Network Rail set to lose monopoly over rail tracks
Network Rail’s sole control over Britain’s railway infrastructure will be stripped and shared with train operators in an attempt to cut down on delays and lower fares, the government is set to announce.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling is expected to tell the state-owned infrastructure owner to share responsibility for repairing and maintaining tracks with TOCs in what would be the biggest change to the British railway system in two decades.
It is hoped that handing responsibility to private operators will incentivise them to complete repairs more quickly and possibly lower fares. Grayling is set to make the announcement at Conservative policy think tank Policy Exchange tomorrow evening.
The secretary of state previously spoke of his desire to give operators control during his time as shadow transport secretary in 2007, saying at the time: “We think, with hindsight, that the complete separation of track and train into separate businesses at the time of privatisation was not right for our railways.
“The separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways – and hence fares – and has slowed decisions about capacity improvements. Too many people and organisations are now involved in getting things done – so nothing happens.”
In a press release sent out ahead of the speech, Policy Exchange said that Grayling's vision will “put the passenger at its heart, ensuring that journeys are safe, quick, and provide value for money”, the Telegraph reported.
One idea said to be mooted by the transport secretary is the introduction of ‘vertical integration’, which would give operators responsibility for maintaining their sections of the rail network when new franchises are awarded.
The RMT has pledged to picket Grayling’s speech, which will take place during their planned Southern conductors’ strikes. The union has warned that the plans may mark a return to Railtrack, the government’s ill-fated private replacement to British Rail which collapsed in 2001.
“Grayling and his government are hell bent on ripping to shreds the safety regime on our railways, not just by axing guards but also by turning the clock back to the lethal days of the privatised Railtrack on our infrastructure,” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said.
The news comes following a string of mooted privatisation initiatives across Network Rail’s portfolio, such as a desire to sell off parts of its major stations, potentially decentralise specific routes, and sell electrical power assets – although this plan was scrapped in September.
Former transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin had already endorsed the idea of selling off the infrastructure owner’s assets, and other rail heavyweights, such as Mark Carne, Sir Peter Hendy and Lord Adonis, have backed the idea of running Network Rail “like a business” while taking advantage of private sector investment.
Just last week, Carne also announced a new independent review designed to open up NR to competition in project delivery, effectively opening its doors to greater private funding.
The DfT declined to comment on the Telegraph’s report, only confirming that Grayling will be giving a speech tomorrow.
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