Posted 11th October 2018 | 6 Comments

Scope of ‘root and branch’ rail review revealed

THE transport secretary has ruled out nationalisation as a solution to the problems of the railway industry.

Chris Grayling has published the terms of reference for his ‘root and branch review’, and these exclude total renationalisation but also preserve existing major schemes, such as HS2 and Network Rail’s responsibilities during Control Period 6, which starts in April.

He told MPs that ‘the Rail Review has been established to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to deliver the government’s vision. It should be comprehensive in its scope and bold in its thinking, challenging received wisdom and looking to innovate’.

The best proportion of public sector and private sector investment has not been decided in advance, however.

Mr Grayling said: ‘The private sector has an important part to play in shaping the future of the industry, but it is important that the review considers the right balance of public and private sector involvement.

‘Some have called for the return to a national, state-run monopoly, and for us to go back to the days of British Rail. There is an expectation that taking on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt on to 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.’

This was a reference to Network Rail, which became a public sector body in September 2014. However, the Department for Transport has usually refused to concede that the change amounted to nationalisation.

Mr Grayling argued that a call for more renationalisation ‘also creates the sense that a government-controlled rebrand would somehow make every train work on time. Those who make this argument fail to tell passengers that the much-needed investment that is taking place today would be at risk, and that taxpayers’ money would be diverted from public services to subsidise losses.’

The review is being led by Keith Williams, the deputy chairman of John Lewis. Members of the panel include former British Rail and Irish Rail manager Dick Fearn, along with former Labour transport minister Tom Harris. Although interim reports may be published over the next few months, the main result will be a White Paper in about a year from now.

The review has been welcomed by passenger watchdog Transport Focus, whose chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Passengers will welcome this wide-ranging review after the torrid summer of timetable disruption, on-going patchy performance, strikes and with fare rises looming next January. Passengers waiting on the platform will want to see a focus on day-to-day performance delivering trains that arrive on time.

‘Transport Focus will ensure this review focuses on how to deliver better reliability, more space to sit or stand on trains, and better value for money for passengers.’

Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said: ‘The Williams Review presents a once in a generation opportunity to unlock the future railway Britain needs and today’s announcement is a positive first step.  We will continue to campaign for big, bold reform which enables the partnership railway to deliver more for customers, employees, communities and the whole country.’

But Mr Grayling has also fired a shot across the bows of Govia Thameslink Railway, which was one of the operators at the centre of the timetable disruptions this year. He told MPs: ‘Professor Stephen Glaister’s interim report has provided us with an accurate account of the series of mistakes and complex issues across the rail industry that led to the unacceptable disruption that passengers experienced.

‘GTR must take its fair share of the responsibility – its performance was below what we expect from our rail operators.

‘Officials in my department are taking action to finalise how we will hold GTR account for the disruption and the rail minister will keep the House updated.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Godfrey Levy, Vancouver

    I agree with MikeB. I am fairly certain that whilst the railways were nationalized there was serious lack of commitment and consequent under investment by government, the railways were just not a priority., and there was too much government interference. As a result modernisation was piecemeal, technical advances were not taken advantage of, priorities were distorted, there must have been serious morale problems from this interference. Government oversight is one thing, control is another. Government ministers are only interested in winning the next election, appeasing the whims of the prime minister and looking good by cutting budgets---the quick solution to everything. The railway requires serious long term planning and investment as well as commitment. If government would leave professionals to get on with it I feel certain with few exceptions they would do a credible job of running the railways as a nationwide unit rather than individual and separate units. As I see it Grayling IS the problem---too much doctrine and not enough interest in the needs of the travelling public, particularly outside London.

  • Dave, Reading

    Under "privatisation" some foreign Governments are able to cream off profits from our railways (Arriva = Netherlands I am told). It needs one organisation running the whole shebang with all profits ploughed back into the business, although a positive relationship with the rail unions must be part of the deal. Scrap HS2, else that will suck any investment away from the existing network.[Arriva is owned by Deutsche Bahn, so Arriva=Germany.--Ed.]

  • Tim, Plymouth

    The government should consider full privatisation.
    Transfer the whole network to one company and have the governments job to simply regulate it.
    It worked well for BT. BT have invested billions of pounds in building broadband infrastructure.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    I fear a BRplc could, and would exploit the monopoly position it would be in in many places, and for many services.

    Rail users often complain about lack of competion and of being in a captive market, even in our current franchised setup.

  • strawbrick, Watford

    Mr Grayling is reported as saying that nationalising the railways would involve "taking on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt on to the government books".
    How can this be?
    Railtrack, a nationialised body, already owns the tracks so there is no new debt to be taken on to the government books.
    The DfT, also a government body "owns" the franchises which it lets out to commercial organisations (TOCs). When these fail the governement steps in with no new debt taken onto the government books. The existing franchises could be left to run their course and then become directly managed, again no new debt.
    The only parts of the railways which is in private hands are the ROSCOs. It would cost the government very little to let the current contracts run their course, set up a state ROSCO and mandate it's use by the directly managed TOCs, or whatever they become.
    If howvere he were to say that "given the track record of the DfT in micro-managing the railways to date, any move to take full government control by "nationalisation" would be a complete disaster" I would agree with him!

  • MikeB, Liverpool

    Nationalisation would not neccesarily mean Government control of rail services. If John Major's Government had established a commercially run BR plc, along the lines of Deutsche Bahn, with the Government merely holding the shares on behalf of the nation, we could now have had a profitable cohesive network. That could still be a possiblility with professional railwaymen making all the strategic decisions and, like any major shareholder in the private sector, the Government keeping an eye on them - ar arm's length.