London Liverpool Street station concourse

UK: The Department for Transport is expected to begin formal consultation later this month on the draft legislation required to establish Great British Railways, with a view to having the new organisation operational before the end of 2023.

As part of the Rail Transformation Plan process launched by the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, DfT is current working on the development of a ‘target operating model’, which will define the future relationships between the government, GBR, the Office of Rail & Road as regulator, and other bodies such as RAIB and RSSB.

The model is described by senior insiders as ‘a narrative of how the system functions’, but it is expected to be a fairly high-level document.

The cross-industry GBR Transformation Team led by Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines is concurrently working to ‘put flesh on the bones’ and determine in detail how the high-level objectives would be put into practice.

The consultation document is expected to identify where legislative changes would be required to establish GBR and define its governance and accountability, in line with the target operating model. This would include the need to transfer franchising powers from the Secretary of State for Transport to GBR, and any changes to the access rights regime, for example.

However, Rail Business UK understands that the current thinking at DfT is to minimise the amount of legislation required in order to accelerate the process. While cabinet approval is still required before a bill can be submitted, there is reportedly a ‘degree of optimism’ that the draft legislation may be lodged by July and complete its passage through parliament in the first half of next year. That would allow GBR to mobilise for a launch in the third or fourth quarter of 2023. However, insiders warn that if the window of opportunity is missed, the transformation programme could be set back by several years.