Posted 7th November 2019 | 3 Comments

MPs’ group backs plan for new rail ‘guiding mind’

THE All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group has supported suggestions that there should be a new ‘guiding mind’ for the operational railway, which would take over many of the functions currently carried out by the Department for Transport, such as awarding franchises and managing their performance. The idea has already been given a provisional green light by Keith Williams, who has been compiling the DfT’s rail review.

On 28 October, Mr Williams told the Commons Transport Committee: ‘Our lead option is to look for a national body, that will be in charge of rail. It is difficult to be accountable for something if you don’t have the responsibility. I think it is important to bring track and train into that body.’

In a new report, the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group says: ‘There’s a logical rationale for a new national body to create a professional “controlling mind¨ to make key decisions, ensuring consistency of thinking and approach.’

However, it warns that although ‘it would appear viable to have a new centralised national “controlling mind” or to have decisions and related powers moved closer to local markets’, both forms of management do not seem possible side by side.

Faced with that choice, the Group has chosen de-centralisation rather than devolution, which it describes as the ‘logical path’. However, it also thinks that it would be possible to have a form of compromise ‘if all decisions and powers delegated to regions and cities relate to implementation’.

The Group also wants reforms to the ‘incentives’ which apply to Network Rail and the train operators, such as delay attribution liabilities.

The Group’s chair Martin Vickers said: ‘While some may say we’ve been here before, it is important that any structural change not only focuses on aligning sometimes competing priorities, but also maintains the industry’s primary role – serving its customers.

‘The Group supports better outcomes for passengers and freight. If the pitfalls we’ve identified are avoided, the case for a new arm’s length body is strong.’

The report is being commended to Keith Williams. Mr Vickers added that he was also ‘pleased to present our observations to the rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, ahead of the Government releasing its Rail White Paper’.

This White Paper is intended to present the conclusions of the Williams Review, although as a White Paper is a description of government policy, it is unclear what would happen if ministers disagreed with any of the points made by Keith Williams.

In any case, his Review is not now expected to be published until the next government has taken control, following the General Election on 12 December.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    1: "We need a new group to manage the railways"
    2: "We need more cash for faceless 'exec' people to come up with policy decisions that amount to nothing."

    Keith Williams = Roy McNulty, the repainted & refurbished version. I do hope that whatever government comes in next, this fad of luvvies from failing airline companies comes to a swift end and real people from within the railway industry are tasked with cutting the ridiculous expenditure, and running a respectable railway.

    There should be a basic cost per seat per mile calculated at present, and have it weighed up with that cost under BR to establish exactly who or what business is effectively claiming benefits from government for doing utterly nothing.

    Performance should never be manipulable - this trend recently where trains magically have a number of phantom wheelchair assists at every station or run the train past every stop en route to claim it was on time has to stop.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    They seem to have recognised the contradictoriness of the "guiding mind" with the decentralisation approach. Maybe the guiding mind isn't needed if the rail framework is sufficiently long - termist? But I'm hoping that we will be able to get away from the quasi - military, top - down way of organising the GB rail industry.

    The general opinion seems to be that in the last years of BR, Sectorisation was quite a success ( a form of decentralisation with the railway's different functions concentrating on their particular roles in a semi - independent way ). Can anything useful be gleaned from this ?

    If the guiding mind proves neccesary , how will they be chosen ?

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    There is no need for another layer of pointless bureaucracy. No need for SRA2 / 'a guiding mind'.

    All that is needed is for Network Rail to start delivering consistently, with managers hit hard in their pockets when it doesn't, and for the new legislation to prevent (political/Luddite) strikes in essential services like rail (that people rely on to get to work).