A new public body for British railways will “drive significant efficiencies” and save up to £1.5bn a year, the UK government has said.
The Williams-Shapps plan for reforming British railways – drawn up by Keith Williams, former chief executive of British Airways, and transport secretary Grant Shapps – will see services come under a new public body, Great British Railways (GBR).
A report said GBR would “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”.
The simplification of the system would also “increase Great British Railways’ purchasing power and economies of scale, and make it easier and cheaper to plan maintenance, renewals and upgrades”, the report added.
“These and other efficiencies will take time to bear fruit, but after five years it is expected that they could be saving around £1.5 billion a year, equivalent to 15% of the network’s pre-pandemic fares income,” it said.
The report added new modern contracts would be introduced to “increase competition, reduce costs and attract investment”.
Under the plan “complex approval processes and supplier frameworks will be overhauled” to improve pace and value for money.
The report said: “This includes adopting international standards that will enable integration with global services and engaging earlier and more effectively with small and medium-sized businesses.
“Simpler procurement, open data sharing and the use of testing environments such as sandboxes will also help to remove barriers to investment and innovation and enable more effective testing of emerging technology.
“This could have real benefits: for instance, artificial intelligence and remotely-piloted drones could be used to monitor track conditions more effectively and safely, spotting emerging problems and requiring fewer workers to access tracks.”
Shapps said: “Our railways were born and built to serve this country, to forge stronger connections between our communities and provide people with an affordable, reliable and rapid service.
“Years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication have seen that vision fade and passengers failed. That complicated and broken system ends today.
“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.”
In 2018, a “root and branch” review of Britain’s railways was ordered by the government, which was led by Williams. It was due to give its recommendations before the end of 2019 but these were repeatedly delayed.
Williams said: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”
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