it won't be an even recovery.; somewhere like Avanti will do better than Southeastern.

Edit: Anyway regarding jobs if losses aren't recouped it will probably be recruitment freezes first more than anything - many train crew depots are under establishment already with a backlog but with less peak trains, there will be fewer diagrams that need covering. The railway already relies on overtime for drivers / guards, so not much will change. Control will still be needed as even with a reduced service, you can still have a fatality, or a major signal outage. Cleaners - well they've shown their worth this past year. It's likely to be people in roles such as projects that get cut and revenue positions (especially ticket offices if online trends continue) that might be most at risk.
 
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Jozhua

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I think Horizon22's estimate of a 30-ish% drop in commuters is probably accurate.

Remember, lots of people don't have office jobs, working in retail, services and events, other industries that have been pretty much closed throughout lockdown.

Then there's education - schools, colleges, universities and the people working at them. - once remote learning winds down, a decent amount will come back.

I think its worth making sure the railways do widen their focus beyond 9-5 office workers in city centres, although UK railways are certainly not the worst for this - many US commuter systems soley focus on this.

My personal opinion is that services may be better spread out earlier into AM/PM and weekend services should be improved. This captures more people doing shift work, leasure activities, etc.

It is down to the Treasury wether things go to pot or not. I think it would be silly to reduce services before giving it a couple of years to assess true "post"-covid trends. 2023 will probably be the earliest we can reassess trends and figure out what the most suitable shape for the railways should be.

Once restrictions are truly lifted, I expect to see the railways running at 80-90% again. It may be worth improving Sunday service provision if there is an increase in leasure travel.
 

Starmill

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Of course, if we're able to cut costs in a substantial way, we're also able to use the same amount of money to run more trains.
 

anthony263

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In south wales I think improvements to off peak services will be needed pre covid we had atw stopping a lot of the Milford Haven/Carmarthen to Manchester services at Pyle especially on Saturdays which did generate a lot of passengers from Porthcawl and surrounding area as before then we only had the 2 hourly swanline service off peak.

I think we'll find that if swanline gets an hourly frequency I think you'll find it will generate a lot of new custom especially local stations into swansea such as Skewen and Llansamlet

The railway is going to have to buck up its marketing ideas maybe flyers to local residents in the area surrounding stations offering discounts or a free ticket offering one free return journey like they did after Hatfield
 

Wyrleybart

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Heard a rumour that the summer holidaymaker trains to Newquay and Torbay are unlikely to operate in 2021, despite the restrictions on taking holidays abroad. What does this say about DfT being in charge of TOC decision making ? Clearly that the leisure market is too expensive, or is it too awkward to pursue ?
So with the commuter market slump, but DfT apparently unwilling to chase other options, that tells me all I need to know about the future.
 

unlevel42

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The Government has estimated future usage of (mainly commuter) services and believes that the bounce back in demand will be very low.
The Government needs to stem the £billion a month loss/subsidy.
The plan the Government will be delayed until after May elections.
There will be significant cuts in commuter services.
 

Horizon22

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Heard a rumour that the summer holidaymaker trains to Newquay and Torbay are unlikely to operate in 2021, despite the restrictions on taking holidays abroad. What does this say about DfT being in charge of TOC decision making ? Clearly that the leisure market is too expensive, or is it too awkward to pursue ?
So with the commuter market slump, but DfT apparently unwilling to chase other options, that tells me all I need to know about the future.

This will primarily be down to driver competency (and lack thereof) due to an inability to keep up route cards after training has ground to a halt
 
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