Rail consultation may open floodgate

Abelio Greater Anglia train
Image caption Passengers in East Anglia are being asked what they think of their service

We hope Claire Perry knows what she's letting herself in for.

For the Rail Minister is asking passengers in East Anglia for comments about the service they receive and how it could be made better, which in our neck of the woods is surely asking for trouble.

Let's face it, rail travellers are a forthright breed, who will not pass up on an opportunity to express an opinion about their regular commute.

"The view of passengers are critical to improving services," says Mrs Perry. "We really do want to hear from people about their views and we really hope we get a good response."

Words she might come to regret.

"It is a comprehensive consultation document that includes some challenging questions. These things can be very unwieldy but I've tried to cut it down to make it very pertinent."

The consultation comes as the government starts to draw up the tender for the new Greater Anglia franchise, which will start in October 2016.

The government knows what MPs and the local business community think; they have fought a very successful lobbying campaign which culminated in the Transport Secretary promising to upgrade the main London to Norwich line at some stage in the future.

But up until now passengers haven't really had a say.

The consultation will last until March 16th and asks passengers for their views on a range of subjects.

19 Questions

It acknowledges that "the current rail service in East Anglia has remained unchanged for many years" and promises that the new franchise will "ensure that the service meets the needs of passengers and businesses in an important region of the UK which contributes significantly to the UK economy".

Regular travellers may let out a hollow laugh when they read the claim that " the Government is forging ahead with plans to reduce journey times between Norwich and London to 90 minutes". While a few improvements will be made next year, most of the serious spending isn't likely to happen until after 2019.

But if they can get through that, they will find 19 questions to answer.

Some are fairly predictable: What should be the key priorities of the new franchise, how many trains an hour should there be, do passengers value cross country services like the one between Norwich and Liverpool?

But there are also some fairly contentious ones: Should first class seating be removed to allow more space for standard class passengers and should there be more staff on duty at stations and on the trains?

And there are a couple of questions which are guaranteed to get respondents going.

"Are there any examples of outstanding customer service experiences which you believe the East Anglia rail franchise should aspire to?"

Or how about this one: "How can the franchise operator help you better during planned and unplanned disruption?"

Passengers could have a field day with that after a year that's seen a catalogue of problems on the main line through Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Government consultations are normally responded to by local politicians and a handful of pressure groups but already social media has been buzzing with suggestions and comments about this one.

Mrs Perry is likely to have a lot of reading to do.