At yesterday’s royal address to Parliament, Prince Charles spoke on behalf of the Queen, outlining new legislation for various different sectors, including the rail industry. It was announced that the governing body, Great British Railways (GBR) will formally take the reins of the British railways. GBR will “simplify” the rail network and improve services for passengers, according to a Downing Street briefing document on the Transport Bill.
This governing body will act as a partial step towards the renationalisation of the rail sector, the first time in which the sector will not be fully privatised since John Major’s 1992 government. GBR will absorb the state-owned infrastructure management company Network Rail and take on many functions from the Department for Transport. The briefing document stated that it will “act as the single national leader of the railways”, with “a clear mandate, goals and budgets set by the Government, who will reserve powers of direction.”
This news has caused a stir within the industry, with many sector leaders addressing the bill, such as, Jonathan Bray, Director of the Urban Transport Group, said:
“We welcome today’s announcement of a new Transport Bill which, if true to the Government’s wider devolutionary objectives, should provide an opportunity to deepen and extend the proven benefits of local decision making on local transport.
“On rail, we want to see the legislation facilitate the full range of options for devolving responsibilities for local and urban rail services to transport authorities so that more places can benefit from the kind of transformation in rail services that, thanks to local control, has already happened on London Overground and on Merseyrail.”
While the devolutionary reforms will signify major ideological changes to the rail sector, it does not represent complete renationalisation of the industry, given that GBR will issue passenger service contracts to private companies to run trains. The private sectors continued involvement and how they can balance the shift in operations, has been addressed by Rail Delivery Group director general Andy Bagnall:
“To make these reforms a success, this needs to be balanced with giving private operators the contractual freedom to focus relentlessly on customers, and boldly innovate to meet their needs. The private sector will continue to work with government and the Great British Railways Transition Team to ensure these reforms meet the ambition and potential of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.”
Whilst yesterday’s speech did not outline, in great detail, how this legislation will be implemented, it does signify a major change to the core running’s of the industry. The private sector must ensure a harmonious dynamic with the government to provide the best services possible for everyone looking to use the UK rail services. This sentiment was echoed by Bray:
“We look forward to working with Government and with Parliamentarians on the Bill to help ensure it becomes effective legislation.”