Guarded response to Government’s rail services reform plans

Northern leaders have reacted cautiously to what has been billed as the Government’s biggest shake-up of the UK’s railways since privatisation in the mid-1990s.

The planned changes will see the creation of a new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR), which will determine timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.

However, private operators will still be contracted to run most trains.

And next month, flexible season tickets will be on offer for some people who commute two or three times a week.

Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, responded: “I welcome the Williams-Shapps Review and the plan that local leaders will be given greater control, but it’s vital that alongside these controls comes the investment needed to improve our railways.

“Rebranding the railways will not solve the underlying problems for passengers nor level up the North.

“Passengers must come first, and their needs must be put ahead of profits. In South Yorkshire and across the North we need transformational investment to upgrade our decrepit Victorian infrastructure and improve connectivity between Northern towns and cities.

“If this Government want to be taken seriously on the levelling up agenda, this will be a key test that they must meet.”

Tracy Brabin

Tracy Brabin, recently elected Mayor of West Yorkshire, added: “Passengers in the North of England have long experienced the impact of disjointed rail services which have failed to address their needs. 

“We must avoid swapping a fragmented railway for one run from Whitehall. I want to see a strong local voice in the way services are commissioned and run, which needs to be supported by the devolution of funding. 

“I’m already moving forward with my commitment to bring bus services into public control and we need to ensure they are joined up with rail, cycling, walking and our new mass transit system to deliver for our communities.  

“Alongside reform of the way rail services are run, we need significant investment to increase capacity on our network to deliver the regular and reliable service needed to attract people out of their cars and onto public transport as we tackle the climate emergency.” 

The reforms are contained in a White Paper, based on the recommendations of the review led by Keith Williams, the former boss of British Airways.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who also worked on the review, said the railways had suffered from “years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication”.

The publication of the plan comes eight months after the Government axed the system of rail franchising.

Under the changes, GBR will replace the current operator of infrastructure, Network Rail, but is not expected to be set up until 2023.

The Government says the revamped system will feature multiple operators under one brand, providing more accountability when things go wrong.