Posted 25th April 2024 | 5 Comments

Labour publishes GBR document, while Tories dismiss it

The Labour Party has published its proposal for creating Great British Railways, which is called ‘Getting Britain moving’ and runs to 28 pages.

Speaking in London this morning, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘If I am secretary of state, I won’t be running the railways day-to-day, but I will act as ‘passenger-in-chief’ – setting the strategy and objectives for Great British Railways, and holding it to account.

‘But, unlike current Ministers, I will trust the experts. Experts who don’t just come from the rail sector – because we all know that it can sometimes be a little too inward-looking. But external experts in providing exceptional customer service.’


She revealed that if Labour is elected, instructions will be given immediately to the Department for Transport, Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group and the Operator of Last Resort ‘to work together from day one to create a “shadow” Great British Railways’.

She continued: ‘This will fire the starting gun on reform and make sure we don’t lose valuable time. Step Two will see us pass the primary legislation needed to formally establish Great British Railways as an arm’s length body, ensuring that it is structured around the needs of passengers and freight.

‘Every five years, the Secretary of State will issue a long-term strategy, which will set out how the railway should deliver against clear passenger objectives. And Great British Railways will be incentivised to grow the number of people using rail and the revenues from it. And importantly, it will provide the clarity and certainty of outlook the sector has been missing for so long.’

Open access passenger and freight

Labour says open access passenger and freight operators will not be nationalised. Labour’s document ‘Getting Britain Moving’ says: ‘The Secretary of State will impose a duty on Great British Railways to enable the growth of rail freight alongside passenger services, setting clear and meaningful targets for rail freight growth’. 

Labour also wants third-party ticket retailers to continue, and held its event at the offices of Trainline.


Rolling stock leasing companies will continue to exist.

Labour says: ‘We will develop a long-term industrial strategy for rolling stock which supports British manufacturing, innovation and interoperability and aligns with the wider objectives of the industry. This will seek to end the current boom-and-bust cycle, ensure a strong pipeline of work, and consider the best financing structures for future orders, in partnership with private capital.’


Great British Railways would take over the management of National Rail stations, and the creation of GBR as a ‘single directing mind and brand’.which is in contrast to Keith Williams’ description of Great British Railways in the 2021 Rail Review as a ‘guiding mind’.


Although answerable to the transport secretary, GBR would be held to account in the first instance by a ‘tough new passenger watchdog’, to be called the Passenger Standards Authority.

The PSA would absorb Transport Focus and the Rail Ombudsman, and also inherit some of the ORR’s functions – passenger assistance, passenger information, complaints and compensation codes of practice, monitoring and compliance, and consumer law, investigation and enforcement.

The future status of London TravelWatch is not mentioned, perhaps because it is sponsored and funded by the Greater London Authority.


His Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate would continue as the safety regulator, and the ORR would also continue to decide such things as open access applications, although ‘on the basis of an updated framework and guidance’ from the transport secretary. 

The status of the Rail Safety and Standards Board would be reviewed, ‘to ensure it is able to fulfil a similar role within the new model’.

Organisations which would keep their present functions and responsibilities include the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and British Transport Police. 


The plans have received a cool reaction from the Government.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said: ‘They don't have a plan to pay for the bill attached to their rail nationalisation. Without a plan to pay for this, it means one thing: taxes will rise on hard working people.’

However, Labour is claiming that re-uniting track and train, along with abolishing contracted passenger operators, could save more than £2 billion a year.

There has been a broad welcome for the proposals from many railway industry figures, including GB Railfreight chief executive officer John Smith, who said: ‘We welcome Labour’s plans to seize the huge economic potential of rail freight – an industry which already contributes £2.45 billion to the UK economy. We look forward to the opportunities Labour’s plans may present to our industry in the future.’

Paul Tuohy of the Campaign for Better Transport said: ‘We’re pleased to see that Labour’s plans for the railways aim to deliver much-needed reforms and promise to put passengers and freight first. Rail reform is long overdue, and passengers have waited long enough, so we particularly welcome the commitment to fares and ticketing reforms and to establishing Great British Railways.

‘We are also pleased that many of our own recommendations for improving the rail network – including a best price ticket guarantee, a commitment to move more freight by rail and nationwide digital season tickets – have been taken on board.

‘However, we are concerned that these plans may not strike the right balance between the government’s strategic direction for the railways and the benefits of private sector delivery. Our preferred model for the railways would be a franchising model, similar to Labour's plan for buses, with a role for open access operators.’

Reader Comments:

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

  • Greg T, London

    Small-scale, probably not enough, but sensible.
    Needless to say, the tory wreckers will want to trash it

    Steve Alston
    The problem is that Harper is a Sunak/Thatcher clone - he hates railways
    Agree about "Lumo" - I tried to buy a ticket form them & was told I HAD to use their "app" ...
    I got a really good deal from LNER!

  • John Porter , Leeds

    The four English already nationalised TOC’s have employed some good leaders and learnt how to present things to their new Board (HMTreasury). Day to day supervision falls to the equivalent of Regional Directors in the private sector (TfL, TfN, etc and DfT (where there’s no Mayor) in the public sector).
    Politicians have a key role to play - stopping DfT becoming too hands on and HMT being too negative. Labour’s prospectus doesn’t frighten me or the rail workers yet. I just hope we avoid the best leaders and their management teams taking early retirement, or joining consultants.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    If the present government had shown some commitment to the Williams proposals after they were first produced then they may have actually been implemented before the next election. It's therefore a bit rich for current ministers to criticise Labour's plans when their prevarication has cost billions.

    Given that four English TOC's, Scotrail, Caledonian Sleepers & TfW are already effectively 'nationalised' already their is a considerable part of the UK passenger railway operating under direct public sector control. Allowing the rest of the TOC's to revert to direct control should at the very least be cost neutral as Labour is proposing existing contracts to lapse rather than buy them out. Again more nonsense form today's ministers. Savings should accrue by the abolition of the bidding process at contract renewal. Similarly saving have long been identified by removing the bureaucracy associated with contract & performance management which add's only expense but no value to the customer experience.

    The timetable provides the foundation of the railway's public offering, it's product. Too often the contractual straightjacket of the past 30 years has restricted flexibility in adapting it to changed operational & market circumstances. Just look at the continued dispute & delay in producing an acceptable ECML timetable to take advantage of the investments that have been committed to new infrastructure in recent years. Reintegration should be seen as a step forward in simplifying the timetabling process in turn unlocking opportunities especially by properly coordinating connecting services properly again.

    As the railway continually shows there is never an easy fix. Remember it took BR until the leadership of Sir Bob Reid & sectorisation in the 1980's & 90's to drive forward a fully commercially focused operation. Also remember sectorisation instilled a laser focus on cost control producing results today's fragmented industry can only dream about. Should Labour form the next government and GBR be created as suggested it will require a cadre of managers tasked with the ability to recreate the railway in the spirit of Sir Bob's vision.

  • Steve J Alston , Crewe

    Why is Merriman moaning? This is a vote winner that both him and Harper should have seized upon long ago. Propping up scroungers like FirstGroup and Arriva ain't going to go down well at the election.

    As for open access, Haigh is wrong - they are not creating *new* markets but parasites, helping themselves to the cash pot that should be reinvested into our railway. Eg Lumo >1% from Morpeth, >99% from existing LNER ticket revenue.

    Her biggest challenge will be the clowns within the DfT keen to continue lining the pockets of these sham transport groups, leasing firms and the rest of their hanger-on pals.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I doubt if it will make any difference whatsoever. We all know the problems of running any railway, from a small heritage line to the Tube. When the priority is safety - and always lack of money - following a timetable or decreasing fares becomes impossible. Mussolini - the Italian Dictator - said he made the trains run on time. Analysis shows he didn't.