Connect with us


Draft Rail Reform Bill published to move sector towards ‘guiding mind’ of Great British Railways | New Civil Engineer



Management of the UK’s rail infrastructure and services has moved closer to being unified under the “guiding mind” of Great British Railways (GBR) with the publication of the draft Rail Reform Bill today, 20 February.

Establishment of GBR was an outcome of the Williams-Shapps Plan For Rail, published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2021, building on the government’s 2019 manifesto promise to reform the UK’s rail sector.

The intention is for Network Rail to be absorbed into the new organisation, which will own the infrastructure, collect fare revenue, run trains and plan the network and set most fares and timetables.

According to the DfT, GBR will “provide clearer lines of accountability and help build a more modern and financially secure sector and a network that is more adaptable and more efficient” and “ensure passengers and freight benefit from industry expertise through a whole-system approach that will drive financial efficiency”.

It continued: “When established, GBR will be the new franchising authority, contracting with the private sector to deliver passenger services and maximise investment, innovation and opportunity.”

The DfT says that passengers will benefit from greater connectivity and choice. This will also come via “encouraging private sector open-access operators, where they add value for passengers through more direct links and more options”.

The bill will apply to Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) while Scottish and Welsh ministers will still maintain existing devolved responsibilities. However, ministers will have an option to delegate contracting authority to GBR “to enable the integration of track and train across Great Britain if they wished to pursue it”.

The draft Rail Reform Bill will now undergo pre-legislative scrutiny to provide parliamentarians and industry experts the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the legislation.

GBR’s headquarters will be in Derby, it was announced last year.

GBR will also be tasked with achieving the government target of 75% rail freight growth by 2050.

Network Rail CEO and GBR Transition Team lead Andrew Haines said publication of the draft bill is an “important step” towards a “simpler, better railway”.

He added: “Bringing track and train together under a guiding mind is by far the best way to improve the service the railway offers, unlock the economic potential of a growing network and reduce the burden on the taxpayer”.

Rail Delivery Group CEO Jacqueline Starr echoed those sentiments, adding: “The challenges facing the rail industry are well known, but rail is a vital service and should have a bright future if we work together. I look forward to working with the government to further develop the reforms needed to deliver for customers.”

Railway Industry Association (RIA), the voice of the UK rail supply community, welcomed the draft bill but urged the government to move quickly towards full legislation.

RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “The Railway Industry Association welcomes the news that pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Rail Reform Bill is now being taken forward.

“Last May, RIA and 70 of our members wrote to prime minister Rishi Sunak about the need to take the establishment of Great British Railways forward. So whilst we would have wanted a full Transport Bill providing for GBR progressing already, it is good that the Government is at least taking this preliminary step towards unifying track and train, and developing a ‘guiding mind’ and a long-term plan for the railway.

“At a time when rail demand in the UK is showing a steady and continuing upturn, and with the RIA-commissioned Steer Report published just this week reporting that passenger numbers will grow between 37% and 97% to 2050, the government needs to accelerate the legislative process without delay. The faster the government pushes on with rail reform the faster we can remove uncertainty about the future structure of the industry and get on with building a vibrant and world-class railway for the future, delivering economic growth and enhanced connectivity across the UK in the decades ahead.”

Rail Freight Group director general Maggie Simpson said: “We are pleased that Government has listened to the concerns of the rail freight sector, and has set out how the new body will be required to ‘make provisions for the carriage of goods by rail’. This will help create confidence in the new rail structure and encourage private sector investment in rail freight growth.”

The Transport Select Committee also welcomed the publication of the draft bill.

Transport Select Committee chair Iain Stewart said: “Proposals to set up Great British Rail as a guiding mind for the rail sector have been broadly supported, and legislation to get these important reforms on track has been long awaited.

“The Transport Committee will soon launch an inquiry to scrutinise the draft Bill in detail and without delay. We will welcome views from across the sector, and will look to complete our work in good time before Parliament’s summer recess.”

According to the DfT, the draft Rail Reform Bill will enable:

More accountability through the establishment of GBR by bringing together the management of the network and the commissioning of passenger services into a new public rail body that puts customers first and delivers efficiency. The Secretary of State for Transport’s franchising authority functions will be transferred to GBR, ensuring that operational and infrastructure decisions are made in a coordinated way. The new body will serve as the single point of accountability for the performance of the railway where previously it was split between Network Rail and the Secretary of State.

Better service by bringing track and train together enabling the sector to run as one system for the benefit of customers and taxpayers. Whole system strategic decision-making should lead to improved reliability and performance of passenger and freight services. GBR’s regional structure is intended to ensure differing regional customer needs are part of decision-making.

Smarter growth of the sector, as GBR will be a commercially-focused organisation that will contract with the private sector to maximise investment and innovation throughout the sector. This includes improving connectivity and choice through more direct links and more options for passengers.

Greater efficiency by working in close partnership with the private sector to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system underpinned by better collaboration and aligned incentives, generating value and savings that will have benefits for passengers and taxpayers.

Improved focus on customers through specific accessibility and freight duties to ensure that accessibility on the railway is improved and the experience for disabled passengers is enhanced. Rail freight will be targeted for growth, recognising the sector’s economic benefits and potential for expansion.

Like what you’ve read? To receive New Civil Engineer’s daily and weekly newsletters click here.

Continue Reading