Posted 20th February 2024 | 2 Comments

Rail Reform Bill resurrects franchises

The Government has published its draft Rail Reform Bill, which would pave the way to giving legal status to the proposed ‘guiding mind’ Great British Railways.

GBR is referred to as the Integrated Rail Body, and the draft echoes previous suggestions that the IRB will be in charge of awarding and monitoring National Rail Contracts.

However, the Explanatory Notes which accompany the text of the draft Bill say that the IRB will not absorb Network Rail.

Instead, Network Rail will become the IRB, and the responsibilities which will come under the IRB will be transferred to it, such as the transport secretary’s present power to award operating contracts.

The words franchise and franchising are used to describe future passenger operating contracts, but it is not clear how the new franchises will resemble the original version, which included substantial commercial risk for operators. Such franchises were abolished by transport secretary Grant Shapps in September 2020.

The Department for Transport says the Government ’is committed to having a competitive railway, exploring new opportunities for open access operators’ but part of the Impact Assessment also warns that ‘When considering future applications for access, as well as the benefits for passengers, the government wants the Office for Rail and Road to give sufficient weight to taxpayers’ interests and the impact that proposed services will have on public funds’.

Neither the draft Bill nor the notes which have been been published with it give any details about who would manage stations or make decisions about future rolling stock.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said: ‘It’s been nearly 200 years since the birth of the British railways, and with travel patterns having significantly changed over the last few years it is now more important than ever that they keep up with the changing times.

‘This draft Bill demonstrates our commitment to reforming the railways – working with industry, we will move towards a more modern and financially secure rail network that delivers for passengers for the next 200 years too.’

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘It is fitting that the Conservative's flagship rail reform plan has arrived so late, it has no prospect of ever becoming law.

‘Years after they promised change, they’ve finally admitted they can’t and won’t fix our broken railways.

‘Labour is the only party that will reform our railways – we will bring contracts into public ownership as they expire, and deliver a publicly owned and unified rail network, with every decision tested against delivering for the passenger and the taxpayer.’

Reader Comments:

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

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    " you cannot be serious" / " I don't believe it", as exclaimed on TV by some household characters. I had genuinely expected that the Guiding Mind was meant to be a resource , not a means of command and control. What is the purpose of private companies nominally having ownership , whilst the DfT has the real power to make decisions ? I wouldn't want renationalisation but if that is what Whitehall wants, why carry on pretending ? From this report, it seems innovation and capital investment will suffer and all manner of bureaucacy will become established.

    I ought to add that I'm not a Tory, but a long term "floating vote".

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Perhaps the only clarity regarding future strategy is that it will arrive following the next General Election.

    One can only presume the delay in arriving at a draft Bill can only be down to the reluctance to accept the evidence where the past franchising regime failed hence the half hearted attempt to rewrite franchising into the bill.

    Once again the Transport Secretary justifies policy on the evidence of the past few pandemic affected years. For those of us with longer memories it is dangerous to pay too much attention on the short term trends when a term outlook is essential. As Railnews only reported yesterday the report produced by Steer presents a more optimistic outlook. Sadly optimism is one thing DfT forecasts can't be accused of.