Draft Rail Reform Bill receives mixed industry response

The Government has today included a Draft Rail Reform Bill in the King’s Speech which sets out some of the key pillars of industry reform including the creation of Great British Railways. A Parliamentary committee will oversee pre-legislative scrutiny of the provisions of the Bill.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “We welcome the news that this Draft Bill has been included in the King’s Speech. The Railway Industry Association and 70 of our members campaigned on this earlier this year, writing to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, about the need to take the establishment of Great British Railways forward, to provide some certainty about rail restructure and avoid hiatus in decision-making.

“And so whilst we would have wanted a full Transport Bill providing for GBR, today’s inclusion of a Draft Bill does seem to be progress and a statement of Government intent to reform rail, ultimately bringing track and train closer together, and developing a “guiding mind” and a long-term plan for the railways. We urge the Government to begin the pre-legislative scrutiny process without delay.

“At a time when passenger numbers and revenues are encouragingly growing back to pre-Covid levels, the Government now needs to push on with any and all measures which help build a vibrant, world-class railway for the future, and avoids any hint of so-called managed decline when it comes to the future of UK rail.”

Other transport bodies have been more critical of the announcement. Responding to the announcement, Norman Baker director of external affairs at Campaign for Better Transport, said:

“We welcome the renewed commitment to Great British Railways as a guiding mind and arms-length body but it is not clear why this is a draft Rail Reform Bill rather than a commitment to legislate given this has already been subject to extensive discussion and is largely non-controversial across all the political parties.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Urban transport group. Director Jason Prince said: “Many of the much-needed transport laws promised in the current Parliamentary session have once again failed to materialise.

”Although we welcome the prospect of a new Automated Vehicles Bill, it is disappointing that the Government has only presented a draft Rail Reform Bill, effectively leaving any prospect of reform this side of the General Election stuck in the sidings. It is also a shame to have no further clarity on micromobility legislation or the necessary powers to reform our buses.

“Our city regions need clarity and certainty so they can properly plan and deliver world class transport services which create growth and access to opportunity.”

Andy Bagnall, chief executive of rail partners commented: “The recommitment to establishing Great British Railways with the publication of a draft bill is a step forward, but it is a missed opportunity to not actually legislate in this Parliament.

“The rail industry has been awaiting progress on reform since the Williams Review started over five years ago, culminating in the Plan for Rail being published in 2021. Delivering that plan remains the best foundation to build a better railway for Britain, and not seizing the moment now means continuing uncertainty until after the next General Election.

“It is now even more urgent for government and industry to redouble efforts to deliver improvements for passengers and freight customers, as well as taxpayers, that can be taken forward without legislation, such as allowing operators more freedom to attract passengers back to rail and setting an ambitious target for growth of rail freight.”

Image credit: RIA

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