Posted 28th October 2019 | 1 Comment

Williams lifts the veil on forthcoming rail review

KEITH Williams has confirmed that the creation of a new national railway body is to be recommended in his forthcoming Review, and that he is looking at removing the profit motive from passenger train operating contracts, which could become ‘passenger service contracts’ instead.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Monday evening, he revealed that the new national body, or ‘guiding mind’, would be in charge of letting these contracts, with the Department for Transport only responsible in future for setting broad national railway strategy. He also said the new body would take revenue risk, but there was no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ model for individual operating contracts.

He is in favour of the Transport for London model, and praised the large amount of innovation which TfL has achieved. He believes one of the new-style National Rail contracts could also include specific bonuses for innovation. He added: ‘TfL is still run like a network, so we need to take account of the national network as well. To some degree, TfL could form a model for the new guiding mind.

He is also in favour of simplifying ticketing, which has been advocated by the Rail Delivery Group.

Although the terms of reference in his inquiry did not include a detailed scrutiny of industry costs, he commented: ‘The amount of fragmentation does increase the costs of rail. There are undoubtedly opportunities to take cut costs. I used to run British Airways, and the amount of rail fragmentation is much greater then it was in BA.’ He continued: ‘We can simplify the way the railway works. There does need to be a strong regulator, ensuring delivery.’

He said it could take between five and ten years to bring all his recommendations into effect, and also admitted that he does not know what an early election would do to the timing of his Review, which is due to be published as a White Paper this autumn.

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  • david c smith, Bletchley

    On the one hand, it looks encouraging that Keith Williams is thinking of a more " horses for courses" way for passenger rail, but I'm a bit concerned at the idea of eliminating the profit motive.

    Some of the above "horses" , such as intercity, where effective competition can give accountability, would need the profit motive, in order to drive innovation and efficiency in a competitive environment.

    At the same time, natural monopoly operations, such as most commuter, are a different "kettle of fish", where accountability can come best through local direct democracy ( such operations are generally of a suitable size for this ).