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Rail firms call for independent body to oversee Britain's rail network

Rail companies have today called for a new independent non-government body to oversee Britain’s rail network. 

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has described its proposals as a golden opportunity to “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.” They also claim their plans would “better join up the railway, improve accountability for passengers and result in easier, better value fares for all.”

However, although supported by the CBI and the Railway Industry Association (RIA), the RDG’s vision is likely to be seen as an attempt to stave off nationalisation, as proposed by Labour, with shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald saying the report “shows how out of touch the so-called rail industry representative body is with the country and the travelling public.”

The RDG’s proposals would see a new independent organising body put in charge of the industry. Sitting outside day-to-day politics, the report claims the “organising body would drive up accountability and standards, helping to end the blame game when things sometimes do go wrong and giving penalties where rail companies fall short.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, 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.”

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: "Business wants an efficient and reliable rail system that delivers for the economy, and that means reinvigorating the public-private partnership that runs the railway.”

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: "The Railway Industry Association welcomes the RDG proposals announced today. Whilst change in the rail industry should not occur for the sake of change, there is a need for the government to withdraw from day-to-day intervention in the railway, which is widespread, and to concentrate on an outcomes-based approach.”

However, the Urban Transport Group, the UK's network of city region transport authorities, has called for the Williams Rail Review to give far greater emphasis to the proven success of the devolution of control over regional and urban rail services.

Jonathan Bray, director of the Urban Transport Group, said: “Where full responsibility for local rail services has been devolved we have seen more investment and better outcomes for passengers and places. This is because devolved authorities and administrations are far more accountable and responsive to the needs of both passengers and communities than officials sitting hundreds of miles away in Whitehall. 

“A centralised, one size fits all approach to rail reform makes no sense given the realities of a devolving Great Britain. There is a growing consensus around the benefits that rail devolution can bring and we will be making a strong case that from here on in that is also central to the Rail Review.”

Andy McDonald MP, shadow transport secretary, said: “I’m astonished by the Rail Delivery Group’s proposals. Rail franchising is collapsing and disintegrating yet the group thinks a more complex and aggressive system is the right solution. This shows how out of touch the so-called rail industry representative body is with the country and the travelling public.

“The RDG’s suggestion would be laughable, but for the misery the broken rail franchising model has inflicted upon millions of rail passengers for so many years. Only Labour will bring track and trains together in one publicly owned company that delivers for people and the country.”