Greater Anglia managing director reflects on first year of franchise

Monday, 5 February 2018

It’s now one year since Greater Anglia won the franchise to run the train service in East Anglia. Managing Director Jamie Burles talks about the first 12 months of the nine-year franchise.

“We’ve got off to a flying start, but there’s still lots to do.” Greater Anglia Managing Director Jamie Burles is reflecting on the first year of the company’s franchise to run the railway in East Anglia.

Greater Anglia was awarded a nine-year franchise on the promise of new trains, more seats and faster journey times.

The company is replacing every single train on the network with brand new modern state-of-the-art trains. One year on, after consulting customers, these trains are now in production in factories in Derby and Switzerland and will come into service from 2019.

“We’re the first train operating company in the country to replace all of our trains in one go and it’s a very exciting proposition,” said Jamie.

“We’ve set up a team whose sole focus is to work on bringing in our new trains. It’s a complex job. We want to get the design of the new trains absolutely right for our customers. More than 1,000 customers took the time to take part in our consultation and I want to say a big thank you to them. Also thank you to the stakeholder and user groups including disability groups who have visited our mock-ups and given us direct feedback – which we are acting on.

“But it’s not just about the trains, we need to make sure platforms are long enough as our new trains will be longer, we’re building a new depot at Brantham and extending depots at Norwich and Ilford to cope with the new trains.

“We’ll also need to train our teams of colleagues so that they can drive, maintain, clean and work on our new trains. We’re even designing a new uniform for when we get the new trains.

“Just as important as the new trains, our train planners are working on a new timetable which should be as transformational as the trains themselves. The new trains should be faster and bigger, allowing us to put on extra services, which all need to be timetabled.”

When Jamie launched the new franchise, he promised that it wasn’t just a case of jam tomorrow. Greater Anglia planned to make improvements in the short term, as well as the longer term, from leasing extra trains to provide more seats on commuter trains to making it easier and cheaper to buy tickets.

“We’ve been very busy this year making the service better for customers now. We’ve hired 20 extra trains so that we have been able to create an extra 100,000 seats a week on commuter services into London. We’ve also been busy refurbishing some of our commuter trains – to the extent that sometimes they’re confused for our new trains. Our engineers have won awards for their progress in making our old trains more reliable.

“We’ve opened a brand new station, Cambridge North, as well as upgrading four of our major stations- Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich, where we’ve created ticket halls and waiting rooms of airport-style quality. Cambridge Station has now won several awards including National Transport Awards Station of the Year.

“I was really proud of my colleagues when we got the results of the latest National Rail Passenger Survey which gave us our highest satisfaction rating of 83 per cent. This is a credit to the hard work everyone has put in to make our service to customers better from people fixing toilets quicker to train drivers making clear and informative announcements.”

When Jamie meets customers, he is frequently taken to task over the cost of rail travel. Although some prices such as season tickets, are regulated by the Government, Greater Anglia has a range of special offers and great value fares.

“We launched our price promise with the new franchise, where we guarantee the lowest fare if you buy it via our website or we’ll refund the difference. We’re also about to launch a Club 50 card for discounted travel for those aged 50 or above and look out for other similar initiatives to come.”

Of course, the first year has also had some challenges. RMT union industrial action, which has been spreading around the country, has also affected Greater Anglia.

“I can’t emphasise enough how much we value our conductors. They do a great job. I spent a day shadowing a conductor at his request on the Norwich to Cambridge train last year. We get a lot of great feedback on Twitter for our conductors.

“We’re keeping conductors on our trains. They will be safety trained, but they will be concentrating on customer service rather than opening and closing doors.

“I remain hopeful that we can resolve this dispute so that we can all concentrate on serving our customers.”

“It’s been a fantastic first year. There’s been some high points and there’s been some challenges. I remain excited and upbeat about the future as we’re working hard to transform the railway in East Anglia.”