Customer will be king for Abellio Greater Anglia’s new managing director

On Sunday the National Express East Anglia era ended and Dutch firm Abellio Greater Anglia's began. Business writer Annabelle Dickson speaks to the new managing director.

If there are delays on the Norwich/London trains today, Greater Anglia's new managing director will be late for work too.

Having moved to north Essex to take up his post, Ruud Haket will be getting Greater Anglia services into the capital.

He inherits a train line which –according to figures released by watchdog Passenger Focus last month – has until now been run by a company with the lowest overall rating for customer satisfaction.

Just 77pc of those questioned in the National Passenger Survey thought the service it provided was satisfactory or good – down 1pc on last year. National Express East Anglia (NXEA) also registered the lowest satisfaction in terms of value for money and was rated joint bottom in terms of train punctuality.

Can Abellio turn this around? There is much to be done in a short franchise of just 29 months and the company has already warned passengers not to expect miracles.

There will be no Norwich in 90 or Ipswich in 60 and no new rolling stock – though all the trains will be deep-cleaned before the Olympics.

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Money will not be splashed on paint to turn the trains Dutch orange or Abellio red. The only physical sign the franchise has been inherited will be a change of logo which will gradually appear as the trains go back to the depot over the coming weeks.

But what Mr Haket hopes will change is that the customer will be king. Customer service will be at the heart of his franchise. It is something we have all heard before, so can a new company really make a difference?

'The most important thing is to improve the quality of the service and the experience people have on the line,' he said.

'One important thing we will do is make sure we communicate effectively and efficiently with every front-line member of staff. I am passionate about making sure people have the best travel information. It is my job to enable them to do that.'

All staff dealing with passengers will be issued with iPhones or Blackberrys to keep them up to date with what is happening.

Customers will also be encouraged to sign up for new iPhone apps and for e-mail updates to their phones.

The company has also promised to double the numbers of safety and security staff in its customer service team and as well as working with the ticket collectors to stop fare evasion and with the British Transport Police to tackle anti-social behaviour on the trains, the extra staff will also provide help, assistance and information.

The company claims it is the largest ever single deployment of complementary policing resources in the history of UK rail.

But can the new company deliver an end to bus replacements and delays that we have become so accustomed to?

Mr Haket is clear work will continue on the overhead lines and Network Rail's programme of improvements to the line will continue.

But he said they would work more closely with the firm responsible for the UK's infrastructure – which he said was changing too.

'Network Rail and ourselves fully understand the impact these replacements are having on passengers. We need to work very closely together,' he said.

And when he says closer he means physically. Abellio Greater Anglia is moving into Network Rail's offices.

'The work has to be done,' he said. 'The overhead line has to be replaced. It is working together to make a long- term plan together for passengers.'

He said the two companies would not have a supplier/customer relationship and when things went wrong, Abellio Greater Anglia would not hide behind Network Rail.

'We cannot hide behind a supplier. I am happy to be the front door. It is the same as if you buy something from Apple. You would go back to the store where you bought it,' he said.

'We want to make sure the organisation improves and the experience of passengers improves. It needs to get better.'

But what about more fundamental improvement and projects such as the Trowse bridge which has been identified as a key problem in improving the Norwich to Cambridge line?

'We are working together with the stakeholders in the area to make improvement plans that enable improvements in the future,' he said.

And he added he would be working with MPs to keep the pressure on the government, keep plans on the table and ensure central government money was coming to this region.

Abellio is now responsible for 141 stations and it plans an improvement programme across all of them.

He also confirmed they would be working with Norwich City Council to introduce a cycle hire scheme.

Headline pricing will not change today and timetables will not be able to change until 2013.

In the end the simple test will be whether passengers on a line which seems plagued almost daily with problems – whether involving overhead wires or the proverbial 'wrong sort of weather' – find travelling a better, more reliable and more comfortable experience.

There are a lot of people watching Abellio – not just passengers but also the alliance of cross-party politicians determined to improve the region's Cinderella rail services.

And the proof of the pudding will be who in due course gets the 15-year franchise to run the services. There is a plain incentive for Abellio to get it right if it wants to be here for the long run.