The government has released plans today to re-structure the way rail franchises operate in the UK.
The changes include a new long-term partnership along the East Coast Mainline that will see both track maintenance and train provisions rolled into a single provider for the first time. At the moment Network Rail – which is state owned – is responsible for rail maintenance, while private franchisees operate regional rail services.
The vision also looks at breaking up some of the larger franchises, particularly the Great Western franchise, to separate the provision of local and inter-city services.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said the UK needed to build a rail model that was “more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenge of an increasingly congested network”.
“Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service, and I will deliver it by ending the one-size-fits-all approach of franchising and bringing closer together the best of the public and private sector,” he said.
Grayling told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The system is creaking, it’s bursting at the seams.”
Plans to bring train and rail operators closer together were proposed by Grayling in December last year.
Today’s vision document, published by the DfT, expands on these plans by outlining “a new generation of long-term integrated partnerships” between train operators and Network Rail. These new partnerships will have a “one team” culture and create opportunities for train companies to influence infrastructure decisions.
The first of these new franchises will be the East Coast Partnership, which will pull track and train under a single public private partnership with a unified leadership team and brand. The government plans for this to be launched in 2020.
Competition processes are already underway for similar types of contracts on the South Eastern and East Midlands lines, with an invitation to tender on the new South Eastern franchise released today.
The vision also announced plans to open up new routes, including re-opening lines shuttered in the 1960s. The first of these routes to be re-opened will be the Oxford to Cambridge rail link.
The DfT intends to devolve more power to regional governments to open up routes they feel will be economically beneficial. Larger franchiese might also be broken up to allow smaller train companies to run more local networks. A consultation has been launched specifically looking at how the Great Western franchise might be split up in this way.
The Labour Party, which has previously called for the renationalisation of rail franchises, has called the plan “un-funded proposals”.
Earlier this year the DfT was criticised by a parliamentary committee for the way it enforced existing rail contracts following a number of troubled contracts including the failed 2012 West Coast Mainline tender and a string of disruptions that had been affecting the Southern Rail service.
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