Sweeping reforms to overhaul Britain’s ‘complicated’ rail system

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced a new public sector body which will oversee Britain’s railways.

Shapps said Great British Railways (GBR) will replace the current system, which he referred to as “too complicated”.

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He previously referred to the largely privatised sector as having no “fat controller”, referencing the Thomas The Tank Engine stories.

GBR will absorb Network Rail, owning and managing rail infrastructure, issuing contracts to private firms to run trains, setting most fares and timetables and selling tickets.

‘Just too complicated’

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the new system has been produced in a bid to end the “blame-game” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.

Shapps told Sky News the current system is “just too complicated,” adding “but I don’t want to go back to the days of British Rail either.”

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As such, private companies will still support in running the concessions, running the trains, keeping them tidy and clean, however there will now be a single organisation selling tickets and running timetables.

GBR will contract private firms to operate trains and operators will be incentivised to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers.

The move comes as a result of declining passenger numbers, rail station closures.

‘The future is flexible’

The DfT has also announced a new flexible season rail ticket, set to save commuters hundreds of pounds in fares.

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This move counteracts a long-term decline in the use of traditional season tickets, as well as an increase in home working due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Part-time commuters could save up to £250 on their annual rail fares, depending on their journey

Shapps said the new tickets would support a change in commuter behaviour.

He said: “The future is flexible: passengers want a simple, stress-free option, and new flexible tickets make fares fairer.”

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The carnet-style tickets will allow travel on any eight days in a 28-day period, with annual saving compared with buying daily tickets for passengers who commute two days a week include:

– Woking to London: More than £250

– Liverpool to Manchester: More than £220

– Stafford to Birmingham: More than £160

For people commuting three times per week, here are three potential savings:

– St Albans City to London: More than £220

– Bromsgrove to Birmingham: More than £120

– Weston-Super-Mare to Bristol Temple Meads: More than £90

Tickets will be on sale from 21 June, prior to the introduction of GBR in 2023.

There will also be a “significant rollout” of more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones, the DfT said.

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‘The biggest reform of our railways in a generation’

Following the announcement of the new tickets, Shapps said: “For many, the idea of travelling five days a week to the office is fast becoming a relic of the past.

“As we kickstart the biggest reform of our railways in a generation, we’re committed to creating a modern railway that works for its passengers.

He also described himself as a commuter who wants “a railway that works”, adding that the rail reforms were “a simplification which I think people will broadly welcome.”

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail has been published as a white paper.

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The plan follows recommendations made following a review carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams, following the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018.

It was due to be published in autumn 2019 but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.

‘A rail system the country can be proud of’

Williams commented: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of GBR: “I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve.

“By creating Great British Railways, and investing in the future of the network, this Government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of.”