Transport Secretary promises transformational industry change

Transport Secretary Mark Harper yesterday pledged to transform the UK’s railways as he set out his long-term vision.

Speaking at the annual George Bradshaw Address in London, Bradshaw accepted that fundamental reform of the railways is urgently required and outlined how the government’s Plan for Rail will achieve this.

“The railways, quite frankly aren’t fit for purpose,” he said, “and are currently mired in industrial action, routinely letting passengers and freight customers down, and historically unable to deliver major improvements at good value for the taxpayer.

“We have a broken model unable to adapt to customer needs and financially unsustainable. Left untreated, we will drive passengers away with poor performance, which leads to fewer services, which will drive more passengers away and so on and so on.”

Harper confirmed that Great British Railways (GBR) will be established, taking charge of timetables, setting ticket prices, collecting revenue and managing rail infrastructure in England. The host city of the organisation will be announced “before Easter”.

“The industry has long called for a guiding mind to co-ordinate the network,” he said “so GBR will be responsible for track and train, as well as revenue and cost. It means finally treating the railway as the whole system it should be, rather than a web of disparate interests that it’s become.”

He also vowed to enhance the role of the private sector, “Not just in running services, but in maximising competition, innovation, and revenue growth right across the industry, benefits the private sector has delivered time and again.”

GBR will not be “Network Rail 2.0, nor a return to British Rail,” he said, stressing that the organisation is not a step towards nationalisation. “Taking politics out of the railways is the only way to build a truly commercially led industry.”

The Transport Secretary also used his speech to confirm an extension of Pay-As-Go ticketing.

“Ticket prices should also be fairer, but often there is little difference between the cost of a single or a return, with operators unable to significantly reduce prices on quieter services,” he said.

“So first of all, after LNER’s successful single leg pricing trial, we’ll extend it to other parts of the LNER network from the Spring and then carefully consider before extending more widely.

“It means a flexible single fare will always be half the cost of the equivalent return, giving passengers more flexibility and better value. This is not about increasing fares, I just want passengers to benefit from simpler ticketing that meets their needs.”

Image credit: GOV.UK

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