Rail chiefs told: your reputations are on line

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SCOTLAND’S two railway chiefs have been warned their personal reputations are on the line if passengers are not better informed about disruption this winter.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) fired the broadside at the heads of ScotRail and Network Rail as it announced that rail firms could be fined for the first time if they failed to keep travellers in the picture.

The move came after the ORR found “shortcomings” in the way disruption had been handled in Scotland during last winter’s big freeze. Chief executive Richard Price said: “We expect to see significant improvements in customer satisfaction.

“The personal reputations of the managing directors of Network Rail [in Scotland] and ScotRail are on the line” – in a reference to David Simpson and Steve Montgomery.

An audit of the firms’ performance last winter, commissioned by the ORR, found a host of passengers complaints sent to the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency about poor information.

One referred to “the electronic announcements and message boards at platforms being totally inaccurate, misleading and in many cases telling blatant lies”.

Another said: “The information screens tell you a train is ‘on time’ or still running when it is clearly not.”

The issue remains something of an Achilles’ heel for ScotRail despite its 86 per cent overall satisfaction rating in the latest independent survey by watchdog Passenger Focus.

The survey found just 34 per cent of ScotRail’s passengers were satisfied with how it handled delays this spring, compared to 40 per cent a year ago.

The ORR plans to add teeth to a voluntary code followed by operators for keeping passengers informed during disruption.

Rail firms would face penalties, including potential fines of up to 10 per cent of income, for failing to meet its requirements.

These include staff passing on information to passengers within ten minutes of an incident being notified to a control room, followed by updates at least every 20 minutes during major disruption. The code also requires such announcements to be “well structured, concise and jargon-free”.

However, the changes will not come into force until February .

Mr Price, who met rail chiefs in Edinburgh on Wednesday, said they had made “good progress” since last winter.

However, he said reliable information was a “fundamental requirement” of passengers.

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Making passenger information part of a train company’s licence should ensure greater focus on getting information right.”

But the Association of Train Operating Companies, which includes ScotRail, said it was “disappointed” at the ORR’s move because it said improvements were being made.

ScotRail said its £2 million of winter preparations included improved information: “Keeping trains in service is key, as is ensuring customers have accurate information to help them plan their journeys during winter conditions. The improvements we have made are geared to achieving this.”

Network Rail said: “We are confident that we will be able to provide information quickly and accurately to customers.”