Robin L. D. Rees
1992–2000

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Member: Rail Passengers’ Committee for Western England *

  • representing passengers’ interests to the industry and to those who regulate it;
  • investigating passengers’ complaints that have not been resolved by the industry.

Introduction

As a member of the Rail Passengers Committee (subsequently renamed Passenger Focus), I witnessed the transformation of a centralised and publicly owned transport system into a group of competing rail companies.

I gained an insight into the regulatory, legal and financial infrastructure underpinning the Privatisation process. In my final year, I spent more than 30 working days on Committee affairs.


Learning the Theory

I learned about:

  • Privatisation and the means by which it was achieved;
  • the franchises and the regulatory procedures governing them;
  • the role of the train operating companies (TOCs), Railtrack (subsequently Network Rail), the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR), the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF) and its successor the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) which was itself subsequently disbanded;
  • the Government’s relationship with the railways;
  • financial aspects, e.g. fares and track access payments.

I read documents such as the Railways Act 1993 and Railtrack’s annual Network Management Statement.


In Committee

I served on:

  • Standards of Service Sub-Committee (Chair);
  • Joint Sub-Committees; (Thames Trains and Central Trains);
  • a closure Sub-Committee;
  • Franchise Monitoring Groups (Thames Trains, and First Great Western);
  • Timetable Group (responding to TOCs on proposed timetable changes and compiling our own list of aspirations);
  • Cotswolds and Malverns Transport Partnership (of city, county and district councillors and officers, TOCs, Railtrack, the RUCC/RPC, and the Cotswold Line Promotion Group).

Out and About

As a Committee member, I:

  • met with Local Authorities to discuss County and Unitary Transport Policies;
  • discussed with senior officers the work of the British Transport Police;
  • undertook inspections of passenger facilities at stations;
  • monitored the effectiveness of Customer Information Systems;
  • worked with colleagues and representatives of TOCs to resolve passenger complaints, and to remove pricing anomalies;
  • undertook a night visit to First Great Western’s maintenance depot at Laira;
  • inspected refurbishment of rolling stock for being undertaken for South West Trains;
  • viewed and commented on new rolling-stock projects at mock-up stage for First Great Western and Virgin Trains;
  • provided input for the National Routeing Guide and the updates to the Passenger’s Charter of two TOCs;
  • attended the launch of several new rail initiatives;
  • lectured on the work of the Committee;
  • was invited to ride in the cab of a High Speed Train from Reading to Birmingham New Street.
Radley station
Platform improvements in progress at Radley, 1999

Paddington Bear
Launching the Bristol–Oxford trains, 1998
The invitation read: ‘If possible, bring a teddy bear.’


HST
Birmingham New Street, 2000

‘The Queen and the Great Western Railway’

At the end of lunch at our meetings, it was the custom of our Chairman, Sir Robert Wall, to propose a toast to: ‘the Queen and the Great Western Railway’.

His final meeting prior to retirement in 1998 took place at Torquay, and I suggested that I organise a trip in his honour on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway. Passengers aboard Duchess of York, one of the GWR Ocean Liner saloons, included the Committee and representatives from the TOCs, ORR and OPRAF.

The toast on this occasion was to Sir Robert himself.

Great Western saloon
Arriving at Kingswear, 1998

The End of the Line

Dr Robin Rees was the second long-serving member to leave the Committee during the year. He had made quality of service issues his primary concern. Robin is punctilious in his attention to detail, chasing after shoddy practice as a terrier will go for a rat. He was not daunted by the less glamorous parts of the railway operation when searching out shortcomings; the state of repair and cleanliness of the Reading Station Gents was as much a target for his attention as could be the occasional, deserved, railway breakfast.

Christopher Irwin
Chairman
RPC Western England
Annual Report 2000–2001


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1993–date: Computer publishing
1984–1996: Oxford University
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© R. L. D. Rees 2001–2003