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Rail services to come under unified state control

Lifestyle / Thu 20th May 2021 at 06:46am

THE government has announced the biggest shake-up in the UK’s railways since privatisation in the mid-1990s reports the BBC.

It will see the creation of a new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR), which will set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.

But private operators will still be contracted to run most trains.

And next month, flexible season tickets will be available for some people who commute two or three times a week.

The reforms follow the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 and years of complaints about the “fragmented” franchising system, which will now be scrapped.

Under the changes, GBR will replace the current operator of infrastructure, Network Rail, but is not expected to be established until 2023.

The government says the new system should look more like Transport for London, with multiple operators under one brand, offering greater accountability when things go wrong.

Keith Williams, the former boss of British Airways who led the review into the reforms, told the BBC’s Today programme: “What we’ve done here is listen to what customers want out of rail and react to that.

“And that really is a more reliable punctual service and better opportunities [when] buying tickets. 

“There is an enormous opportunity here not only to simplify the way that people buy tickets, but also to benefit from a retail environment which gives greater flexibility in the way that fares are operated in the future.

A string of reforms will be brought in before the new body comes into existence, including a “significant rollout” of more pay as you go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.

New flexible season tickets will offer savings on certain routes for people who do not travel to work every day, reflecting the expected changes to commuting patterns after the pandemic.

They are due to go on sale on 21 June for use seven days later, and will allow passengers to travel on any eight days in a 28-day period.

The reforms are contained in a White Paper, based on the recommendations of the review led by Mr Williams. 

The plan was initially due to be published in autumn 2019, but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.

The White Paper is entitled the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, after Mr Williams and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Mr Shapps said the railways had suffered from “years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication”.

He added: “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.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plan would “deliver a rail system the country can be proud of”.

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