This is a Sponsored Post by the Rail Delivery Group.
There is no doubt that rail companies have not always got everything right and people feel intense frustration when the service doesn’t deliver for them. Too often in recent years that has been the case, as how the railway is structured has reached the limits of what it can deliver.
Just as 25 years ago when John Major’s Conservative government took a pragmatic approach to rail, ushering in a new era of investment and innovation, the time is right for a once-in-a-generation upgrade to the railway system. The status quo cannot remain if we are to have a rail system that is fit for the future.
Compared to 25 years ago, millions more passengers now travel by rail every day and there are thousands more trains on the tracks. The increased popularity of rail is good news, especially as it helps reduce road congestion and pollution, but it means that the UK’s rail network faces pressures that were never envisaged when today’s structure was designed.
Too often the debate about the future structure of Britain’s railways gets lost in wider political arguments and ideology. Finding the solutions that deliver the railway Britain needs over the next two decades requires a deeper and dispassionate look at what the country, communities and passengers require.
It is about recognising that the railway is the economic artery for many of our towns and cities and that it provides a vital service, relied upon by people and businesses nationwide.
In short, the railway is too important for anything else.
That is why rail companies are putting forward to the Williams Review, set up by the Government to consider the future structure of the railways, a radical set of proposals – a real alternative to the current system of franchising.
These proposals are based on months of conversations with passengers, businesses and communities up and down the country. They draw on the collective wisdom of men and women with decades of experience running the railway and utilise analysis of railways around the world.
The result is a long-term plan which we believe will deliver real, lasting change – the greater accountability and better value for money people expect and deserve. A new approach designed around the needs of passengers and communities and the businesses who depend on rail freight to trade. A new partnership railway.
On long distance routes where there is enough demand to underpin genuine competition, multiple operators would compete for passengers’ business. Whether it is quicker, more comfortable journeys or faster Wi-Fi, demand would shape the market – with passengers able to vote with their wallets by changing to a different operator, giving people genuine choice and helping to drive up performance. A new partnership between train operators and their customers.
In some of our major towns and cities, where commuters depend on the railway every day, there would be democratically accountable, Transport for London-style single-branded services, with an integrated transport body given greater control. This proposal has already won the backing of a number of local and metro leaders. It would represent a new partnership between the railway and the local communities it serves.
On other routes, tough targets combined with clear incentives would be introduced for companies to deliver the outcomes their customers want, replacing today’s tightly specified contracts. This would give operators the freedom to innovate to improve, while only rewarding them for good performance. A new partnership between the public and private sectors in rail.
Overseeing this new system would be a new national body, independent of government, that would act as the glue binding the whole thing together. It would hold the industry’s feet to the fire; ensure the people running the tracks and the trains are all pulling in the same direction for the customers they serve.
And crucially, a full reformed fares system with decades-old regulation updated would make ticket buying easier for all and enable a best fare guarantee. The regular commuter simply tapping in and out with the confidence of a price cap. The business person buying an intercity ticket on their smartphone on route to the station. The occasional traveller who today is bamboozled by the range of fares on offer presented instead with straightforward choices.
This plan is designed to deliver what the country expects – a world class railway that is based on what will work for passengers and the country, not ideology.
It responds to the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
It strikes the right balance of public sector specification where the power of the market isn’t strong enough, and real competition and innovation where people really can exercise a choice.
It is a plan for every part of Britain. A new partnership railway.
So, while we await the outcome of the Williams Review, we will be taking this plan around the country to understand how the various elements can work in different areas to deliver the change we all want to see.
The industry has listened. We understand the need for change. Now we have the chance to get on with it and deliver a railway fit for the future.