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Ditch franchising model and put organising body in charge, says rail industry

The rail industry has called for an end to the current franchising model in favour of multiple operators on mass-commuter routes and for a new independent body to be put in charge of the sector.

In its submission to the Williams review, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said rail companies were “calling time on short-term fixes” with a new radial plan for a “generational system upgrade” for the railway.

The proposals would replace the current franchising model with TfL-style networks on mass-commuter routes as the RDG suggests that local authorities could control commuter routes, overseeing timetables and organisation of railway services just like London’s current model.

The current one-size-fits-all franchise system would be replaced with different types of services designed individually, with long-distance routes having multiple competing operators, and other routes utilising “customer-focused, public service contracts.”

A new independent organising body would be put in charge of the industry and sit outside day-to-day politics, “acting as the glue that binds it together so that everyone is working to meet the same customer-centric goals,” and “ending the blame game when things go wrong.” 

RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: “These proposals call time on short term fixes and set out the once-in-a-generation system upgrade the railway needs if it is to help the country prosper over the next 25 years.

“We want to move forward with a rail system that is more focused on customers, more responsive to local communities and more accountable, letting rail companies deliver what people want in each area of the country and rebuilding trust between the industry and passengers.”

The Williams Review, due to be published this summer, has received multiple high-profile submissions in recent weeks, and the RDG’s proposals echo a speech given by Plummer last month in which he called for a new organising body for the industry to stop it “being used as a political football.”

Last week, Virgin Trains put forward radical proposals for an airline-style model which would see standing on trains abolished and a modified franchise system integrated with local government very similar to the RDG’s plan.

The proposals also align with comments from Keith Williams, the man leading the review, where he said there was no “one-size-fits-all” solution for the industry, and that the DfT’s role in the industry would need to change.

The RMT, which criticised Virgin’s proposals in a nearly identical manner, said the RDG’s “rail franchise free for all” would lead to a “transport nightmare” with private operators slugging it on out on routes on a slot-by-slot basis.


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