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Better Rail: fighting for a railway that works

1 May 2012

This May TSSA launches a new campaign, Better Rail. At a time when our railways are seeing the highest passenger levels since the 1920s and yet also have the highest fares in Europe, we need to build towards a future which ensures that rail is a quality service, available to all the public.

York campaigners

The government seeks to cut jobs and services and give more power to profit-driven private operators. TSSA members say this will make things worse. We don’t want to simply save our railway, we want to make it better!

Recently TSSA members in Train Operating Companies have been asking people in their communities what they want from their train station. The response from the public proves yet again that people care strongly about the transport system – it is an integral part of their lives. People want a quality transport service, accessible to all. With a quality public service as the goal, clear issues come forward that are important to both TSSA members and the travelling public: safety, fares, accessible and practical station facilities, environmental impact and new technology.

Local communities are crying out for more say in shaping their public transport systems. Our members’ voices are amongst them, yet the Government and industry leaders plough ahead with their damaging proposals. That’s why TSSA is launching Better Rail – to ensure we have a comprehensive vision for the future of the rail industry – and one that cannot be ignored.

Better Rail will focus on issues that unite our members, passengers and their communities. Over the next six months we aim for many TSSA members and their communities to explore the principles and standards they want to see enshrined in our railway. This work has already started through the TSSA
community organising campaign, Together for Transport, building a case for change that decision-makers need to pay attention to.

Within TSSA membership, we have groups of members who are fighting the same battles right across the system: against job cuts, reorganisations, loss of job security and a drop in job satisfaction as they are unable to deliver the railway they know the public want and need. Better Rail will unite our many groups of members in their common struggles and fight to set standards for a better railway.

We do not share the vision of the ConDem Government who want a quick fix that simply protects the profit of shareholders. We want a sustainable model for our railway that drives investment in a better railway for all. Have your say on what BETTER RAIL means to you! Go to

Campaigning for Better Rail
What will make our railway better? Our postcard survey asked the public what they want in a station, with the hundreds upon hundreds of responses giving us a huge amount of information about how the public feel about cuts to station staff and services. We want to highlight their voices in our Better Rail campaign, alongside the stories and experiences of our members. Here are some of the issues TSSA members and their communities are campaigning for in their fight for a better railway:

Better Rail means a quality public service
Transport is a public service that is essential, especially in times where local jobs are hard to come by and local communities face severe cuts to public services. According to the Department for Transport, there were 1.4 billion rail journeys in the UK last year, with the total number of miles travelled having increased by 40 per cent in just the last decade. That is the highest level of use the Britain’s railways have seen since the 1920s. As we are encouraged to shift from other forms of transport to rail as a low-carbon, sustainable mode of transport, the UK government must ensure that the service provided is of a quality that meets the needs of the travelling public. As TSSA launches our Better Rail campaign, we are looking at what needs to happen to make rail a quality public service.

‘Reliability, affordable and satisfactory service really are necessary on a public transport system. It is essential that sufficient staff are available to maintain this. Cutting staff and increasing fares has a negative effect on the quality and efficiency of the service. It also penalises the general public who use these facilities as unfortunately there is no alternative for many of us. We have to pay up or get off.’

Morgan, passenger at Eastbrook Station, near Cardiff

‘Transport must not be a barrier to anyone wanting to be an active member of society, whether they need disabled access or can barely afford it.’

Simon, passenger at Forest Hill station, London

A requirement for rail to become a quality public service is for the railway to be publicly owned and accountable. TSSA and other rail unions believe the vast sums of public money used to subsidise the profits of the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and other parts of the railways could be used much more efficiently to cover the costs of a publicly-run railway, reducing the cost to the public in terms of fares increases and service cuts. Currently TOCs are making profit for shareholders that – were the system publicly owned and accountable – could be reinvested to make a better railway. Passengers are not oblivious to this injustice:

‘The train companies are over- subsidised, but the money just seems to go to private shareholders and super–rich owners. This expensive mess can only be sorted out by re- nationalising the railways and putting passengers before profits.’

Katy, passenger in Hackney

‘Return to a national rail system and renationalise private rail companies. Invest in quality of track, electrification and rolling stock.’

Gary, travels between Cardiff Central and London Paddington

York group 

Better stations are a key part of a quality public service
Our survey feedback shows that the public recognise that staff are an integral part of how a station works. Station staff are under threat following the McNulty report, endorsed both directly in the Government’s own Command Paper and also in their directions to Train Operating Companies (TOCs) bidding for the latest round of franchise renewals. Although ticket vending machines are a valued service, people do not want machines to replace staff and lose their face to face service.

‘Station staff are invaluable assets and must be maintained at no less than their present level. They can provide advice, be there for everyone and help make sure you get the correct tickets.’

Jean, mostly uses Alnmouth and Newcastle stations

Our survey is far from the first to show how valued the services offered by staff are. Passenger Focus, the organisation that produces the National Passenger Survey have clear evidence that people do not want to lose staff at stations. Despite this, ticket office and other station staff face thousands of job cuts if proposals by the government and industry leaders are implemented. Our fight against proposed cuts to ticket offices and station staff is a key part of building a better railway.

‘Human contact is always more beneficial when trying to get information or to provide help when needed – something machines and CCTV are not able to do.’

Debbie, mostly uses Brondesbury London Overground station

An integrated transport system provides a quality public service
To make our railways better, we need more integration both within the rail system and with other modes of public transport. Yet the Government proposes further fragmentation and contracting out of responsibility, for example in their support for the transfer of station management to TOCs and increasing their powers to determine service provision, staffing levels and the like. Other plans from the Government do include elements of devolution to local councils and Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs), giving them more say over local services and where investment is directed – but at the same time as slashing their budgets and pressuring them to cut expenditure! Although funding remains a key issue, TSSA supports the integration of different transport networks and the establishment of ITAs where appropriate.

Experience has shown that the added democratic local control these structures offer best serves the needs of the community and provides greater job security for members.

‘Having a city like Bristol without integrated transport has led to overpriced tickets and massive cuts to services. Local routes that give mobility to the elderly and disabled are removed as they often make no money.’

Ian Crawford, Transport For Greater Bristol secretary and TSSA member

Bristol ITA

In Bristol, TSSA are part of shaping the community campaign for an Integrated Transport Authority through our membership of the Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance (TFGB). Our community work with TFGB has helped build a common understanding between our members and TFGB supporters about how to build a better railway and a quality public service for Greater Bristol. Despite the fact that there are many unused tracks in the Greater Bristol area, the services to the public remain limited as many of these routes would be unprofitable if viewed through the narrow prism of ticket revenue alone. With an Integrated Transport Authority, the four local authorities in Greater Bristol would join together to ensure that routes which cross boundaries receive the proper subsidies and funding required to provide a quality public transport service for all. At the moment, we believe that without an ITA, reopening of routes is unlikely to prove tenable, and that some current services may be put at risk.

‘An ITA leads to better service, it’s cheaper, cleaner, more efficient and works for the public. It can help to protect jobs and services in the transport industry and even look to create new employment in the future.’

David Redgwell, Transport For Greater Bristol member and TSSA member

Better Rail requires a highly skilled workforce
Many of the proposed job cuts at stations are based on a theory that a ticket vending machine can easily replace the work of ticket office staff, or that a driver can manage the train and its despatch from the platform by themselves. The government feels it can get away with cutting costs by reducing passenger-facing staffing levels, but a better railway requires highly skilled professional staff that can meet the service standards demanded of them by the travelling public. Yet little is said about the skills behind the work our members do and what they personally bring to the service they provide. Over the next few months our Better Rail campaign will highlight the skills and experience of our members.

‘Your ticket office staff are brilliant. Their encyclopaedic knowledge of routes and fares is a fantastic help, absolutely essential to efficient travel by rail.’

Chris, passenger at York Station

‘Personal safety is really important. As a woman I like to see staff around to manage any situations and make sure I’m safe.’

Jane, passenger at Bristol Temple Meads and Parkway stations

Better Rail is one that is shaped by our communities
TSSA is working within our communities to build a Better Railway. We know that there is strong public support for a well funded, well run and good value railway. From eye-watering fare rises year on year, to station staff cuts that jeopardise safety and access, passengers have a direct interest in a better vision for our rail network. Working with Together for Transport, the Better Rail campaign will seek to mobilise this public support into meaningful action.

Get active: stations action!

In the last Journal we launched our Stations Postcard Survey, a joint campaign with RMT. Scores of members have taken on the challenge of surveying their passengers and wider community in order to gain support for our campaign to keep staff at stations. So far over 2000 surveys have been returned – but we need more! Pledge your help to gather surveys here:

TSSA workplace representative Malcolm Phillips is part of a team of reps and active members who are out talking to the public about what they want in a station. Malcolm has been going door to door with our Postcard Surveys and talking to people about the how job cuts at stations will affect them. Generally people will have no idea about the plans in the McNulty Report, Initial Industry Plan or the recent government Command Paper. However when they are presented with the issues, there is overwhelming support the TSSA campaign for staff at stations, making a better railway.

Many postcards

TSSA branches have pledged their help to gather surveys. Yorkshire No. 1 TOC Branch opened their campaign with an action at York Station. Their branch covers TSSA members in all TOCs in their region. A team of branch members talked with passengers at York station during April, gathering their opinions on our postcard surveys:

‘We discussed the stations postcard survey campaign at our branch meeting. The issues in the survey are very close to our members’ hearts. We need to show our TOCs that we feel strongly about any potential cuts to station staff and tell the public what we can do that a machine can’t. For our branch we didn’t need to think about whether or why we should do the survey action, we just thought, yeah, we need to do it.’

Andi Fox, Executive Committee Member and Yorkshire No.1 TOC Branch

‘I’ve had an excellent response from the members of the public I have spoken to when knocking ondoors giving out the cards. They appreciate the personal touch of chatting with them on their doorstep and taking the time to explain to them who McNulty is, the plans he’s come up with and how this is likely to affect their railway service.’

Malcolm Phillips, TOC National Council Representative

Get active: what will make a better railway?

As we launch our Better Rail campaign we are talking to TSSA members, potential members, passengers, community groups, and politicians about what they think will make a better railway. But we need your help:

  • You could hold a launch action at your local station to ask the public what they think will make a better railway. If you are interested in finding out how best to do this, contact
  • l Ask your workmates what they think will make a better railway. Record their answers at or
  • l Ask your friends to Tweet using the hashtag #betterrail
  • l Post your ideas on our Facebook page:

For more ideas on what you can do to get active in our fight for a better railway, go to or contact Nadine on

Malcolm Doorstep

Top tips for running the postcard campaign
TSSA star activist Malcolm Phillips has personally collected over 1200 completed postcard surveys! Here are some of his top tips on successfully collecting completed postcard surveys. You can catch more tips online at

  • l Pick a method for your action
  • Door to Door has been the most successful method for successfully collecting completed postcards. Pick a street or housing estate near the station and knock on doors!
  • Collecting at stations is good for visibility but you will get less returned. Target those sitting down, not in a hurry. Remember you are doing this as a TSSA member not an employee – don’t wear uniform or allow room for any confusion.
  • Collecting at meetings – take some to union meetings, your church or faith group, schools, sporting events etc.
  • l Explain from the start you are not selling anything! Explain the aim of the campaign and talk about how the local station might suffer if the Government’s proposals are implemented.
  • l Appeal to their situation: Ask if they would feel safe travelling on trains late evening without staff? If they are disabled, elderly or they have children in pushchairs, who is going to help them on and off the train?

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • l Don’t knock on doors when you think people are most likely to have just come home and are preparing for their evening meal.
  • l Don’t leave your house without information! Make sure you have a copy of a briefing on the McNulty report or the Government Command paper – or indeed one of those reports themselves – to hand when canvassing.
  • l Don’t go out without plentiful supplies of pens.
  • l Don’t approach people in dimly lit areas, always go to well-lit locations.

If your branch wants to get involved in the stations postcard survey, pledge your support online or contact Nadine

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