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Keith Williams on the Rail Review: an update on progress

Keith Williams, independent Chair of the Rail Review, provided an update at a Northern Powerhouse Partnership event in Bradford today.



“I do want to talk about an issue that it is of immense importance to this country

I am here today because the outcome of my review will affect passengers everywhere, all over the network, and I want to hear what you think about your railway, both the challenges and opportunities.

The government set up the review because it recognised that the time had come for change.”


“My objective is to create an industry that is built around its customers and the communities and local businesses it serves.

It must also provide value to taxpayers, who provide a significant amount of the railways funding. Achieving that requires significant change, the scale of which is comparable in some areas to the scale of change seen at privatisation.

The circumstances that led to the review’s launch ⁠— timetabling disruption, problems experienced with some major investment projects and the collapse of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise (something that’s pertinent to this region) ⁠— are all symptomatic of deeper, more fundamental issues in the railway.

The fact is that the railway in 2019 is hugely different from the railway as it was following privatisation. The sector, on the other hand, is much the same.”


“As well as listening, the review has been building its evidence base and published evidence papers on: the user experience; passenger perceptions and trust; the costs and benefits of the railway for our economy and society, including the importance of freight; comparisons between rail systems around the world; and rail’s position in a future will integrated transport network, where passengers will expect to buy seamless door to door travel.”



“I have been frank with the department for transport about the scale of change required — including a different role for DfT — to create a genuinely customer-focused industry.

It is onboard with the direction we’re heading in.

The Secretary of State has, since the beginning of the review, has challenged me to deliver revolution not evolution. And DfT Permanent Secretary, Bernadette Kelly, has spoken openly of her and her department’s appetite for change recognising that that the department has become too immersed in delivery.

She understands that, at the end of this review, simply tinkering at the edges will not be credible.”


“I want to see the creation of a thoroughly modern, 21st century service provider.

A railway that is run in the public’s interest, delivering for passengers, supporting local economies, embracing innovation and new business models to improve journey experience and reduce costs.

It must be open, collaborative, embrace and create opportunities — for its people, passengers, communities and businesses.”


“For regions like the north and cities across the country, there must be greater opportunities to influence and inform decisions about services and upgrades in your area.

This will require:

Clear leadership and purpose.

A new relationship between the public and private sectors.

A simpler and more agile structure that is responsive to changing travel and working patterns, to new technologies and business models, ensuring the sector can meet the expectations of the 21st century passenger.

And strong regulation to maintain — and wherever possible enhance — safety and protect consumers.”



“A wide range of organisations have argued in favour of a new arm’s length body or bodies to act as a ‘guiding mind’.

It is an idea we’re looking at closely. In principle, it could have clear merit, working to solve some of the challenges the industry faces around accountability and fragmentation.


“One thing I am not considering is giving Network Rail control over the trains, as recent reports in the media suggest.

This is no judgement on Network Rail — I’ve been impressed with their professionalism and the direction of their Put Passengers First initiative. But you don’t create a customer focused railway by putting engineers in charge.”


“What worked in the 25 years after privatisation is now holding the sector back. It hampers collaboration, stops the railway working as a system and encourages operators to protect narrow commercial interest above passengers.

As a result, passengers experience difficulty moving between different lines and operators particularly during disruption, don’t get the information they want and expect about the source delays and how to navigate round them, and are left with a lurking feeling that train companies prioritise profit over customer service.”



“But there are no silver bullets for the long-standing issues arising from sector fragmentation and a history of adversarial industrial relations.”


Published 16 July 2019



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