Fares, rail policy and DfT news

21.03.19

Government’s role in new passenger-centric railway ‘will have to change’, says Williams Review lead

The man leading the Williams Rail Review has warned that the government’s role in the UK railways “will have to change” as the industry switches to a more passenger-centric railway.

Keith Williams, the man leading the “root and branch” review of the railways following the chaos of last May’s timetable change, implied that the DfT could take on a more arms-length approach.

Speaking at a rail event in London, Williams said “trade-offs and tough choices” will be “unavoidable” as he set out his vision for “passengers to be at the heart of the future of the railway.”

He stated that it was right for ministers to set the strategic direction for the railway and decide the overall level of public funding, which they are rightly accountable for, but said “some decisions are best taken by those closer to the detailed operations.”

Williams said the DfT has “had to take on roles it never intended to perform, largely because of an absence of clear alternatives” and that it had been “filling a vacuum” in the current structure.

“The Department for Transport’s role and the role of other industry players, will have to change as we begin to realign the sector to focus on its customers,” he told delegates at the event.

In his speech, Williams acknowledged that satisfaction was at its lowest in a decade and that poor communication had been a recent issue – and he also stated that “one thing the sector certainly needs is a move towards more integrated transport networks.”

This comes as the chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), Paul Plummer, called for a new organisation to replace the ORR in order to enhance the accountability of decisions about the railway.

Responding to the government’s call for submissions to its Williams Review, Plummer said the change was needed to stop the railway “being used as a political football” as “the lines of accountability are blurred” in the current system.

The findings of the Williams review are due to be published this summer in time for the government to produce a White Paper in the autumn.

Williams has also now set out the criteria that the review will draw upon to develop a new model for the UK rail network as well as launching the next phase of the review’s call for evidence.

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