The rail industry has recently announced the launch of the new Rail Ombudsman Service, fulfilling an important Government commitment. Following discussions led by the Government, the rail industry, working with consumer groups, set up a Task Force to establish a new independent Ombudsman for rail passengers. The Government has been actively working with the Task Force to achieve this.
The Ombudsman will be delivered by a specialist provider with a strong track record. It has binding powers, giving passengers a stronger choice and ensuring that they get a fair deal when disputes with train operators cannot otherwise be resolved. Issues of real importance to passengers will be focused on such as customer service, complaints handling, station issues, availability of information and train service issues.
From an accessibility perspective, the scheme will also cover disputes around the provision of assistance and advertised services and facilities for disabled people.
On a related note, I am very pleased that Great Western Railway (GRW) has included Tilehurst Station in its bid for government money from the Access for All fund. I am formally supporting this bid and have also written to the Department for Transport to make the case for local commuters. Constituents have raised the need for better access at Tilehurst station with me over a period of time and I have had a long correspondence with both GRW and Network Rail in the past about the need to make Tilehurst Station more accessible, particularly for those with disabilities, the elderly and parents of young children. I very much hope GRW is successful in its bid.
In past years I have worked with Theale Parish Council, West Berkshire Council and local Theale residents to persuade the Department for Transport to fund accessibility improvements at Theale Station. To make the case more directly, I invited the then Rail Minister to visit Theale to meet with all the key stakeholders which he did. So I was very pleased to receive the confirmation that in the case of this local station there is no need to bid for funding once again as Theale Station will definitely be getting money in this next round of funding, having been made allocations from the last round.
I welcome all these announcements and confirmations as steps forward for passengers’ rights and improved accessibility at local rail stations. It is vital that rail passengers can get redress for poor service when it occurs and that they are treated with respect when they do so. It is also imperative that passengers with particular physical needs have ease of access where possible. And I will continue to make the case for local Reading commuters in government.