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Major 2019 rail review led by BA boss will ‘leave no stone unturned’

In response to the May timetable disruptions and longstanding concerns over what has been repeatedly branded a “broken” franchising system, the government has decided to formally launch a comprehensive review of the rail industry in the country – with reforms planned to be implemented from 2020.

The review, which the DfT promises will be the “most significant since privatisation,” will be chaired by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, who was also deputy chairman of John Lewis. He will be supported by an external panel of experts, including Roger Marsh, who chairs a new body representing all 11 LEPs in the north of England called NP11.

Experts – working with passenger representatives, businesses, and devolved bodies – hope to review and build on the current franchising strategy in order to advance Chris Grayling’s vision of bringing track and trains “closer together,” meaning private operators will be able to invest in and shape rail infrastructure.

But they will also look at all other parts of the sector, including the current industry structures, accountability, value for money, the fares system, industrial relations, current siloed working, and changing travel and work patterns.

Recommendations are expected to centre around ways to improve the current franchising model in terms of reliability while opening new doors into the industry in order to ensure “commercial sustainability and innovation.”

In other words, Grayling has already ruled out recommendations for nationalisation, and is instead hoping the review will look at ways of leveraging the commercial model to “more effectively balance public and private sector investment.”

Williams and his team will report next year. The government will then publish a white paper on the review’s recommendations ahead of reforms being implemented from 2020.

The review will also take into account the findings of Stephen Glaister’s final report, due to be published at the end of the year. His interim report was released today.

‘We need to go further and more quickly’

In a statement, Grayling accepted that while privatisation has delivered “huge benefits to passengers,” the “structure we inherited” is no longer fit to meet today’s challenges and demands.

“We’ve been clear that the railway needs reform to prioritise its passengers, and we have set out plans for closer partnerships between operators of track and train, including on the LNER and South Eastern networks,” he explained.

“But as part of our vision for the future of mobility, we need to go further and more quickly, to get the best from the public and private sectors and deliver the railway we need for the 21st century. It is vital that this review leaves no stone unturned and makes bold recommendations for the future.”

The transport secretary also welcomed Williams’ appointment and said his experience in leading businesses within the transport sector and driving customer service excellence will be “incredibly valuable.”

The government will set out the terms of reference of the review and the full membership of the panel when Parliament returns. While the review is underway, the DfT has pledged to work closely with the industry to ensure the network continues to deliver a satisfactory day-to-day performance.

Responding to the review’s announcement, Transport Focus boss Anthony Smith agreed that “something has to change after the torrid summer of timetable disruption, ongoing patchy performance, strikes and with fare rises looming next January.”

“Passengers will welcome a thorough, in-depth review of how their railways are run in order to kickstart the re-building of trust,” Smith added. “But to command passenger faith the Rail Review must depart, travel and arrive with the needs of users at its core.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of Rail Delivery Group, supported the launch, arguing that a wide-ranging review “looking at every part of the railway” is exactly what is needed.

“While we continue to look at our own role in driving improvement, root and branch reform of the whole system can only be delivered with the help of government,” he added. “This review is a once in a generation opportunity for the wide-ranging and independent thinking our railway needs and we stand ready to play our part to make sure it delivers big, bold, meaningful reform in the national interest.”

Ben Still, managing director of West Yorkshire Combined Authority and rail lead at the Urban Transport Group, noted that the review is a good opportunity to assess the benefits of full devolution.

“As the Glaister report into recent failings of the current structure shows there is a need to establish clearer lines of responsibility for making sure the railway delivers for the people and regions it serves,” concluded Still. “This is what a devolved approach can bring by replacing remote control and fragmented oversight with much more local and focussed accountability.”

(Top image c. Danny Lawson, PA Wire)


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