With commuting patterns probably changed forever, many more train journeys now involve an active choice. We need to adapt – wrtes LNER boss David Horne

David Horne

Data released earlier this month by the Department for Transport shows that use of the National Rail network in Great Britain is back up to 55% of pre-Covid levels, with use of London Underground at around 50% of the equivalent week in 2019.

What the national figures hide is the strong return to rail for leisure travel – certainly on LNER where our passenger numbers over the past three weeks have been back up to 94% of pre-Covid levels. Our figures reveal that the number of people taking an LNER train for leisure is actually significantly higher than it was pre-Covid. Plenty of us are making up for time lost during lockdown, taking trips to meet up with family and friends we have been unable to see for a long time, or to take a trip this summer to explore somewhere new.

This is important, not least because of the significant benefit of such travel to the wider economy, jobs and prosperity.

New research released this month by the Rail Delivery Group highlighted the significant connection between train travel and retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. The research found that train passengers travelling for days out spend a total of £46bn per year on food and drink, shopping, accommodation and entertainment and culture.

The strong recovery we are seeing at LNER is testament to the hard work and determination of the many colleagues who have been focused on our recovery from the pandemic, starting last year when we focused on reassurance – investing in additional cleaning, employing extra cleaners and improving our seat reservations system to ensure social distancing.

Since the start of this year, we have been getting ‘Match Ready’ for the easing of Covid restrictions

Since the start of this year, we have been getting ‘Match Ready’ for the easing of Covid restrictions – working on a multiplicity of projects to ensure that the LNER experience for our customers is the best yet.

Our newly-launched LNER mobile phone app has soared in popularity to become one of the most highly rated within the industry, making it easier for our customers to book and access their tickets in one place whilst on the go. Seat reservations can now be made via our app with a simple process as close to five minutes prior to travel, whereas it used to be hours in advance.

The app is also the place to go for our new customer loyalty scheme, LNER Perks, which gives customers benefits to spend on future journeys, gifted as an LNER eVoucher to friends or family or donated to a charity partner. Delay Repay is now available with just one click on the app – making it even easier to get compensation when delays impact a journey.

Just as your favourite restaurant or local pub introduced the technology so you could order your meal or favourite tipple from your seat, so did we! Our Let’s Eat At Your Seat service enables our customers to scan a QR code, then order and pay for refreshments without the inconvenience of walking to the buffet car.

At our stations, we have built new car parks at Durham and Grantham and we’re rolling out a programme of station improvements – for example, York’s first-ever First Class lounge and new toilets.

Alongside these improvements, we’ve been working hard to promote rail travel to an audience facing another summer of disruption to traditional holiday options.

At the beginning of June we launched the first LNER Green Guides, showcasing the best places to stay, eat and drink during trips to Edinburgh, Newcastle or London – revealing local hotspots and even some hidden gems. With contributions from LNER staff and passengers, Visit Edinburgh, Newcastle Gateshead and Visit London, the ‘Green Guide’ can be downloaded for free at www.lner.co.uk/greenguides.

Indeed our partnerships with the destination management organisations along our route have probably never been more important. In July we ran our LNER Lincoln Experience train, taking a normal scheduled Saturday service and showcasing everything that Lincoln has to offer, on the weekend when the city launched its Lincoln Imp sculpture trail. Not only did we take significantly more people to Lincoln than we do on a normal weekend, but two thirds of our customers on that trip had never been to the city before.

We’ve expanded our LNER Family Tickets to more destinations, providing savings for up to two adults and four children at a fixed price. We’ve also cut the cost of parking at our stations, most recently at Newark Northgate and Grantham stations where the cost to park is £5 all day for the summer.

And we’re looking forward. This month we’re putting our tickets on sale for Christmas 2021 travel. For years it has been an industry tradition to get tickets on sale 12 weeks in advance but that is a tradition we are keen to break for the better, and for the convenience of our customers!

With traditional commuting patterns probably changed forever by the pandemic, many more train journeys now involve an active choice.

In response, our choice as a train company is to change how we think

In response, our choice as a train company is to change how we think. Over the past 16 months, we have grasped hold of every opportunity to innovate, invest and improve for the benefit of our customers and those who are yet to travel with us for the first time.

Our ambition is to truly transform rail travel in the UK and we believe that this pioneering approach is key as we look to welcome customers back to rail.

We’re not at our destination yet but the train has departed and life is getting back on track.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Horne has been Managing Director at London North Eastern Railway (LNER) since June 2018.

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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