The panel of expert speakers in explored how rail performance, value for money and safety is measured, and how industry can deliver greater benefits for passengers and taxpayers through greater transparency. It consisted of Anna Walker, chair of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East and Peter Gordon, chair of the Transport Statistics User Group. The meeting was chaired by Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP for Worthing West.
Anna Walker explained the role of the ORR in the rail industry and the eight themes under which statistics are produced via the ORR statistics portal. Many of these statistics are accredited as National Statistics. She also talked of the importance of transparency and continued government confidence in rail statistics, particularly as Network Rail becomes reclassified as a public sector body later this year.
Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, talked about the need for statistics to lead evidence in the rail industry. He explained that the data shows that rail has improved on most indicators since privatisation (including passenger satisfaction) whilst cost per passenger mile was virtually constant over 20 years. However, he had concerns that this message is not filtering down to the public as fare increases continue to dominate media coverage of the issue.
Heidi Alexander MP highlighted the need to understand how rail statistics are compiled as she felt current statistics do not adequately reflect passenger experience in her constituency – in particular how crowded the trains passing through Lewisham are. Alexander made a speech on overcrowding on trains on 6 May (PDF). She pointed out that Lewisham rail station is busier than the main stations in major cities such as Nottingham and suggested there is a marked difference between London and the rest of the country when it comes to overcrowding.
Peter Gordon, chair of the Transport Statistics User Group gave a variety of insights including asking whether we should measure missed connections as they do in Switzerland. He pointed out that rail travel is safer than walking if looked at in terms of distance travelled.
ORR head of statistics, Faz Dar, explained how the regulator's data portal worked, and the kinds of statistics that can be found on there. He was followed by Tom Rutherford of the Commons library, who gave a brief explanation of how his department can help extract data of all kinds from currently available statisticsand parliamentary questions.
A short Q&A session followed the speakers, during which it was revealed that passenger usage is estimated to double in the next 20 years, and concern was again expressed that rail statistics do not reflect overcrowding on the trains. The evidence base for HS2 was also discussed, and it was suggested that new initiatives such as smart ticketing, could help to improve current stats.
The ORR were live tweeting from the event from its Twitter account @railregulation.