Agenda item


Purpose of the report:


To present to the Select Committee the ‘New Rail Strategy for Surrey’.

To seek the views and comments of the Select Committee on the strategy so they may be communicated to and considered by the County Council’s Cabinet when it considers the New Rail Strategy for Surrey on 30 March 2021.

To receive a commentary of the rail strategy from London TravelWatch.




Matt Furniss, Cabinet Member for Highways


Paul Millin, Strategic Transport Group Manager


Daniel Philips, Senior Transport Consultant - Arup

Tim Bellenger, Director - Policy and Investigation, London Travelwatch


Key points raised during the discussion:


  1. The report presented to the Select Committee was the updated Railway Strategy (the ‘Strategy’) and it was to be considered at Cabinet on 30 March 2021. The Strategy had a supporting evidence base with a set of strategic aims and was part of the wider, forthcoming Local Transport Plan 4 (LTP4). Rail was an important aspect of Surrey’s infrastructure and would be key in helping the county achieve transport decarbonisation. Railways were largely out of the direct control of local authorities thus the Council would focus on effective lobbying, seeking investment, working with bus operators, and improving connections and access to railway stations for residents. 


  1. The Strategic Transport Group Manager stated that the Strategy was developed in partnership with Arup and would be important in helping the Council to articulate its strategies, policies, priorities, ambitions and the supporting evidence basis to local MPs, the government and rail industry to secure investment in Surrey.


  1. Members asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, officers reported changed commuting patterns and a significant decrease in public railway usage. Despite this, the Group Manager stated that it was still an appropriate time to adopt a new strategy so the Council could input and shape the future of the rail industry. The Cabinet Member agreed that it was timely because it was important that post-Covid-19 people returned to sustainable modes of transport to meet decarbonisation and net carbon targets. The Cabinet Member went on to say that, as part of LTP4, it was vital that the railway strategy was integrated into the wider transport and infrastructure plan as early as possible to support the Council’s Climate Change Strategy (CCS). The Strategy was also important in light of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda; it provided an evidence base to lobby government to keep investment around Surrey and the southeast. 



  1. The Chairman invited the Director - Policy and Investigation, London Travelwatch (the statutory consumer watchdog that represented transport users in and around London including Surrey) to comment on the Strategy. The Director had made several suggestions in response to Surrey’s new Railway Strategy regarding station accessibility, community rail partnerships, and the extension of smartcard technology. Passenger numbers fell during the pandemic so improvements in the aforementioned areas were important in attracting users (both new and old) to the network.


  1. The Director stated that it was important that the Council engaged in wider consultation with stakeholders and disabled groups, for example Transport for All, in the finalising of the strategy, and suggested that modest changes and smaller schemes would make a considerable difference to people (for example, tactile paving at all stations).


  1. The Director added that joint research carried out by London Travelwatch and Transport Focus showed that, post-pandemic, many people who traditionally commuted to work via train would be working from home. Thus, the railway would be increasingly reliant on leisure travel for custom and it was important that it be redesigned to attract the leisure market. The role of community rail partnerships and station adoption routes also needed to be customer improved, whilst extending the Transport for London system (Oyster and contactless payment systems into Surrey) and improving integration between bus and railway would be in the best interest of passengers.


  1. The Group Manager responded to the Director’s comments. The Service undertook detailed engagement with the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People in development of the Strategy, but the Group Manager hoped that it could undertake further engagement work with Transport for All before schemes were implemented. The Group Manager was interested in the idea of creating a package of small schemes for stations across Surrey that were quick wins at relatively low cost and would identify and develop these in partnership with train operating companies and Network Rail. One of the issues discussed with Network Rail was ‘first and last-mile’ connectivity to the rail network. It was important that the Council worked with districts, boroughs and companies when considering station improvement projects and improving active travel and access for people with disabilities.


  1. Regarding the community rail partnership, the Group Manager felt that this was best done locally and not something imposed and led by the Council. The Council would however work with local interest groups and parish councils to connect them to existing community rail partnerships and introduce them to train operating companies to develop projects. The Group Manager also stated the importance of implementing a more flexible and understandable contactless and smart ticketing system and use of smart cards for the whole of the rail network. Simplification of rail ticketing would be key to encouraging infrequent or non-users to use rail and increase usage for leisure travel.


  1. The Chairman asked whether the four categories (network infrastructure connectivity and services, stations and access, and passenger experience) that highlighted the main areas of intervention and policy in the rail network were the outcomes that the Council was aiming to achieve through the strategy. The Group Manager responded that some of this work was already underway and the Council was engaged in schemes with the rail industry that were achieving tangible outcomes for the work set out in the ‘Categorising Interventions’ section of the report. Decarbonisation of the North Downs Line was one of the top three electrification programmes prioritised in the UK which the Council was working closely with Network Rail on. Additionally, for the development of Haslemere station, the Council had invested some money and levered significant investment from the train operating company and Network Rail for measures to improve accessibility, such as a new carpark and improved cycling and active travel routes to the station. The Council also worked with the train operating company and National Rail on the redevelopment of Longcross Station to mitigate the impact of planned housing development. Work on ‘first and last-mile’ solutions was key to supporting active travel, the Council’s declared climate emergency, and other areas of Council policy linked to LTP4. It was important that Network Rail knew where the Council’s direction for development and growth was so that investment was made in local pressure areas.


  1. A Member queried how much flexibility there was for the strategy to change in response the Government commissioned Williams Review that was essential to the rail industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Group Manager explained that, with the level of uncertainty around customer usage of the rail network and how the economy would respond post-pandemic, the government needed to put in a place a model that would be futureproof for the next 5-19 years, meaning a likely shift from a franchise model to concession model.  The Council would still need to work with companies operating those concessions to ensure the right level of services were delivered to residents. The Senior Transport Consultant for Arup added that ongoing work with government was looking at how this model would work in different parts of the country. It was likely that operation would move towards TFL operation of the London overground i.e. more setting of the timetable and performance-based awards to operators to improve reliability compared to private operators. The Senior Transport Consultant agreed that it was likely to move to a concession model whereby fair risk was taken more by the state however there was uncertainty as to how contracts between operators and Network Rail would look.


  1. A Member asked whether the Strategy included strategic out of county projects that would be beneficial for Surrey. The Group Manager explained that the Council was supporting a number of improvement projects outside Surrey that were detailed in the Strategy. For example, Network Rail’s Croydon Area Remodelling Scheme project and rail access to Heathrow. The Heathrow Strategic Planning Group was a joint partnership of many of the local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) responsible for planning the region surrounding Heathrow Airport and there was a piece of work underway whereby parties were establishing common areas of agreement. 


  1. The Government asked local authorities to sign up to enhanced quality bus partnerships to help improve access and the linkage between bus and rail stations. The Group Manager explained that this area wasn’t wholly within the Council’s control thus it needed to influence and press the rail industry and government to take action. The Council and LEP had put pressure on Great Western Railway to deliver improvements on the North Downs Line which resulted in an increase in rail service however this progress ceased due to the pandemic. The Senior Transport Consultant added that the electrification of the North Downs Line was one of the interventions that was being approached in a more risk averse manner, which is why it was a 5-10-year medium term goal. He hoped that the shorter end of the medium term would be met with fully electrified trains operating on the line in five years.





  1. The Committee lent its support for the strategy. In particular, Members encouraged the Council to lobby for a simplified fare structure and ticketing system and an expedited timeframe to achieve electrification of the North Downs line. There should be flexibility in the Council’s approach to accommodate changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.


  1. A Member requested that paragraph 40– Environmental Sustainability Implications – of the Cabinet report also reference the range of positive implications for climate change that the schemes and interventions brought forward by the Council in delivering the New Rail Strategy for Surrey would have. This was to further indicate how the New Railway Strategy supported other Council priority areas, such as achieving net carbon.






I.             The Committee recommends that the Cabinet Member for Highways ensures that the Service identifies any small schemes in the county that could improve residents’ access to railway stations quickly and that a commitment to do so is included in the report to Cabinet on 30 March 2021.


Supporting documents: