Could Williams Review sideline Network Rail?

 

Ahead of the publication of its major report into the national rail network, the chair of the Williams Review has given a idea of what the public can expect - and it could involve sidelining government and Network Rail.

Former British Airways boss Keith Williams, was appointed by the Department for Transport (DfT) to provide a state of the nation review of rail after the major government failure of the timetable chaos last year, rising fares and increasingly overcrowded trains.

The Government has thrown a great deal of weight behind the review in terms of improving the railways.

However in an early indication of the possible outcomes of the review, Mr Williams confirmed his opinion that government involvement should be limited to overall policy and budget decisions and the DfT should not manage the system.

Currently Network Rail, a public company managing the rail infrastructure, is in charge of the delivery of five-year 'control period' for funding and projects set by the DfT.

Mr Williams told the BBC there should be a "Fat Controller" type figure [a reference to the Thomas the Tank Engine character] independent from government who is in charge of day-to-day operations.

According the BBC, Mr Williams said Network Rail should not take on an overall managerial role.

However he is still to decide on what relationship the rail figurehead would have with government.

'Someone needs to be accountable to the public for the services that they receive and that needs to be at a national level but we also recognise that the role of the regions needs to be emphasised because maybe what has been lacking in the past is regional input to the national system.'

At an industry meeting, Keith Williams added: 'I want to see the creation of a thoroughly modern, 21st century service provider. A railway that is run in the public's interest, delivering for passengers, supporting local economies, embracing innovation and new business models to improve journey experience.

'To achieve this vision, I believe reform should be focused on five key areas: a new passenger offer, simplified fares and ticketing...a new industry structure...commercial model...and a range of proposals on leadership, skills diversity.'

Mr Williams, who has already stated that the current franchise system should not last, is understood to be considering longer, more outcomes-based relationships with rail providers.

The rail review is also likely to call for an overhaul of the complicated, fragmented rail ticketing system, which has not been reformed since the mid-90s.

He appears to be likely to call for a liberalisation of the market to support new entrants selling tickets and developing a more of a pay-as-you-go approach.

However unions have raised concerns that Mr Williams has ignored the issue of nationalisation, which has been growing in public support in recent years. and now commands a majority in the polls.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: 'The Williams Rail Review is edging toward some sensible reforms of ticketing, franchising and network planning. While we look forward to discussing the detail of these proposals, passengers and wider society urgently need a railway which delivers reliable, affordable and environmentally sound transport to communities across the country.

'The Government must commit to delivering on Williams' recommendations with a new Railways Act, regardless of who is Prime Minister or any other changes we see in the coming weeks.'

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