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Committee of Public Accounts chairman Edward Leigh said today:

'Rail passengers up and down the country will be familiar with the stark contrast between the modern new trains now in service and the deplorable state of many of the railway stations they serve. Far too many small and medium-sized stations are threatening places, with poorly lit, graffiti-covered passages and platforms, vandalised facilities and no staff on hand. A third of the larger stations in England and Wales have no waiting rooms and there are no lavatories at some 15%.

'Passenger needs at stations have taken second place for the Strategic Rail Authority and the railway industry. The original franchises gave little incentive to the train operating countries to modernise stations. And, since privatisation, private sector investment in stations has been discouraged by the sheer number of bodies involved, all at loggerheads about who is responsible for what.

'There is a whole lot that the Department for Transport, now responsible for stations strategy, can and must do. It should see whether new standard requirements for stations can be applied to existing franchises. It should work to agree common standards of convenience, cleanliness and security for different categories of station. It should promote national crime reduction schemes. And it should hammer out a coherent approach to attracting private investment in stations. As it is, a large number of Britain's railway stations are a poor advertisement for our country.'

Mr Leigh was speaking as the committee published its 22nd report* of this session, which examined the standard of Britain's railway stations and how it might be improved.

Britain's 2,507 railway stations vary in age, size and passenger usage. On average, 90,000 passengers a day use each of the 28 largest stations; just 100 passengers a day use each of the 1,200 smallest unstaffed stations. Numerous organisations are involved in station-related activities. Network Rail owns most stations, and is responsible for their structural repair and renewal. It operates 17 of the largest stations, leasing the remaining 2,490 stations to 22 Train Operating Companies (TOCs) who are responsible for station maintenance, cleaning and operations.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) played a key role in stations. Its predecessor, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF), had placed basic, broadly defined obligations on TOCs for the upkeep of stations. OFRAF had anticipated, however, that TOCs would go beyond the basic requirements and invest in improvements in response to commercial incentives. This assumption proved flawed. The SRA has set more specific requirements for TOCs to meet in new franchises entered into since 2004, but most TOCs continue to operate to their original obligations until their existing franchises run out, in up to sixteen years' time.

Insufficient attention has been given to the quality of stations over recent years, and little account has been taken of passengers' needs and priorities. Passengers would like stations to be safe and secure, with staff and good quality information available. Passenger satisfaction remains low for medium sized and small stations. Passengers are most dissatisfied with upkeep, repair and personal safety. More than half of Britain's stations are not fully accessible to those who are disabled, and to parents with young children etc. The Department for Transport plans to invest£370 million in station accessibility improvements over the next 10 years.

There are growing capacity pressures at several larger stations, but there is a lack of funds for improvements and no overarching strategy for station modernisation. The Department for Transport now has responsibility for stations strategy and is working alongside Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation and the industry to make it easier for other organisations to deliver station improvement projects and to attract private finance into station improvement schemes.

* here to view the report.

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