Grayling shakes up franchising and plans to overturn Beeching cuts

A new franchising model will be brought in, some old routes may be reopened, and more details have been revealed on the break-up of GTR and Great Western as part of the government’s ‘Strategic Vision for Rail,’ released today.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has used the announcement to detail changes in the franchising system which would “end the operational divide between track and train” by allowing local private partners more control over track as well as stock and services.

There was also more information on reopening old lines which have remained unused since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s in an attempt to ease strain on other services and open new areas for housing and development.

In addition, plans include more information on the news that both GTR and Great Western could be broken into smaller franchises, with confirmation that the DfT intends to split the former, as previously reported by RTM, at the completion of the Thameslink Programme.

Franchising is central to the changes which the government will be consulting on, with Grayling revealing that South Eastern could be the first franchise subject to a ‘joint team’ model, as had been previously indicated back when he first revealed plans for privatising East West Rail.

This will see Network Rail work closely with the operator under an ‘alliance manager’ in an attempt to bring those responsible for track and train closer together and improve performance.

These new partnerships would be supported by regional brands but will allow TOCs more influence over infrastructure projects – as well as introducing some smaller and more locally-focused train companies.

As the transport secretary also indicated this time last year, the East Midlands franchise will also be subject to the new model when the ITT is released in April next year.

Grayling has also confirmed that the brand-new West Coast Partnership will design and operate the first HS2 services to complement West Coast Main Line operations, and added that the DfT will consult on additional destinations for the next CrossCountry franchise.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), said today’s announcement was a “sensible evolution of the partnership railway.”

“For rail to secure prosperity for Britain in the years ahead, it must change and improve,” he continued. “This is why train and freight companies, Network Rail and the industry’s supply chain have publicly committed to strengthen the economy, improve services for customers, boost the communities we serve and create more jobs.

“It’s right customers and communities are at the heart of the partnership railway. Developing different types of alliances between those running trains and those responsible for the tracks and signalling will allow us to run more services and operate them more punctually.

“Introducing greater competition by creating smaller franchises will ensure customers and the communities we serve are even more the focus of what we do.”

Reopening dormant tracks

The new strategy will also look to reopen a number of lines, including many of those closed in the 1960s during the Beeching cuts.

For example, the government is looking at proposals on lines from Bristol between Portishead and Henbury, as well as Exeter to Okehampton and Bere Alston to Tavistock – both closed to passengers under British Rail.

Plans also include proposals for an Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line, new operations around Birmingham, and four new stations in the West Yorkshire area (Elland, Thorpe Park, White Rose and Leeds Bradford Airport).

All the plans are currently at early stages, with the government expecting to analyse the business cases around these issues from local organisations seeking funding.

Many of these routes are aimed at bringing economic benefits to certain areas – such as new housing developments – and the DfT is hoping this incentive will bring more private investment into the industry.

Citing East West Rail, the rail vision points to the ways local and national businesses can directly benefit from new development, as the government hopes this will become a greater part of funding than it previously has.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, responded to the news: “Fifty years ago, the railways were in a state of decline, with falling passenger numbers and low investment. Today, our railways could not be more different, with passenger numbers doubling over the last twenty years and freight usage increasing, meaning a more intensely used railway network.

“Now, the issue is one of capacity, which is why we welcome today’s announcement that rail services lost in the Beeching cuts will be reopened. This will help bring old lines back into use, providing more services for passengers, improving customer experience and bringing economic growth, jobs and investment back to towns and cities connected to these disused lines.”

Splitting up franchises

Separation of the services currently covered by the Great Western franchise is still at consultation phase, but the government has confirmed that plans could include the creation of a separate franchise for the West of England.

GTR will also be split in 2021, as Grayling confirmed proposals from earlier this month that the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise will be broken up following the completion of the Thameslink Programme.

The future of the franchise has been set out in more specific detail in other information released today, which sees the DfT open consultation on new plans.

The proposals explain that a new West of England franchise would provide long-distance services between London, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall together with local and regional services across the south-west.

There is also new information on the immediate future of the network, with the government announcing that the current operator, Great Western Railway (GWR), owned by FirstGroup, will have its franchise extended until March 2020 while service upgrades, including new bi-mode and electric trains, are completed. The department will also seek to agree terms for the TOC to continue operating the franchise for a further two years until March 2022, allowing improved services to be fully completed and bedded in the network.

Rail minister Paul Maynard explained: “Working with GWR, we are bringing the very latest in rail technology to some of the world’s oldest lines, putting passengers first so that they benefit from a transformational programme of upgrades as quickly as possible.

“The benefits of these improvements will be felt right across the franchise area. But as the franchise continues to grow into the 2020s, we want to ensure every line, station and passenger remains central to the train operator’s strategy.”

Anthony Smith, CEO of Transport Focus, also welcomed the news: “Passengers have welcomed the much-needed investment in this part of the railway, despite some of the challenges this has raised.

“The possibility of a further contract with the current operator would allow for continued stability while electrification is completed and new rolling stock introduced.

“However, passengers are entitled to ask for improvements that reflect the step change in quality and provision that would be expected from a competed contract. We will be pressing DfT to achieve outcomes that deliver good results for today’s passengers.”

(Top image c. Dominic Lipinski, PA Wire)

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James Miller   29/11/2017 at 11:46

Other reports say Grayling wants to see more freight and low carbon services into city centres. Could one innovation be to convert redundant Class 317 and 321 electric trains into 100 mph bi-mode freight and parcel carrierscarriers based on Class 769 technplogy, so they could go anywhere on the network. Tesco for example, have several.of their larger stores alongside rail lines. Imagine tobotic trolleys being delivered to the store by rail and unloading themselves into the store, ready to be stacked on the shelves.How many trucks could a Class 317 replace? Greater Angllia and others are replacing reliable trains. Make them work out the rest of their lives humping goods!

Joe Buckley   29/11/2017 at 11:50

Reopening the old lines sounds like a nice idea, but most of the ones I'm aware of in congested areas (where the economic case for provision might be good) have long since been built over, finding alternate routes is likely to be impossible or prohibitively expensive. Certainly some serious consideration of possibilities would be warranted though.

Alycidon   29/11/2017 at 11:59

Grayling's comments on rail re-openings are welcome but there will need to be a serious look at why rail projects are so eye-wateringly expensive and why all the odds seem to be stacked against schemes ever getting off the ground if the industry is to respond well to this.

Gabriel Oaks   29/11/2017 at 12:35

Many of the Beeching cuts were justified; some questionable. However, the UK has moved a long way since then and the railway needs of today's society need to be evaluated. If this leads to reopening closed railways were a proportion of the civil works still exist then this will reduce the cost even if demolition of recent development is required. Equally there may be routes or location that may require an all-new railway and hopefully these will be considered too.

Paul H   29/11/2017 at 12:44

Leeds White Rose again? That one was doing the rounds during my Railtrack incarnation. It was knocked on the head at the time, because additional stops between Leeds and Dewsbury/Huddersfield by local services, would have impacted unfavourably upon the Transpennine services which share the same tracks. So what has changed since then, to make a station at this busy, carcentric suburban shopping centre feasible?

R Nosgrove   29/11/2017 at 13:17

@Alycidon: I couldn't agree more about the costs. When a scheme for which there is supposedly an excellent business case (such as East West Rail) takes an age and costs a fortune to come to fruition, what hope is there for lines with marginal business cases, or where there are other justifications such as social or environmental benefits, or maybe even potential for speculative redevelopment of brownfield sites? Why does it always have to be heavy rail, constructed and signalled to main line standards? Why are light rail or tramway systems so rarely considered? Perhaps a 21st century Colonel Stephens is what we really need! These are welcome words from Grayling, but he's just another government minister "passing through". I'm not holding my breath.

Gabriel Oaks   29/11/2017 at 13:20

Many of the Beeching cuts were justified; some questionable. However, the UK has moved a long way since then and the railway needs of today's society need to be evaluated. If this leads to reopening closed railways were a proportion of the civil works still exist then this will reduce the cost even if demolition of recent development is required. Equally there may be routes or location that may require an all-new railway and hopefully these will be considered too.

Tarka Man   29/11/2017 at 13:56

Reopening's seem mainly those that have already been looked at and tying them into housing development - is the SoS expecting any serious funding from S106 or the CIL levy to pay for reopening's? Sadly that is highly unlikely which is one of the reasons Tavistock has not happened yet, there is simply not enough funding to be extracted from developers to pay the huge cost of reinstatement. As for Alycidon's costs, just mention the NR GRIP process to local Councillor's; what they cost and how long they take before anything is done, and then the NR costings for doing things, is a sure fire way to scupper any such proposal no matter how much local support there is for such a scheme. Splitting the franchises seems like going back a decade to what they were before - My personal view is the GWR should be a almost the same but extract the London locals and branches to TfL, GN to become part of GA (a logical East Anglia Area) with Southern back to South Central / South Eastern and Thameslink as part of Cross Country - can we have an hourly Birmingham - Brighton service please?

Sreevesjc   29/11/2017 at 14:57

Exeter to Okehampton and Bere Alston to Tavistock both get a mention. The former is hardly a 'reopening' as it already exists. No mention of Okehampton to Tavistock in between. Cost £875m for 20 miles (£43.75m/mile). Portishead railway: 3.3 miles £160m (£48.5m/mile). Borders was £10m/mile. This is why rail reopening aren't going to happen any time soon. Fake news.

Andrew   29/11/2017 at 15:35

Bourne End to High Wycombe maybe this one that has been campaigned to reopen could become a possible candidate.The number of people travelling by rail is showing no sign of dropping.

Samir   29/11/2017 at 16:54

With a little more thought, there would be no need for HS3 - let alone HS2 Increasing track on the trans pennine route would mean fast trains could pass - also the Sheffield Leeds route, all of which have half closed stations with single lines - this is a national problem, as any distance traveler can tell you. Spefically for HS3, most users don't line in the cities but in outlying areas, using local stations, so local improvements make way more sense than a high speed link over a 70 mile stretch, such a short waste of HS is not used anywhere else on earth What is Grayling really doing? He is selling off the public assets of the rail infrastructure that have been closed down, look for more party donations shortly

Gemma B (Annierak)   29/11/2017 at 18:56

I always welcome any mention of some rail reinstatement, but hope of course this is not just fake news or hot air, but apart from some encouraging signs in Scotland, I have yet to be convinced that the Government is serious about this. As other people have commented, for some reason these projects seem to take forever to be green lit, take so many years to be built and cost an eye watering amount of money for some reason - although I have been impressed with the transformation of the Bathgate line into a fully formed dual track and electrified service through to Glasgow which seemed to happen quite quickly. Maybe when I see the Waverley route completed and maybe no brainers like Lewes - Uckfield as a physical reality, then I can take the Government seriously - but when even such simple schemes such as putting Ashington back on the map have yet to materialise I can only concur with the skeptics. I certainly wouldn't have gone ahead with HS2 - the money should have gone on reinstatement projects...although I know the Government made it clear that the money would only be available for HS2, as also commented, so many stupidly dumb planning decisions have severed track beds in many places. Please Chris, prove me wrong!

Andrew Gwilt   29/11/2017 at 18:56

East-West Rail Link will come first. As the government and rail organisations are hoping to reopen the EWR line between Oxford/Aylesbury-Bedford/Milton Keynes and Cambridge. If plans do go ahead to build a new railway line that could go via Sandy as Sandy is midway between Bedford and Cambridge. Than going via Hitchin.

Gemma B (Annierak)   29/11/2017 at 19:05

Additionally I meant to say, that it is so funny and ironic, that in so many places, around the country, the extra housing that has been built since Beeching and Chris wants to see more of, has in many places been built on the former rail infrastructure, that if it was still in place or protected/mothballed, would have been available to service that new housing - Duh!

Andrew JG   29/11/2017 at 19:51

Hope that the East West Rail Link will eventually go via Sandy because its the preferred route for the rebuilt railway line that will connect Oxford and Cambridge along with Aylesbury, Princes Risborough, Milton Keynes and Bletchley. As well it will connect with other cities and towns on the new rebuilt route such as Reading and Banbury in the West and Norwich, Ipswich and Stansted Airport in the East. Which will be the newest rebuilt railway line that has reopened northwest, north, northeast and east of London. With the Elizabeth Line providing a East-West connection that goes underneath Central London when it opens in December next year.

Jimbo   29/11/2017 at 22:23

It should be noted that all the "reopenings" mentioned here are projects that have been underway for years slowly going through the planning, costing and approval processes. Nothing new has been announced and certainly no promises of funding, just the same old political trick of re-announcing projects to make it seem like you are dynamic.

Andrew Gwont   30/11/2017 at 01:58

Hopefully the Marks Tey-Sudbury line will be shortly extended to Exeter and electrified with a stop at Sandy!

Andrew Gwilt   30/11/2017 at 02:19

Let the Marks Tey-Sudbury bullcrap jokes continue. I’m done with arguing.

Gabriel Oaks   30/11/2017 at 06:40

RTM Your comment sections have degenerated to the point that it is no longer worth contributing thereon.

Bruce Simpson   30/11/2017 at 08:27

Any move to get trains onto lines which exist ignores the fact that people like Brunel have done all the work. The line to Portishead has remained in place so someone should be asking a) why it has taken so long (years overdue) b) why it costs so much when the work has essentially been done and c) why local residents don't seem to have much say in how it will materialise.

DP   30/11/2017 at 08:30

Interesting that they’ve buried within this vision that the VTEC east coast franchise will end 3 years early, allowing Stagecoach and Virgin to get out of paying most of the £3.3 billion it promised to the government. Apparently VTEC are also looking to have the payments it does have to make cut as well. All in all another damning indictment of the franchising system, with two consecutive private operators jumping off early and, as some in the mainstream media have pointed out, effectively privatising profit and socialising losses. The government can dress up the new ‘partnerships’ as some sort of revolutionary way of running railways, but they’ve basically just taken the existing franchising model and chucked tracks in as well. I’m sure some private company will come along in 3 years time with a ridiculous bid to run the east coast franchise and then hand it back a couple of years later citing “changed economic circumstances” or some other claptrap.

Carl   30/11/2017 at 09:53

All the comments regarding East West going via Sandy misses a key local need for this rebuilt railway. the line through sandy passes through agricultural land with no settlements. it should form an "S" bend and go via south St Neots and south of Cambourne, two large dormitory towns for Cambridge with a poor road and public transport connections. Bourne airfield next to Cambourne is due to be developed as well as a new West Cambourne all reliant on the A428 to get to Cambridge. Whilst this may mean slight slower overall times for expresses which would be alleviated by loops at a new Cambourne station, it would provide a much needed boost for the local economies. The route via Sandy would have an almost Zero impact on the local economy. Although a new section of A428 is due to be constructed from 2020 onwards, all this will do for commuter traffic is move the queues from Black Cat and Caxton Gibbet to the Maddingley Road on the edge of Cambridge City. Another local route reopening would be Haverhill to Cambridge. Apart fro the new station at Haverhill needing to be on the edge of town due to development, most of the rest of the track bed is not redeveloped.

King's Lynn   30/11/2017 at 10:22

As heartened as one might be with these announcements, simply listing some ongoing schemes plus some vague promises about 'reversing cuts' doesn't make for particularly encouraging reading. This is just politics; distracting from the real problems (i.e., botched electrification, amongst others) with some 'good news.' It's just another case of 'bread tomorrow...!'

Thames Valley Traveller   01/12/2017 at 11:56

Lets get Bourne End - H Wycombe back again, could also be alternative freight route to reduce traffic through Reading, also be linked into a midlands route via HW and Maidenhead into Heathrow. Also Hounslow wants Brentford branch restored. Stop Network Rail selling any further land and NOT track-of-old-railway land.

Pdeaves   01/12/2017 at 11:57

There's very little 'new' actually in the strategy. It mostly pulls together various other things that have happened in the past (e.g. new stations), are happening (e.g. Crossrail) or are announced (e.g. HS2 et al).

Andrew JG   02/12/2017 at 02:54

I think that Network Rail should rebuild and reopen the Bourne End-High Wycombe Line so that Class 166’s GWR trains can operate between Maidenhead and High Wycombe. And would provide a local service between the 2 towns as Bourne End is on the county borders of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

Not A Parody, Honest   06/12/2017 at 14:10

Lets build a track from Bourne End-High Wycombe to link Reading and Maidenhead to High Wycombe. Rolling stocks coming off lease from Greater Anglia on Marks Tey - Sudbury could be used alongside the 166's from GWR.

Davidt   19/12/2017 at 19:53

The problem with Bourne End -High Wycombe is that the former trackbed north of the current terminus for about 300-400 metres is now a business park. I'm sure there are many other places where the sale of a fairly small parcel of land has blocked a perfectly good right of way. Some cynics believe this was a deliberate policy after Beeching to ensure that nobody could ever prove them wrong by re-instating a closed railway.

Lutz   19/12/2017 at 21:57

A few steps closer to the break-up of Network Rail and the privatisation of the whole industry.

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