Rail franchises operators & contracts


Rail Delivery Group outlines what rail companies want for the future

As we await the outcome of the government’s Rail Review, Paul Plummer, chief executive of Rail Delivery Group, outlines what rail companies want for the future.

The rail network is under the kind of pressure that was never foreseen when today’s structure was introduced 25 years ago, with millions more passengers travelling and thousands more trains on the tracks every day.

As the current structure of the railway reaches the limits of what it can deliver, too often rail companies have not got everything right. People are left feeling intense frustration when the service doesn’t deliver for them. It’s clear that the status quo cannot remain.

The time is right for a once-in-a-generation upgrade to the rail system. That is why rail companies have put forward a radical set of proposals to the government’s independently chaired Rail Review, providing an alternative to the current franchising system.

READ MORE: Increasing passenger confidence and accessibility with the Rail Delivery Group

READ MORE: Robert Nisbet, Director of Regions and Nations at the Rail Delivery Group, sets out a vision for easier and more accessible travel

The proposals are based on months of conversations with passengers, businesses and communities up and down the country. They also draw on the collective wisdom of men and women with decades of experience running the railway and utilise analysis of railways around the world.

The result is a long-term plan which we believe will deliver real, lasting change – the greater accountability and better value for money people expect and deserve. It’s a new approach designed around the needs of passengers, communities and the businesses who depend on rail freight to trade. In some of our major towns and cities, where commuters depend on the railway every day, there would be democratically accountable, Transport for London-style single-branded services, with an integrated transport body given greater control.


On long distance routes where there is enough demand to underpin genuine competition, multiple operators would compete for passengers’ business. Whether it is quicker, more comfortable journeys or faster Wi-Fi, demand would shape the market – with passengers able to vote with their feet by changing to a different operator.

On other routes, tough targets combined with clear incentives would be introduced for companies to deliver the outcomes their customers want, replacing today’s tightly specified inputs-based contracts. This would give operators the freedom to innovate to improve, while only rewarding them for good performance.

A new national body, independent of government, would act as the glue binding the whole system together, holding the industry to account and ensuring the people running the tracks and the trains are all pulling in the same direction as the customers they serve.

READ MORE: Rail Delivery Group boss: British railways ‘the envy of Europe’

Underpinning all of this would be a fully reformed fares system with decades-old regulation updated, making buying tickets easier for all and enabling a best fare guarantee. The regular commuter could simply tap in and out with the confidence of a price cap. The business person could buy an inter-city ticket on their smartphone en route to the station. The occasional traveller who today is bamboozled by the range of fares on offer would be presented instead with straightforward choices.

This approach is designed to deliver what the country expects – a world class railway, based on what will work, not ideology. It responds to the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and instead, it is a plan for every part of Britain. While we await the outcomes of the government’s Rail Review, we are now taking our plans around the country to understand how the building blocks of a new system can be arranged to maximise the benefits the railway brings to each individual local area.

The railway is a service relied upon by people and businesses nationwide – the economic arteries of our towns and cities. There is no time to waste – we must deliver the railway Britain needs over the next two decades.


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