Rail users on Merseyside are more sociable than those in London and the south east according to new research, which reveals that passengers like to face each other during journeys.
The findings comes from a study carried out by independent passenger watchdog Passenger Focus to provide an insight into what customers would like to see in a modernisation of the Merseyrail fleet.
In picking out seats, 50 percent chose to sit in the existing pod-style seats, facing each other in twos, in direct contrast to the preferences of those who make regular journeys by train in London and the south east. The reasons given were that it allowed them to sit as a group and talk to family and friends. Even those travelling on their own felt it gave them an opportunity to make conversation with strangers.
The railway has seen strong growth in passenger numbers over the last ten years and this looks set to continue at a rate of over 2% per annum. As a result, researchers recommend that a mix of seating including the pod-style, airline and possibly longitudinal, like on the Tube, would best address capacity demands.
Other improvements passengers suggested were making trains more spacious and ‘open plan’ with areas for bikes. wheelchairs and pushchairs. Security issues were also of paramount importance to passengers, including increased visibility of CCTV cameras and the installation of help points. Calls were also made for Wi-Fi and bins on the trains.
The current Merseyrail fleet is approaching 40 years old and is one of the oldest operating in the UK. All options, which include a new fleet or extensive re-work of the existing stock, are being considered.
Passengers’ feedback and ideas will feed into the specification and design for any new or modernised trains where practical and cost-effective.
David Powell, Merseytravel’s Project Director for Rolling Stock, said:
“We are looking at a number of options regarding the current Merseyrail fleet but, whatever the outcome, Merseytravel is committed to ensuring that passengers’ opinions are fully understood and their ideas are incorporated where possible. By listening to passengers we can deliver a scheme that the whole of the City Region can be proud of.
“It’s interesting to know that our passengers like to face each other, although it doesn’t surprise me that we’re a sociable bunch because we have a strong reputation for being a friendly part of the world. I’m glad that security is also top of the customers’ agenda as it is also a priority for us for any future decisions we make.”
David Sidebottom, Acting Chief Executive for Passenger Focus, added:
“We consider it vital for passengers to be involved in the design of new trains at the earliest opportunity. Without proper consultation, passengers could end up travelling on trains that fail to meet both their existing and future needs. Therefore, we were delighted to be able to work with Merseytravel on this joint research.”
Maarten Spaargaren, Managing Director at Merseyrail, added:
“Customers are at the heart of everything we at Merseyrail do, and we know from the string of accolades that we have recently secured – the Customer First accreditation, topping the National Rail Passenger Survey and being the highest performing rail operator in the Which? survey – that passengers like our trains, stations and the services we provide. We refuse to become complacent and will continue listening to their views and enhancing our offering to the city region’s travelling public.”
In the meantime, a new look for the Merseyrail fleet has been unveiled with designs that reflect what the Liverpool City Region has to offer in terms of sights, shopping and sport. The train ‘wraps’ are part of an £8.5 million investment that will see essential work carried out on the stock to keep it in good working order, as well as enhancements inside and out.
The long term modernisation of the Merseyrail fleet is being considered as part of a broad rail strategy for the Liverpool City Region. It is about ensuring that the overarching vision for improved capacity and connectivity in the Liverpool City Region is shared across all rail projects.
Merseytravel manages the Merseyrail concession locally after taking it over from the Department of Transport in 2003.
The concession is a 50-50 joint venture between shareholders, Abellio, the international subsidiary of Dutch Railways (NS/Nederlandse Spoorwegen) and Serco, the global services provider.