railway infrastructure

Public sector body to take control of Britain’s railways

A new public sector body has been created that will take control of Britain’s railways and infrastructure while contracting private operators to run the trains.

Great British Railways (GBR), which will absorb Network Rail, will own the infrastructure, directly collect fare revenue, run and plan the network, and set most fares and timetables.

The new body will also be able to offer contracts to operators based on their punctuality and efficiency rather than the ability to raise revenue, in a move the Government hopes will help to stymie the rail system’s failure to stay punctual.

GBR will also seek to simplify the current ticketing system with new flexible season tickets and a significant roll-out of more Pay As You Go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.

A new website will sell tickets, and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.

But there will remain a substantial “and often greater role for the private sector”, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

GBR will contract private partners to operate most trains to the timetables and fares it specifies, with a model similar to that used by Transport for London in its Overground and Docklands Light Railway services.

“I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“By creating Great British Railways and investing in the future of the network, this government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of.”

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said: “Our railways were born and built to serve this country, to forge stronger connections between our communities and provide people with an affordable, reliable and rapid service. Years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication have seen that vision fade and passengers failed. That complicated and broken system ends today.

“The pandemic has seen the government take unprecedented steps to protect services and jobs. It’s now time to kickstart reforms that give the railways solid and stable foundations for the future, unleashing the competitive, innovative and expert abilities of the private sector, and ensuring passengers come first.”

The Covid-19 pandemic saw the number of rail journeys in the UK plunge to levels not seen since the Victorian era and is still far below pre-pandemic levels.

The DfT said it was confident that GBR “will drive significant efficiencies in the railways’ inflated costs, reducing complexity and duplication, increasing flexibility, changing working practices and making it easier and cheaper to invest”.

New National Rail contracts are expected to be announced later this year and will be in operation for two years, acting as a bridge to the new reforms.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), dismissed the plan as “papering over the cracks”.

He said: “A concessions-based model will still see passengers’ and taxpayer money leak out of our industry in the form of dividend payments for the greedy shareholders of the private operators who will hold them.”

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