The UK government has announced sweeping reforms, the Williams-Shapps Plan, to how the railways work in Britain.
Under this plan, the government will set up a new public body called Great British Railways. This purpose of this body is to bring together what is currently a fragmented system. It will own the infrastructure, be responsible for collecting fare revenues, running and planning the network, and setting the majority of fares and timetables.
Train operating companies, which up until the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic had been running services via franchise agreements, will now run services under Passenger Service Contracts, meaning that the government will pay TOCs for running services while setting and collecting fares. Such concession-based agreements already exist for Transport for London and Docklands Light Railway.
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Train operating companies will be rewarded for running punctual services. They will also be incentivised to increase passenger numbers. Operators running long-distance services will have “more commercial freedom”.
Another aspect of the reforms will be a simplification of tickets as well as the introduction of new flexible season tickets. Pay As You Go contactless, digital ticketing will also be made available on smartphones in a move to increase convenience for passengers. New season tickets will go on sale on 21 June and a new Great British Railways website will launch to sell tickets, issue compensation and refunds and provide passengers with information.
“Our Plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”
There will be the first ever 30-year plan for the railways, which the government says is to make sure that money spent is targeted and used efficiently to deliver upgrades. The strategic direction of the railway in Britain, including infrastructure investment and fare pricing, will come from the government. This will be welcomed by the supply chain, which has long lamented the boom and bust cycle brought about by Network Rail’s five-year Control Periods. The government also says it is keen to reinstate railway lines it closed in the 1960s.
The Rail Industry Association (RIA) said it welcomed the publication of the Williams Review and would examine the contents of the white paper in further detail. It stressed that this restructuring of the rail network “does not cause any hiatus in work being done to renew and enhance railway infrastructure or rolling stock”.
The former CEO of British Airways, Keith Williams, was asked to conduct a review into the structure of the country’s railways in 2018.
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