Posted 9th May 2023 | 6 Comments

Prime Minister urged to create Great British Railways soon

The Prime Minister is being urged by supply chain companies to move ahead with rail reforms by promoting a bill to create the industry’s new ‘guiding mind’ Great British Railways.

GBR was proposed in the Williams-Shapps Rail Review, the result of several years of research by Royal Mail and Halfords chairman Keith Williams.

When the Review was published in in May 2021, the government had said: ‘By replacing franchising, accelerating innovation and integrating the railways, we will deliver an efficient, financially sustainable railway that meets the needs of passengers and those who rely on rail on a daily basis.’

But an Act of Parliament will be needed to transfer many of the Department for Transport’s responsibilities to GBR, and also to allow GBR to take over Network Rail, and so far the government has pleaded lack of Parliamentary time.

In a letter signed by more than 60 business leaders in the rail supply chain and Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan, Rishi Sunak is urged to ‘place rail reform front and centre of your programme. Legislation is needed as soon as possible to bring costs and revenues together in one place, something which is essential to the success of any organisation.’

It continues: ‘As private sector businesses we need certainty on industry structure and responsibilities – this is essential to our collective ability to invest in R&D, innovation, skills, and to recruit the next generation of apprentices and graduates. The GBR legislation will enable us to deliver this, but for this key piece of legislation to be enacted before the next General Election it needs to be tabled soon.’

Darren Caplan said: ‘The Railway Industry Association and its rail supply members are simply asking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to ensure the Government gets on with the process of expediting its own legislation.

‘Getting on with rail reform will help provide the certainty rail businesses need to invest, take on staff and develop their business plans, ultimately benefiting passenger and freight customers, and resulting in better value-for-money for taxpayers.

‘However, failure to enact the GBR legislation means a delay to reform of at least 18 months, and possibly longer as we await the next General Election and then fresh Bills come forward in its aftermath. There would be a heightened risk of hiatus in rail investment if decisions get delayed as rail reform stalls.

‘Some of the biggest names in the rail supply sector have signed this letter to the Prime Minister, to urge him to ensure the required legislation is passed. We ask Rishi Sunak to take note of the letter, if he wants to have a world-class rail system which connects the country and delivers on his own agendas to level-up, decarbonise, and encourage industries which can give a major boost to economic growth.’

Reader Comments:

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

  • Anthony Woodward - Campaign for Rail, Bromsgrove

    GBR is a significantly important requirement and should not be judged on any politically ideological basis, but rather, on a common sense necessity.
    The current Operational Management regime has created an even more meaningless need for ticket revenue extraction to be fed to the foreign Parent Companies, Senior Executives and Shareholders.
    Under the current directive, rail operators cannot respond to Rail User groupings or individuals, seeking to promote their endeavor's regarding improved passenger services. The said Operators have to hand any such communicated approach immediately over to the DfT.
    There is so much that could be achieved from within the existing network operation, given that urgently required common sense decision making opportunity.

  • david C Smith, Bletchley

    Yes, naturally there isn't any structure that is immune to "delay attribution", or more widely , "blame attribution"( I've seen it in public sector myself). The larger an organisation becomes, the more interfaces there are wthin it. But in the BR era , it seems that latterly , these boundaries were eventually put up in a more sucessful structure than before ( sectorisation ).

    I won't go into the privatisation versus nationalisation debate here, but it does appear to me that some of these "interfacings" are less harmfull than others. There are still lines that roughly paralel one another, but often have an independent justification ( intermediate stations, for example , or capacity relief ).

    [Delay attribution, with real money changing hands, was a side-effect of privatisation. There would have been no point in one BR Region (or sector, later on) paying another.--Ed.]

    Does anybody have information on the Swedish experiment ?

  • david C Smith, Bletchley

    GBR would be, by its nature, a monopoly,especially since any alternative routes were "rationalised" after the second Beeching report.

    Unlike both those freight and passenger operators that are able to find accountability through competition, modern infrastructure poses a question re. how, and by whom GBR should be managed. Sweden was the first country ( as far as I am aware) in Europe , to seperate train and track, and has now a system of "horizontal integration" whereby rail, road and inland waterway infrastructure are managed by a single organisation ( "Trafikverket"). I'd be interested to know how this is working out.

    [Not all alternative or 'duplicate' routes were abolished by Beeching, David, although he tried hard. Those which survived his era include the Berks & Hants section of the GW main line between Reading and Cogload Junction, just east of Taunton, the ECML north of Newcastle, the Glasgow and South Western line and, of course, the Settle & Carlisle line. I don't know about the Swedish situation, but the abolition of vertical integration here since the 1990s is hardly a shining example: I believe some 300 people are still employed in the foolishness of 'delay attribution'.--Ed.]

  • king arthur, buckley

    It will be interesting to see if GBR can make any headway in expanding the network and reinstating some of the lost connections. With the present arrangement a town can have an intact railway running to it and also have a very strong business case, but trying to get passenger trains running there again seems all but impossible.

    If the railway to Okehampton can be revived then there's no reason why lines can't return to other places too.

  • John Porter , Leeds

    The Department for Transport announced on 4th May that they are gaining a second permanent secretary in transport secretary Mark Harper's department.
    The former trade, defence, energy and science chief Jo Shanmugalingam takes up that role at the end of May.
    That should provide some momentum and energy to DfT.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    When it comes to forward thinking and controlling costs the government is usually its own worst enemy.