Jeremy Long, CEO - European Business, MTR Corporation
Changes to transport networks, particularly in London, are always cause for much discussion and debate, usually centred on how much disruption the work may cause, how they will be paid for, either from individual commuters pockets - or from the public purse as a whole. What is often overlooked is the wide-ranging benefits new lines bring to the city, from economic regeneration to transforming the ways in which people travel by unlocking new areas and providing additional capacity. MTR was recently awarded the contract to run the Crossrail concession, and we look forward to working with TfL to help unlock and magnify the wide-ranging benefits which Crossrail will bring by transforming how and why people travel around the capital.
A 2013 study by the European Commission confirmed what most people already knew, demand for rail travel is increasing. The study found that rail passenger traffic as a proportion of transport journeys had increased from 4.6% in 1993 to 7.5% in 2010, with all the indications pointing towards continued growth.
Traditional transport models tend to focus on growth from modal shift, with people changing how they get from A to B. However a move away from cars and buses onto trains isn't the full story, and our experience shows that greatly enhanced services and new lines actually significantly change where people travel.
London Overground is a case in point. Despite the lack of connectivity between the South East of London and the North East of London, it took a few decades (and a number of iterations) before the London Overground network as we now know it came to fruition. And with it came not only a new way for people to move around London, but newly accessible jobs, businesses and services to easily move around to.
Shoreditch, Dalston and Hoxton, areas that up until a decade ago were relatively unconnected and underachieving economically, are now thriving communities with many successful businesses and buoyant house prices - Rightmove estimates house prices in Hackney are up 30% since 2011, and Hackney Council suggests the growth rate for Hackney businesses was 31% between 2004-2011 (13% higher than London as a whole). Of course these changes can't simply be put down to the power of transport, but statistics such as an 150% increase in passenger numbers at Dalston Kingsland station in just 5 years can't be disregarded as insignificant.
However, the connectivity a rail line brings is only as good as its reliability, and this is where London Overground has come into its own. Since taking over operation of London Overground in 2007 MTR, as part of London Overground Rail Operations Limited (LOROL), has helped transform the network from one of the lowest performers in the London transport portfolio to one of the highest. Through effective investment in rolling stock, staff and stations, annual ridership has now reached 135 million - up five-fold since we took over the concession. Crucially, punctuality is over 96% and, according to independent passenger watchdog Passenger Focus, during 2013 services achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 91%, among the highest of any franchise or concession in the UK.
This success shows that Britain's rail networks can be run efficiently and effectively, and that consistently high reliability is not unattainable. MTR's success on the London Overground is not a one-off. In Hong Kong we run the metro, light rail and Airport Express services, to even higher levels of punctuality.
With journey time between Tottenham Court Road and West Drayton expected to be just 25 minutes, and from Tottenham Court Road to Woolwich a mere 19 minutes, Crossrail will bring even more parts of London within striking distance of other parts of the city - opening up all the regeneration benefits such connectivity can foster. However, what will be crucial to really bringing transformative change to travel habits, is ensuring the highest levels of punctuality and reliability complement what will be a world-class piece of transport infrastructure - and this will be MTR's core focus when we begin operations.
Crossrail - begins operations in May 2015 with the services between Shenfield to Liverpool Street. We look forward to working closely with our partners at TfL to ensure the opportunities offered by Crossrail are made into realities through real reliability - encouraging more and more people to re-think their travel options and explore new areas.
Jeremy Long is a confirmed speaker at the 2014 European Rail Congress Summit