Manchester Piccadilly station concourse (Photo: ORR)

UK: Delays to the legislation needed to enact reform of the rail sector including the creation of Great British Railways have been confirmed by Secretary of State for Transport Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Speaking to the House of Commons Transport Committee on October 19, Trevelyan said other matters including energy market legislation mean the major transport bill which was planned has been pushed out of the timetable for the 2022-23 parliamentary session.

Instead, ‘a narrow bill around the future of transport technology’ is now being proposed for the current session, to address issues such as e-scooters and with a focus on facilitating private investment.

Rail reform would then be included a second transport bill which is planned for the next session in the second half of 2023.

This means Great British Railways will not be in fully in place by early 2024 as previously envisaged.

DfT is currently looking at what elements of the planned reforms could be implemented without legislation. However key structural changes including the formal transfer of franchising powers from DfT to the proposed ‘guiding mind’ organising authority would require legislation.

Growth and green

Anne-Marie Trevelyan

Speaking about her approach to the brief since being appointed Secretary of State for Transport on September 6, Trevelyan told the committee that that her priorities were ‘growth and green’.

She said she wants everybody at DfT ‘to be looking at every piece of work that we’re doing in every area with those two lenses’, and if things ‘are not helping drive those two critical agendas, we should be asking ourselves if they are at the top of our priority list’.

DfT has been ‘slightly reconfigured’ to have a modal focus. Kevin Foster has been appointed Rail Minister, with all rail activities brought together under one portfolio ‘to ensure that we are thinking holistically’. This includes High Speed 2, which is no longer being treated separately because it is ’now very much in full build and is going to need to be part of the whole rail system’.

Industry responses

Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive of operators’ association Rail Partners, said the delay to the planned legislation was disappointing. He believed that ’it is critical there is not a long hiatus and there are immediate steps that can be taken now, such as switching on revenue incentives in National Rail Contracts and feeding back to the market on passenger service contracts development, which can accelerate growth and underpin a reinvigorated public-private partnership’.

London Liverpool Street concourse

Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan commented ’as the government itself has said, the railway needs a clear strategic direction and GBR was to be the mechanism to deliver this.

‘For the rail supply sector there is now a real concern that this delay will lead to a hiatus in work, hitting confidence and certainty in what are already difficult economic circumstances. And this adds to the lack of clarity rail suppliers are already feeling, given there is also uncertainty over long-term funding, enhancement schemes and major rail projects too.’

RIA urged the government, Network Rail and supply sector ’not to wait for legislation but to work together as GBR is rescheduled to develop strategic plans to deliver the railway required both today and to build the infrastructure and rolling stock capacity needed for the future’.

The Business Travel Association urged the Transport Secretary ’to prioritise the improvement of the rail network and the introduction of the Great British Railway for the benefit of our whole country’.

London TravelWatch said ’without one overriding guiding mind to point the industry in the right direction, we’re worried that train companies will drift or pull in different directions from each other. While one company might engage with their passengers about changes to upcoming timetable changes, others will steamroll them through without consultation. That is the last thing we want from public transport providers just at the time when we should be encouraging passengers back to trains.’

General Secretary of the TSSA union Manuel Cortes said the delay to reform ‘is no way to treat our rail industry which is vital to millions in our country every single day’.