Enhancing the rail network isn't possible without some disruption to passengers. It's an age-old problem which has been increasing in frequency and importance as rail investment has grown and as passenger numbers have increased.
Are frequent but short closures right? Or is a big-bang blockade much better? This is the question often asked by operators and funders when a project team presents their proposed approach. The 'perfect' solution should take account of the project scope and delivery constraints, the restrictions imposed on operators and, of course, most importantly, the impact on passengers. It's going to be different on a project by project basis. Track relaying for higher speeds is a lot less intrusive than revised junctions to allow new routes or improve flexible operation. Anything that requires a signaling change will require a shutdown of some sort, and the more complex it is, the longer the shutdown will need to be.
New research published by the Department for Transport this week provides some welcome, up-to-date insights into the perceptions and expectations of passengers.
The findings are coloured by negative past experiences and a lack of understanding. This points to a poor track record, both in explaining the need and benefits of work, but also in overruns leading to unwelcome additional disruption. But the respondents' tolerance of intensive short-term disruption rose with information, including the duration of alternatives, and has increased given greater flexibility and home working post-pandemic.
- Passengers want to understand the benefits - what is the work going to achieve?
- Passengers want clarity that there isn't a better way - what were the alternatives?
- Passengers want certainty - that the disruption will deliver on time.
Let's be clear: getting this right is all about timely, effective communication.