British rail industry calls for GBR rail reform acceleration

British rail industry calls for GBR rail reform acceleration

Railwaypro — 2023-05-11

Land transportation

The Rail Industry Association (RIA) together with 60 rail business leaders have written an open letter to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him not to delay in bringing forward legislation to enact the British rail reform plans in the coming Parliamentary year. Legislation is needed to create Great British Railways (GBR), which will bring track and train operations together within one body.

The proposed legislation has been delayed since the Government published its reform proposals in 2021 and the rail business leaders are concerned that failure to legislate within the next Parliamentary session means the railway will have no clear direction. This uncertainty about the future structure of the industry threatens a hiatus in key decisions being made, jeopardising progress with essential rail works, jobs, investment and business growth, and ultimately undermining services for passengers and freight customers.
The acceleration of British rail reform “will help provide the certainty rail businesses need to invest, take on staff and develop their business plans, ultimately benefiting passenger and freight customers, and resulting in better value-for-money for taxpayers,” RIA Chief Executive Darren Caplan said, adding that the “failure to enact the GBR legislation means a delay to reform of at least 18 months.

The establishment of the Great British Railways (GBR) is part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail strategy establishing a new rail industry structure to “bring the railways back together, delivering more punctual and reliable services.

The letter says that “the UK railway and the economy cannot afford to see work stop whilst GBR is set up.” The letter includes “five tests” for GBR highlighting the key areas which the new organisation will need to focus on to ensure the restructuring is a success.

The first test is referring to the necessity of a continuously work without disconnections. Under Control Period 6 ending in 2024, the Government’s investment programme includes £18.8bn (€21.6bn) renewals to sustain the network and £9.5bn (€10.9bn) in enhancements planned, alongside a number of rolling stock orders. However, “there is no clarity about what is planned beyond 2024” and rapid decisions to be taken for renewals and enhancements under CP 7 (2024-2029) are essential to launch tenders preparing the investments to be made for 2024-2029 period.

At the same time, the industry is committed to decarbonise rail passenger transport by 2050 requiring further electrification and procurement of sustaianble rolling stock as well as deploying digital signalling techology. “Delays to any of this work will detrimentally impact both passenger and freight rail services, and limit the rail supply sector’s ability to support the economic recovery post-Coronavirus. Any hiatus in work would halt investment and make it more difficult for the industry to retain and hire workers,” the letter says.

The second test calls for transparency with rail suppliers when establishing GBR needs considering that a large amount of the Government’s spend on rail is delivered by private sector companies, with significant invested capital. An open approach will allow suppliers to plan their projects and investments in R&D, people, plant and processes and to deliver ever more efficiently.  “The process needs to be transparent too, with clear roles for Government, GBR, ORR and the supply industry, as set out in the Williams-Shapps Plan.

Partnership is the third test included in the letter and calls for an open interface between the private sector and GBR which should set out clearly where the private sector will be involved and where work will be conducted in-house.

Productivity and ambition are the last two tests that underline the need to ensure that the industry will thrive while the entire rail sector should leave a positive legacy, including in safety, decarbonisation, exports and the economy.