Rail boss looks forward to new era

RICHARD Bowker is one of the best-known figures in the rail industry in Britain - for three years he was head of the government's Strategic Rail Authority responsible for all aspects of the industry.

RICHARD Bowker is one of the best-known figures in the rail industry in Britain - for three years he was head of the government's Strategic Rail Authority responsible for all aspects of the industry.

After that body was abolished he became group chief executive of National Express, the transport giant which runs thousands of long-distance coaches as well as several of the country's busiest rail franchises.

As well as the East Anglian lines, National Express also runs Britain's most prestigious route, from London to Edinburgh, Newcastle, and Yorkshire.

That was also renamed, to National Express East Coast, when the company took over the franchise at the end of last year.

Mr Bowker said creating a common brand for all the company's services was vital to give passengers confidence.

He said: “It is absolutely vital that we get across the message that National Express as a company puts the customer, the passenger, first.

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“That is whether people are making a short journey in East Anglia, on a long trip to Scotland, or on one of our long-distance coaches which have very loyal customers.

“As a company our philosophy has to be to be focussed on their needs at all times. As a brand we have to be known for our dedication to customer service.”

Mr Bowker said key to this was ensuring that services were well co-ordinated with each other - for instance NX East Anglia services from Ipswich to Peterborough linking up with east coast services heading north.

“It is certainly good to be able to be able to create a unified brand - but there are still issues we have to face although we are getting there.

“A few weeks ago we had an issue on the main line in Yorkshire when the electric wires were brought down over several hundred yards. With the best will in the world that takes some time to put right.

“We had to organise coaches from York station - and some people said 'you've got thousands of coaches' but it isn't as simple as that - you can't just rustle up hundreds of coaches at the drop of a hat!”

Mr Bowker said National Express would be looking to invest in East Anglia over the next few years - it is starting with updating trains on its services between London and Cambridge.

As we travelled in a newly-refurbished InterCity train, Mr Bowker said: “These trains are not new, but they are very good and we will be investing to make sure they remain very good.

“But eventually they will have to be replaced and we know that people travelling from Ipswich and other stations in the area appreciate the high-quality trains with catering on board.

“There is a demand for the diesel units that go on to other lines like those to Lowestoft and Peterborough, but we know most people from the large stations prefer these kind of services.

“The catering is very good, and very successful - it is some of the best catering available on any trains in the country. We want to retain that because we know people like it.”

He was also determined to maintain, and if possible expand, existing local services like the rural trains from Ipswich to Felixstowe.

“That line has seen a lot of investment, largely because of the freight traffic, but we have increased our services and there is now an hourly service - it is very important that service is retained because it is well-used and much appreciated,” he said.

NATIONAL Express East Anglia managing director Andrew Chivers accepts that there have been problems over the last 18 months - many of them not the fault of the train company.

The problems of September 2006, when overhead cable faults in Essex caused days of delays, were followed by the delayed completion of engineering work over this New Year.

But he insisted his company would not try to pass the buck when things went wrong.

Mr Chivers said: “We have regular conversations with Network Rail now and an ongoing and improving dialogue with them.

“You won't hear us trying to pass the buck but Iain Croucher (chief executive of Network Rail) knows exactly what we expect from them and is working hard to achieve the same results as ourselves.”

Mr Chivers echoed the comments from Mr Bowker about the importance of the company's identity.

He said: “I think some people were not clear what the name 'one' was about, and National Express East Anglia clearly identifies what we do.

“We have already seen an improvement in service reliability and that is something we will be working even harder to achieve in future.

“National Express has a good reputation across the country, and now we are clearly identified with that brand we shall do all we can to enhance that reputation.”

Richard Bowker facts:

Richard Bowker is 42 years old. He graduated from Leicester University in 1988 and his first job was as a session pianist!

He joined London Transport as a graduate trainee in 1989.

He became a consultant in the mid-1990s before becoming co-chairman of Virgin Trains in 2000.

The following year he became head of the Strategic Rail Authority, until it was wound up in 2004.

In 2006 he was appointed chief executive of the National Express Group.