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Industry reacts to draft Rail Reform Bill – Rail Engineer

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Ministers yesterday (Tuesday 20 February) put forward their plan for the future of the railways, publishing a draft Rail Reform Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The draft Bill sets in motion a plan to deliver punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets, and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of passengers and freight users. When passed, it will help deliver the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system.

The draft Bill will see the creation of Great British Railways (GBR) which will bring together responsibility for both rail infrastructure and services, providing clearer lines of accountability, helping to build a more modern and financially secure sector, and a network that is more adaptable and more efficient.

Great British Railways will aim to ensure passengers and freight benefit from industry expertise through a whole-system approach that will drive financial efficiency. When established, it will be the new franchising authority, contracting with the private sector to deliver passenger services and maximise investment, innovation, and opportunity.

The reforms will improve connectivity and choice for passengers, including by encouraging private sector open-access operators, where they add value for passengers through more direct links and more options.
The Bill applies mainly to Great Britain, with Scottish and Welsh ministers continuing to exercise existing devolved responsibilities, but with 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. This will allow for time to understand the complexities of these reforms and ensure that the final legislation is as robust as possible. Scrutiny will be led by the Transport Select Committee.

Industry reaction to the news has been largely positive. Andrew Haines, Great British Railways Transition Team Lead and CEO of Network Rail said: “Passengers, freight customers and communities are crying out for a simpler, better railway and the publication of the draft Bill is an important step on that journey. 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.”

Jacqueline Starr, CEO of RDG, commented: “It is good news that the Draft Rail Reform Bill has been published, this is another important step in setting up Great British Railways and moving forward with the agreed reforms to improve the railway for the customer. 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.”

Rail Freight Group Director General, Maggie Simpson OBE, 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.”

But while publication of the draft bill is a welcome step, meaningful action is now required.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) stressed: “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.”

Silviya Barrett from charity Campaign for Better Transport added: “We welcome the publication of this draft bill, which is a much-needed step towards long-awaited rail reform, now we need to see it move swiftly through to the next stage. In the meantime, we urge the Government to move forward with changes that do not require legislation, including meaningful reforms to ticketing that deliver actual benefits and better value for passengers.”

However, the reaction from other quarters was less sympathetic.

“The draft Rail Reform Bill is completely inadequate,” said TSSA General Secretary Maryam Eslamdoust.

“It does not address the damage that privatisation has done to our railways and infrastructure. It does not offer the fundamental changes that we need to deliver a fair deal for passengers and transport workers. The Conservative Government are simply on the wrong track.”

The full version of the draft Bill can be viewed here.

Image credit: iStockphoto / RIA

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