Rail passengers 'may never return'

Confidence in the railways is so low following the recent chaos on the network that some former passengers might never return, according to research today.

If the rail industry does nothing to restore badly damaged public confidence, it could take four years for passenger growth to reach pre-Hatfield crash levels, the research, commissioned by Railtrack, found.

The findings, based on a MORI poll which tested customer confidence, were "very grim stuff", the biggest rail union, the RMT said.

Labour MP Brian Donohoe, a member of the House of Commons Transport Committee, called for a re-examination of the structure of the rail industry.

Railtrack said today that passengers would return to the railways much quicker than was feared in the report if public confidence could be restored.

And the Association of Train Operating Companies predicted that passenger levels could be restored within one year, rather than the four predicted.

However, Vernon Hince, of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, said of the MORI research: "It's very grim stuff, but we have been saying for some time that it was going to take a lot longer than new timetables to overcome the problems that the industry faces."

He added: "There certainly is still a very fragmented railway out there. There needs to be a very, very quick decision made as to what the future of the railways is to be.

"And the only way you can do that and bring confidence back is to take ownership away from the train operating companies and from Railtrack and bring it under one organisation so that there is some public accountability."

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