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Rail review: Grayling confirms no major changes until 2020

Rail commuters could continue to face disruption until major changes are made to the rail franchising system in 2020, following the transport secretary’s speech to MPs yesterday.

Chris Grayling said he “can’t stand by” with the collapse of franchises such as Virgin Trains East Coast  and current industry struggles to deliver improvements to the rail networks, after the chaos caused by new timetables implemented in May which left the journeys of thousands of commuters disrupted by cancellations and delays.

Last month Grayling commissioned a ‘root-and-branch’ review of the rail industry, to be chaired by former British Airways boss Keith Williams and supported by an external panel of experts – including Roger Marsh, who chairs a new body representing all 11 LEPs in the north of England called NP11.

Other panel members include:

  • Dick Fearn, independent chair of Network Rail’s Western Route Supervisory Board and former chief executive of Irish Rail
  • Tom Harris, former transport minister and MP for Glasgow South
  • Margaret Llewellyn OBE, chair of Network Rail’s Wales Route Supervisory Board and a non-executive director of the Development Bank of Wales
  • Dr Alice Maynard CBE, TfL board member and the former chair of Scope
  • Tony Poulter, non-executive board member at the DfT and chair of the East Coast Partnership

“The review will look at how the railway is organised to deliver for passengers. It will look forensically at the different options, and then make recommendations on what will best deliver results in different areas of the country,” the transport secretary told MPs in the Commons.

The review will conclude with a White Paper in autumn 2019, which will set out its findings and explain how we will deliver reform. Grayling noted that he expects reform to begin from 2020, allowing passengers to see benefits before the next election.

Many will argue that having to deal with the status quo for the next year at minimum will mean not much will change immediately to the quality and reliability of services. Areas hit hardest by the disruption to the rail networks — such as Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester — have suffered a considerable fall in passengers compared to the previous year.

The recommendations of the review should support the delivery of:

  • Commercial models for the provision of rail services that prioritise the interests of passengers and taxpayers
  • Rail industry structures that promote clear accountability and effective joint-working for both passengers and the freight sector
  • A system that is financially sustainable and able to address long-term cost pressures
  • A railway that is able to offer good value fares for passengers, while keeping costs down for taxpayers
  • Improved industrial relations, to reduce disruption and improve reliability for passengers
  • A rail sector with the agility to respond to future challenges and opportunities

In his speech, Grayling also slammed the door shut on the prospect of renationalisation: “There is an expectation that taking on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt onto the government books will magically resolve every problem.

“This fails to recognise that many of the problems that customers faced this year were down to the nationalised part of the railways. It also creates the sense that a government-controlled rebrand would somehow make every train work on time.

“Those who make this argument fail to tell passengers that the much-needed investment that is taking place today would be at risk, and that taxpayers’ money would be diverted from public services to subsidise losses.”

Last month Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said pre-emptively shutting the door to nationalisation “fetters” the rail review and constrains expert advice.

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Image credit: David Mirzoeff, PA Images


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