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UK rail review: passengers will see benefits of reform by next election, Grayling claims

More details about a much-anticipated review of UK railways have been revealed with the transport secretary hoping to see improvements to the network by 2020.

A summer of discontent which saw passengers commonly left stranded on platforms across the country led to the review announced by government in September. Problems across the network even ended with the East Coast Mainline brought back under government control in May - for the third time in a decade.

A damning report published by the Office of Rail and Road also sparked the Department for Transport into action after commuters on Thameslink and Great Northern services were affected by a mass amount of delays and cancellations, following the introduction of new timetables by owner Govia Thameslink.

Government hopes to uncover reasons for failings and look at the structure of the whole rail industry, including increasing integration between track and train, regional partnerships and improving value for money for passengers and taxpayers.

But the “broken network” has led to the Labour Party calling for the renationalisation of the railways. However, Chris Grayling used his speech today to steer clear of this and reaffirm his belief that privatisation had helped transform the industry. Although he did concede the government needed to ensure it got the balance right between public and private.

“Some have called for the return to a national, state-run monopoly, and for us to go back to the days of British Rail,” Grayling said. “There is an expectation that taking on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt onto the government books will magically resolve every problem. This fails to recognise that many of the problems that customers faced this year were down to the nationalised part of the railways.”

The cabinet minister claims the review will look at how the railway is organised to deliver for passengers and at the different options available, before making recommendations on what will best deliver results in different areas of the country.

It will be led by Keith Williams, deputy chairman of John Lewis and Partners and former chief executive of British Airways, who has said he is looking forward to working with the industry and passengers to tackle challenges.

The independently chaired review will aim to support the following:

  • Commercial models for the provision of rail services that prioritise the interests of passengers and taxpayers
  • Rail industry structures that promote clear accountability and effective joint-working for both passengers and the freight sector
  • A system that is financially sustainable and able to address long-term cost pressures
  • A railway that is able to offer good value fares for passengers, while keeping costs down for taxpayers
  • Improved industrial relations, to reduce disruption and improve reliability for passengers
  • A rail sector with the agility to respond to future challenges and opportunities

The review will conclude with a white paper in autumn 2019, which will set out its findings, and explain how to bring about reform. Grayling says he expects reform to begin from 2020 and passengers can begin to see benefits before the next election.

A Rail Review’s Expert Challenge Panel will support the independent Chair of the Review, Keith Williams. Its members will help to ensure the review “thinks bravely and creatively”.

The transport secretary has invited the following to be members of the Expert Challenge Panel:

  • Dick Fearn, independent chair of Network Rail’s Western Route Supervisory Board and former chief executive officer of Irish Rail
  • Tom Harris, former transport minister and MP for Glasgow South
  • Margaret Llewellyn, chair of Network Rail’s Wales Route Supervisory Board and a non-executive director of the Development Bank of Wales, who has experience in the freight industry
  • Roger Marsh, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and of the NP11 Board, and a leading advocate for the North of England
  • Dr Alice Maynard, Transport for London board member and the former chair of Scope, the disability equality charity, who has experience of passenger issues in the rail industry
  • Tony Poulter, non-executive board member at the Department for Transport and chair of the East Coast Partnership