Improve railway stations
Passenger railways have been around for 170 years. Much of the original infrastructure in Europe was made a hundred or more years ago. This original infrastructure included many railway stations that have not been rebuilt in the interim. This means that many have out of date facilities. Rail is increasingly popular with governments encouraging rail use for commuting to help reduce congestion on the roads. This is not helped by the poor state of some stations. But there's only so much money in the world, so should commuters put up with bad conditions on the platform in exchange for better services on the train itself?
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Some railway stations have not scored highly in terms of customer satisfaction
A list of ten stations in the UK with the worst customer satisfaction ratings will be upgraded. This is expected to cost around £50 million. The list includes the stations of Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Central in the North and Barking and Clapham Junction in the South.[[£50million revamp for ‘worst stations’, BBC News, 17/11/09, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8363621.stm%5D%5D One of the main problem with the worst performing stations is overcrowding. Other problems with the stations include lack of car parking spaces, escalators and inadequate toilet facilities. In the station upgrades, Crewe and Preston stations will benefit from the installation of new escalators. Stockport will have more ca parking spaces while Warrington Bank Quay will have upgraded toilet facilities. Upgrading these stations will hopefully make train journeys more bearable for commuters.
How can improving a train station make a train journey more bearable? If platforms are expanded it will simply attract more people to the platforms to attempt to squeeze on to trains. With all the investment going into the stations there would be less money to expand existing and provide more trains. Therefore there would be a situation where commuters have luxurious, spacious stations, only to be then crammed into a fully packed train. Surely it would make more sense to invest the money in the actual transport than the backdrop to the transport? Waiting in the station for the train is never going to be the most comfortable part of a journey as station platforms are exposed to the elements.
Upgrading railway stations may encourage more people to use public transport
Stations are part of the user experience. In the UK the government has pledged to upgrade the ten worst railway stations. There is also a promise by Network Rail, the maintainer of the entire railway infrastructure, to spend around £3.25 billion to upgrade over 2,000 other railway stations in the UK. As a result more people may be encouraged to use the railways. The government is always trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transport. There has been a lack of investment or else too much fragmentation so a lack of overall strategy for the entire existence of UK railways. During Margret Thatcher’s years in office in the 1980s there was practically no investment due to an assumption that everyone would use cars instead.[[Britain’s Railways: The historical legacy, RMT, http://www.rmt.org.uk/templates/internal.asp?nodeid=92844%5D%5D As a result of this lack of investment using the railways can be a miserable experience. Trains are overcrowded and ticket prices too expensive but at least the government is prepared to make a railway journey more bearable for commuters. Stations need to be able to provide commuters with the services they want, for example, manned ticket offices, good toilet facilities, good access (escalators, lifts), places to eat. Some stations meet this criteria e.g. London Liverpool Street, York, Manchester Piccadilly, London Paddington but many more stations do not. Hopefully, the money put aside for the station upgrade will be the start of the investment that the railways need.
The number of people using rail is increasing anyway meaning that there is little need to encourage more users on to the trains. The Public Accounts Committee of the Westminster Parliament in November 2010 argued that “already unacceptable levels of overcrowding will simply get worse and ever more intolerable” arguing that extra capacity was needed on the trains.[[Unacceptable train overcrowding to get worse, MPs say, BBC News, 9/11/10, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11713792%5D%5D If extra capacity is already needed then persuading more passengers to show up to stations is simply going to make the overcrowding problem worse.
it will stop people being late
If stations were improved, people would not see the station as merely a place to catch a train. If the facilities were nice and there were restrooms and a place to grab a bite to eat then people would stop planning to arrive at the station just in the nick of time. Instead they would arrive to the station with minutes to spare for a nice sit down, or a bite to eat, or a loo break. This means that they will be less likely to be late for work as they will catch the right train in the morning and this will save the economy money. Late workers cost the economy as it pays money for non-productivity. Therefore, by marketing the train station as a nice place to relax before you catch a train journey, the economy would be benefited.
Equally workers may more often be late due to trying to stop off for a coffee or to buy a newspaper. The station is there simply to be able to bord a train, it does not need to be a mini shopping mall that provides entertainment and refreshment.
The money put aside is not enough to have a significant impact
The money set aside to upgrade the ten railway stations is nowhere near enough to make a significant impact.
It is estimated that to upgrade the enterance of Clapham Junction station will cost £35 million alone while to upgrade the whole station will cost £100 million according to rail-news.com.
£50 million is not enough to improve the ten worst stations.
"£50 million cannot fix the country's ten worst railway stations - all the government is offering is a lick of paint" said Wandsworth Council's transportation spokesman Guy Senior.[[Clapham Junction station: cash pledge not enough, rail-news.com, 18/11/09, http://rail-news.com/2009/11/18/clapham-junction-station-cash-pledge-not-enough/%5D%5D Clapham Junction is not included in the £3.25 billion of investment announced by National Rail.
It is also unclear how much of the £50 million will be allocated to each of the ten stations.
The money may not be enough but it is a start. Small changes can have a big impact, for example providing better information about how trains are running and when they are delayed what the delay is. If anything the 50 million is not targeted correctly at a few big stations that need much bigger improvements. Instead the focus should be on small changes to minor stations where the commuters come from in the morning and return to at night. In 2010/11 London the transport unions have been making a fuss about passenger safety on the underground when there is no staff about claiming that it is “turning the tube into a criminal's paradise.”[[London week ahead: Tube staff, trouble, strife, Dave Hill’s London Blog, guardian.co.uk, 31/1/10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/davehillblog/2011/jan/31/london-underground-ticket-office-hours-unions-angry%5D%5D This has however always been the case on small railway stations. Improvements in safety could come from better lighting and more cameras as well as employing more staff.
The stations do not just need updating but the whole railway system
The opposition Conservatives have called for the whole railway system to be reformed. They plan to achieve this by introducing longer franchises.
[[Theresa Villiers: The Conservative Approach to the Railways, Conservatives, 13/1/10, http://www.conservatives.com/News/Speeches/2010/01/Theresa_Villiers_The_Conservative_Approach_to_the_Railways.aspx%5D%5D
Railway stations are only one problem for communters. Ticket prices incease every year. Recently, an announcement was made that ticket prices on many routes would increase again in January particularly for those who buy off-peak tickets. Companies are earning record profits. May be a way of improving the railways would be to bring them back under public ownership.
Overcrowded trains is another problem which commuters face. Trains need upgrading and made more frequent. More money needs to be invested in the railways.
While the Conservatives have been promising changes there has as yet been little in the way of changes in actual policy, the exception has been planning for High Speed 2 which has little impact on the rest of the network. In the absence of overall policy even small amounts of investment should be welcomed.
What do you think?