The UK has unveiled the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail to reform country’s railways and launch a new era for passengers, under which the Great British Railways (GBR), a new public body, will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenue, running, and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.
GBR will simplify the current mass of confusing tickets with new flexible season tickets and a significant roll-out of more convenient Pay As You Go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones. A new GBR website will sell tickets and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a simple system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.
The GBR will also involve the private sector as will contract the private partners to operate most trains to the timetables and fares it specifies, with a model similar to that used by Transport for London in its successful Overground and Docklands Light Railway services.
The new passenger service contracts will include strong incentives for operators to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers. They will not be one-size-fits-all – as demand recovers, operators on some routes, particularly long-distance, will have more commercial freedom. Affordable walk-on fares and season ticket prices will be protected.
The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, published on 20 May 2021, sets out the path towards a truly passenger-focused railway, underpinned by new contracts that prioritise punctual and reliable services, the rapid delivery of a ticketing revolution, with new flexible and convenient tickets and long-term proposals to build a modern, greener, and accessible network.
“I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve. By creating Great British Railways and investing in the future of the network, this government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
“The pandemic has seen the government take unprecedented steps to protect services and jobs. It’s now time to kickstart reforms that give the railways solid and stable foundations for the future, unleashing the competitive, innovative and expert abilities of the private sector, and ensuring passengers come first. Great British Railways marks a new era in the history of our railways,” Grant Shapps Transport Secretary said.
The new strategy re-emphasises authorities’ commitment to rail, with tens of billions of pounds invested in more electrification, new and reopened lines and a rail revolution.
GBR will drive significant efficiencies in the railways’ inflated costs, reducing complexity and duplication, increasing flexibility, changing working practices and making it easier and cheaper to invest. Reform is the only way to protect services and jobs in the long term.