Grayling signals "new vision" for rail to expand network

"Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service and I will deliver it," said transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling today set out a new vision for the railways, including plans to end the operational divide between track and train and an evolution of the franchising system.

Under the plans, companies which operate passenger services would also manage the tracks their trains run on. The East Coast mainline will be the first service to experience the new model from 2020. Commenting on the plans, Grayling said: “It means when things go wrong, there’s one team to sort it out”.

The new government rail strategy could also see the reopening of some lines that were closed in the 1960s as part of the Beeching review. Currently, Network Rail, which is state-owned, oversees the track and other infrastructure while train services are operated by private operating companies. Grayling said that Network Rail was a “big blob at the centre” and said that it “makes sense” to run trains and the track together.

The proposals, contained in the government’s Strategic vision for rail, also include commitments to expand the railway network to boost housing and economic growth, and deliver major passenger benefits, including rolling out improved compensation schemes for passengers.

Grayling claimed that his sweeping proposals aimed at creating joined up teams running track and train will make the railway more reliable for passengers and ensure that it works as one to deliver for its customers. The reforms build on the recommendations of the recent McNulty and Shaw reports.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling says that his sweeping proposals will create joined up teams running track and train, making the railway more reliable for passengers and ensuring that it works as one to deliver for customers.

Building on Network Rail’s recent devolution of infrastructure management to route-based businesses, the plans also include complementary changes to the franchising system to ensure that the railway is prepared to manage the challenges of the future, while maintaining the railway infrastructure in public ownership.

Grayling said: “The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain’s railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers. But now we need to build on that success by building a new model for the 2020s and beyond, one more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenges of an increasingly congested network.

“Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service - and I will deliver it by ending the one-size-fits-all approach of franchising and bringing closer together the best of the public and private sector.”

Changes to the franchising system include:

  • The first of the new generation of long-term regional partnerships on the East Coast Mainline, which will be introduced from 2020 - the East Coast Partnership between the public sector and a private partner will be operated by a single management, under a single brand and overseen by a single leader;
  • Rolling out joint teams running day to day operations across the South Eastern network with plans to introduce a new alliance director, responsible for a joint team operating the trains and tracks;
  • Introducing a joint team to run the East Midlands franchise following next year’s franchise competition;
  • Introducing smaller train companies, ensuring that every line, station and passenger is central to each train operator’s strategy - this includes splitting up the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise in 2021, and consulting on a new West of England franchise;

The Strategic vision for rail also commits to explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s by identifying new schemes that unlock new housing or economic growth and offer good value for money.

There are already plans to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge and the new strategy will identify new connections and lines that were closed to passengers by British Rail, as part of finding and funding future rail schemes which offer good value.

The government's Strategic vision for rail will explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s by identifying new schemes that can unlock new housing or economic growth and offer good value for money.

The new strategy also includes taking advantage of new technology to improve services and major changes to extend passenger rights, including compensation for passengers when trains are more than 15 minutes late. The government is also supporting the introduction of a Rail Ombudsman to ensure all passengers are treated fairly.

Grayling also pledged to introduce digital rail - new technologies that have the potential to reduce crowding and improve train punctuality for passengers - across more of the country. This includes funding to develop schemes on the Transpennine Route, on the South East Route and East London Line, and on the Moorgate Branch. The strategy also reinforces the important role for freight on the rail network to support the economy and environment.

While the new public-private partnership being set up to run the train and tracks together will be seen by some in the industry as a welcome step towards greater coordination on the network, there is as yet no details of how this will work, who will pay for things, or when passengers might feel the benefit.

Labour slammed the strategy as “un-funded proposals” and pointed out that no additional money or firm schemes had been announced and the government recently culled major rail upgrades, including the electrification of lines in the Midlands and Wales.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald described the plans as “unambitious”. “The Tories' record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off the railway,” McDonald said.

Transport campaigners gave the plans a cautious welcome. Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said that it was “great news” that the government was looking to connect communities and support jobs and housing, but added: “It is desperately difficult to reopen a rail line. This announcement needs to be backed both with new investment and a commitment to guiding local authorities through the sometimes-labyrinthine processes of the railway,” Joseph said.

Click here to download the government report, A strategic vision for rail.

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