UK: A fully-commercial open-access model should replace government contracts for the provision of long-distance services in Great Britain, according to the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants.

‘It seems that the only choice being discussed is between public service contract concessions and renationalisation’, said AllRail Secretary General Nick Brooks on November 15. ‘But there is a third way: adoption of the full open access model for profitable long distance services, including competition between operators. This model has been evidenced to be so successful in other European countries that it is often supported by politicians from across the political divide.’

RegioJet train at Wien Hbf

Members of the independent train operators’ association include Go-Ahead, Stagecoach and Getlink, as well as Flixtrain (Germany), Italo (Italy), Westbahn (Austria), Iryo (Spain), Leo Express and RegioJet of the Czech Republic and French start-up Railcoop.

AllRail envisages that open access operators in Great Britain would use the same timetable slots and rolling stock as the current contract holders, but would be free to offer fares, products and frequencies based on demand rather than government or transport authority specifications.

The association suggests that the future High Speed 2 link should be also be run in this way, with operators offering competing services to suit the market.

Leo Express

It says there is a growing number of countries where open access operators compete on the same routes, ‘which has led to more frequent trains, lower fares and savings for the taxpayer’ compared to public service contracts.

‘By contrast, in the UK open access is restricted to only a handful of routes and accounts for less than 1% of all rail services’, said AllRail. ‘Most of the primary routes linking cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow have only one single rail operator under a managed public service contract, resulting in higher fares and lower service levels.’

Complementary model 

Lumo train at King's Cross

Commenting on AllRail’s proposal, Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive of UK operators’ industry association Rail Partners, told Rail Business UK that ‘open access operators have been hugely successful at driving rail recovery in the wake of the pandemic, encouraging modal shift from air to rail and securing environmental and economic benefits for the communities they serve.

‘Rail Partners believes that there is a part to play for further on-rail competition, so rail reform should create the space for more open access on Britain’s railway in the future, especially on long distance routes. This would complement the model of contracted services across the network.’