Posted 30th April 2019 | 4 Comments

Rail Delivery Group proposes revival of Strategic Rail Authority

Updated 11.00

THE Rail Delivery Group is proposing major reforms for the management of the railways, by creating a new ‘independent national organising body in charge of the whole industry, acting as the glue that binds it together’. Such an idea recalls the former Strategic Rail Authority, which managed the franchising process between 1999 and 2006, until the Department for Transport took over.

The idea is set out in a submission to the Williams Rail Review.

There are also proposals for more operators on some intercity routes and more commuter railways to be controlled by devolved authorities.

The RDG says the new system would be ‘underpinned by the industry’s proposals to deliver an easier to use, better value fares system’. It admits that not all its members, who are mainly the franchised operators, agree in every detail, but it maintains that there is ‘support for the principles outlined’ and ‘a shared view that the proposals would provide a positive way forward’.

The RDG believes that competition on intercity routes would provide more choice. Where competition was less feasible, there would be ’tough targets and incentives for train companies’, but the RMT has said the RDG’s reforms would lead to ‘total chaos’.

Virgin Group published its own proposals earlier this month, and these also envisage competing operators on intercity routes. However, Virgin’s plans went further, because it wants all intercity passengers to book their journeys in advance, which is not an element of the RDG’s published plans.

RDG chief executive Paul Plummer 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.’

The RMT, which had opposed Virgin’s plans, remains deeply critical of the RDG version. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘What the private rail operators are proposing is a deregulated free for all where private train operators slug it out on the most lucrative routes … it would lead to total chaos.

‘They are also demanding a break from the last shreds of accountability to the taxpayer through the normal political machinery in a move that would give the racketeering train companies an absolute free run to milk the system and the passenger for every penny piece.’

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has also criticised the proposals: ‘The only vision we see here is the Robber Barons of our railways out for themselves. This is pure protectionism – protecting their profits,’ he said.

He continued: ‘Frankly, the RDG, the privateers’ cartel, want to go backwards. Their idea has been tried before; we had the Strategic Rail Authority and that was abolished because it didn't work.

‘This is little more than a backdoor attempt to stave off a move to publicly-owned railways; something which commands overwhelming support in our country. The rail firms know full well that franchising is a busted flush.’

Transport Focus said it would ‘examine the proposals closely’. Chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Passengers tell Transport Focus they want a railway that is more accountable and simple to use, both locally and nationally, especially for commuter services. It will be passengers who will ultimately judge whether any changes delivers them train services that are more reliable, provide more space to stand or sit, offer a real customer focus and represent better value for money.’

The RDG has launched a nationwide consultation.

Reader Comments:

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

  • jak jaye, surrey

    What a great idea,lets call it British Railways!

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Just another point to add :-

    If we have an "SRA Mk 2" as overall coordinator, we'll need to think carefully about to whom it is responsible, what remit it has and how its members are chosen. But, yes, being free of being a short - termist political football would certainly be an advance.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    One or two points arising:-
    1/ On the very few lines in Britain where ongoing competition occurs, such as York - Newcastle, the three operators there offer their own fares, but there is also an all- operator ticket available at a bit higher price for those wanting full flexibility.

    2/ It does seem there are politically motivated groups trying to push their particular agendas at the moment, on both the political left and right in the present fluid situation, to the general detriment of a succesfull railway.

    3/ On - rail, ongoing competition for intercity mainline services is already happening in Continental Europe, for example, NTV / Trenitalia in Italy and Leo Express / the State railways in Central Europe , and seems to be bearing good fruit.

    4/ One thing that is important is "accountability". Competition can bring this where feasible ( intercity, for example), whereas natural monopolies ( urban and commuter) need some form of local democratic control / public ownership.A mixed economy with "Horses for courses" may well be a better bet than "one size fits all".

  • Tim Price, Bramcote

    Not much point in having multiple intercity operators in competition when there are a finite number of paths available. People will travel with the operator who provides a service at best time. Problems and restrictions could arise with choice of return service if tickets are not tranferrable between operators.
    I'm also not a fan seperating local services. Many run at a loss and so could be withdrawn or scaled right back with investment drying up fully if local authorities with other financial priorities end up with them.
    Far better in my opinion, for the intercity operator on a given route to take on the local services that connect into and around that route. Some of the profits from the intercity operation would offset some of the losses from the local route. A far more sensible approach than yet more reshuffling and creating yet more confusion in the process.