The transport of ideas

Thu, 16 Feb 2012 10:20:00 GMT

University experts set an agenda for the future of Britain’s rail and buses

Beth Blackburn    

Undergraduate Beth Blackburn is working on the organisation of the Reforming the Railways Conference taking place at the University of Huddersfield.

Paul Salveson AS Britain’s bus and train passengers are confronted with rising fares, crowded trains and unreliable services, experts at the University of Huddersfield are setting a provocative agenda for debate on the future of public transport.

Professor Colin Bamford has delivered a public lecture entitled “Public Transport in the UK – a return to the Public Sector?”  And during March, Professor Paul Salveson (pictured right) convenes a conference entitled “Reforming the railways: options and issues” at which participants will include academic experts, public transport executives and railway managers.   A wide range of solutions will be sought for Britain’s rail shortcomings.

Paul Salveson is a Visiting Professor at the University and is well-known for his innovative work on rail policy. Often dubbed the “Railway Doctor”, he  originated the concept of “community railways” and set up the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, still based in Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield.  He works as an independent consultant and writer on rail issues and was awarded an MBE for services to the railway industry in 2008.  

He explained that the University of Huddersfield Conference was planned in part as a response to a Government command paper on rail policy that will shortly be published.

“But we will be looking at many long-term options for the railway industry,” he said.  Issues to be discussed will include franchising and greater regional devolution of rail services.

“In my conference paper, I will suggest that there are other approaches to running railways, such as social enterprises or regionally-owned, arms length companies,” said Professor Salveson.

Other speakers – including an expert on Dutch railways – will be describing approaches such as “vertical integration”, in which operations and infrastructure are combined in contrast to the current system in Britain.

“I think there is probably a case for keeping Network Rail, but having it in a closer alignment with train operations,” said Professor Salveson.

Guest speakers at the conference will include representatives of rail companies and passenger transport executives.  There will also be a trade union view on rail reform, given by Manuel Cortes, recently appointed General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.

Colin Bamford Professor Bamford (pictured left) will provide an introduction and chair the opening session of “Reforming the Railways”.  An expert on transport and logistics, he is Associate Dean of the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. 

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he says, “but the deregulation and privatisation of local transport is quite frankly one of the worst things we ever did – and it was done mainly for political reasons.”

But Professor Bamford believes that full renationalising of the privatised bus and rail industries is highly unlikely, especially in the current economic climate.

However, he has explored various forms of regulation which would have the effect of making operators more accountable to the public.  One possibility would to extent the principle of franchising to local bus services.  This would enable transport authorities to exert greater control over fares, services and vehicle standards.

“There are all sorts of moves afoot to make bus and rail services accountable to people who are travelling and also to central and local government, which are dishing out significant sums of money in subsidy.  In the case of bus services, for example, the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive is trying to bring in a system whereby they will only work with what they call quality operators, so that any subsidised route will only be given to companies that can meet their minimum standards,” said Professor Bamford.

  • The Reforming the Railways Conference, on Friday 23 March ,which could attract up to 80 delegates, is being organised by Beth Blackburn, aged 19, who is studying for a BA degree in events management at the University of Huddersfield. "I have to organise a large event for my assessment this year, “explained Beth, from Upper Cumberworth, near Huddersfield.  So she was offered to the chance to run the rail event. “Transport isn’t a major interest of mine, but I am interested in running conferences and events and I am really enjoying this challenge" said Beth.

 

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