Chris Grayling has published a new ‘Strategic Vision’ for rail, which includes plans to end the operational divide between track and train and could see a ‘Beeching in reverse’ re-opening of lines closed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Proposals unveiled by the transport secretary include creating joined up teams running track and train, building on Network Rail’s recent devolution to route-based businesses, and include complementary changes to the franchising system, ‘while maintaining the railway infrastructure in public ownership’.
The plan also ‘also commits to explore opportunities’ to restore capacity lost under the cuts of the 1960s and 1970s by identifying new schemes that unlock new housing or economic growth and offer good value for money.
However, while the document cites ‘examples of proposals currently being looked at and candidates for further consideration’, there is no guaranteed funding for schemes beyond existing announcements and it adds: ‘Government wants to see a renewed focus on unlocking funding from developers and other potential beneficiaries.’
Transport secretary Chris Grayling
Mr Grayling said: ‘This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.
‘But now we need to build on that success by building a new model for the 2020s and beyond, one more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenges of an increasingly congested network.’
The strategy praises the Campaign for Better Transport’s (CfBT) recent ‘Expanding the Railways’ guide, which sets out how to reopen a rail line.
CfBT chief executive Stephen Joseph referred to the plans as ‘Dr. Beeching in reverse’, but warned: ‘it is desperately difficult to reopen a rail line.’
He added: ‘This announcement needs to be backed both with new investment and a commitment to guiding local authorities through the sometimes labyrinthine processes of the railway.’
An East Coast Partnership to be set up over the next two years as a partnership between the public and private sectors will be responsible for both intercity trains and track operations on the lines between London, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland. The Department for Transport (DfT) said the private partner will have a leading role in defining future plans for route infrastructure.
Joint teams will also run day to day operations across the South Eastern network, with a new Alliance Director responsible for a joint team operating the trains and tracks, while a joint team will run the East Midlands franchise following next year’s franchise competition.
Other franchising changes will introduce smaller train companies, including splitting up the troubled Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise in 2021, and consulting on a new West of England franchise.
The DfT said it would be asking FirstGroup, the current operator of the Great Western franchise, for a proposal to continue operating the franchise until 2022.
Anthony Smith, chief executive watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘Railway services only improve with long-term, sustained investment. So pulling together a raft of initiatives in one strategy is a good step in communicating to passengers what the long-term plan is.
He added: Passengers will judge the success of these plans on the extent to which they meet their priorities for improvement: more reliable services, more chance of getting a seat or standing in comfort and a boost to value for money.’