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RDG calls for new regulator to stop railway ‘being used as a political football’

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has called for a new organisation to regulate the railway and replace the ORR in order to stop the railway “being used as a political football.”

Responding to the government’s call for submissions to its Williams Review, the chief executive of the RDG, Paul Plummer, has said a new independent organisation should be established to enhance the accountability of decisions about the railway and enable a more joined-up long-term approach.

The RDG said a new independent organisation could be a “guiding mind” ensuring the rail network works as a whole and the right targets are set, enabling politicians to step back from day-to-day detail.

Speaking at the Accelerate Rail conference, Plummer said the new organisation should replace the ORR and “prevent the railway from being used as a political football.”

He said: “We are developing ideas for bold, structural, once-in-a-generation reform of the railway based on evidence. We are gaining insights from the people who use our services, listening to people who work on the railway and looking to the best railways in countries and cities around the world. 

Plummer said there are “too many bodies,” some with conflicting remits and competing agendas.

“Too often at the moment, the lines of accountability are blurred, and the public doesn’t know who is responsible for which part of the system,” Plummer noted.

“Ministers understandably feel they are left on the hook for day-to-day problems. Rationally, they often attempt to off-set political risk through constrictive contracts, but that means companies’ ability to innovate, adapt and evolve is curtailed.”

The RDG chief executive said that the industry was perceived as risk averse as a result, “sticking too rigidly to the minutiae of the contract and sometimes overlooking the bigger picture.”

“That leaves passengers with a railway that is not responsive enough to their needs. 

“So that’s why we are calling for a new arms-length organising body to implement national rail policy.

It would allow politicians to step back and concentrate on the big questions of what they want the railway to achieve for communities and the country.

“Train companies and Network Rail could focus on what they do best – innovating and creating to deliver better for their customers. 

“This new body, responsible for setting strategy, objectives and targets and for holding the industry to account must be separate from the organisations responsible for running the railway, both track and train. The pupils cannot mark their own homework. “

He added: “Our vision for a new arms-length body for the railway in England & Wales must be different to what has gone before. Unlike previous attempts, it should have real autonomy and real powers. It should have the best people and leadership. If done right, it would swiftly become a trusted and respected player in the field.” 


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