The Shadow Strategic Rail Authority, the new government agency
scheduled to take charge of the strategic direction of the rail network
and monitor performance, is bringing in Chris Austin as its first
external relations director, the top communications post.
The agency’s remit excludes the thorny issue of safety, but the
appointment comes at a time when public faith in the rail network is
plumbing new depths following the Paddington rail crash earlier this
month and another crash this week in Sussex.
Austin will lead a press team of four, headed by Paul McKie, and will
report to chief executive Mike Grant.
He joins from his own Newbridge Partnership, set up to provide political
advice and monitoring for the transport sector. He was also policy and
parliamentary affairs director at the British Railways Board.
Austin also faces the tricky task of representing the body which
regulates fares and reliability - as the cost of rail travel soars and
punctuality in certain key areas is worsening.
He said: ’The main challenge is to make the railway work better and
encourage people to use it. It is the shifting of people from road to
rail that will be the exciting bit.’
Austin’s brief is also to maintain relations with various train users’
consultative bodies, local and regional authorities in the UK and other
Although he believes that two-way communication with these groups will
be the key to determining rail strategy to boost rail use, by both
passengers and freight, he admits that there is a tough PR challenge
ahead to shift negative public perceptions.