The call for evidence for Great British Railways’ (GBR) 5, 10 and 30-year strategic plan has now closed (4 Feb 22).
Unless you are absolutely confident that private car ownership and usage and, consequently, its current role as the primary means of transport for much of the leisure and tourism activity within the UK is not likely to change in any significant way, then I would suggest that helping positively shaping GBR’s 5 to 30-year strategy is of fundamental importance to both domestic and inbound international tourism and the future success, or indeed potential for failure, of some if not many of the UK’s popular urban and rural destinations.
Although it may be too late to directly influence the general thrust or some of the detail of the strategy to be presented to Government, via the formal call for evidence, it may not yet be too late to submit unsolicited (late) views to GBR, or to start proactively raising your views with local MP’s and/or any and all other tourism, transport and rail interest groups you have contact with. The aim being to create wider and reinforce better understanding of the threats and opportunities for both the UK rail network and for tourism and leisure across much of the UK. Get the strategy right and rail could once again be the prime mover in developing, sustaining and growing tourism, get it wrong and both the rail network and tourism could (will) almost certainly suffer.
Once the strategy options have been formulated there will undoubtedly be formal and/or informal opportunities to comment on the proposed direction before it is adopted, after its presentation to Government later, we believe, this year. If anyone doubts there is a problem looming it is worth noting that the £1bn plus monthly cost of simply operating a still reduced rail service (trains costs, staff, fuel/energy) is now falling largely to the tax payers.
Previously the “subsidy” to train operating companies (TOCs), after fares where deducted, was in the order of £0.6bn per year. Costs of this magnitude clearly can’t be sustainable and regardless of what we or the strategy has to say, something major must give and give soon. So, in addition to trying to influence the future strategic direction, colleagues would be well advised to be both mindful of, and alert to, the intended and unintended consequences arising for off peak leisure travel, as a direct or indirect result of restructuring of previously almost untouchable peak commuter services.
Essentially if rail is an important carrier for your destination, don’t just automatically assume a return to normality, must necessarily means that normal rail service will resume soon, if ever. The network is broken, hence, effectively chunks of it have been taken back into public ownership, some of it potentially permanently and, hence, the urgent need for a particularly, radical new strategy and the current fleeting chance to reposition rail at the very least as a major, if not the primary, vehicle for visitor movement, as it was in its earlier history.
As is often the case we have chosen to submit a longer narrative response giving the answers to questions we think GBR and other need to hear, rather than just answering the narrower set questions posed in the call for evidence. More details on the consultation and a copy of British Destination’s response can be found at: https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/great-british-railways-whole-industry-strategic-plan-closing-4-feb-2022/