Starting gun fired on 'true long-term rail plan'


The Great British Railways Transition Team is inviting views from within and beyond the rail sector to inform the development of a 30-year whole industry strategic plan.

It has launched a call for evidence, seeking responses from all those with an interest in the long-term future of the railway

The plan was commissioned by transport secretary Grant Shapps and will set five long-term objectives for the railway, focusing on:

  • meeting customers’ needs
  • delivering financial sustainability
  • contributing to long-term economic growth
  • levelling up and connectivity
  • delivering environmental sustainability

It follows the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, published in May, which recommended the establishment of Great British Railways, ‘which will bring together the rail system to run the network in the public interest, as well as the development of a long-term strategy’.

In the foreword to the call for evidence document, Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail and transition team lead, wrote: ‘If we are to succeed in setting a direction for the railway over the next thirty years, the development of the Strategic Plan will need to be a collective endeavour drawing on the expertise and insights not only of the rail sector but of those beyond it.

‘This call for evidence will help shape the Strategic Plan and the future of the railway, and we want it to be informed by as many different perspectives as possible, to learn from the lessons of the past and to meet the challenges of the future.’

The document itself calls for responses to cover three time periods:

1. The short term: the five-year period from delivery of the Strategic Plan in 2022.

2. The medium term: the next ten years, which is the timeframe in which we expect to have moderate levels of certainty in our project planning and sequencing.

3. The long term: the thirty years up to 2052, which are highly uncertain and unpredictable, making it all the more important that the rail system is prepared for a number of different scenarios that will be able to adapt to the challenges that the future holds.

It adds: ‘The most valuable responses will show how we can make progress towards our strategic objectives over these different timescales, balancing each against the other, highlighting tensions and trade-offs, considering stretching yet realistic ambitions, and linking them to wider long-term trends and national priorities.’

It also warns that while responses that ‘identify opportunities for prioritisation, efficiency, and cost reduction in order to drive value for money for the taxpayer and rail user, will be particularly welcome’, any responses that ‘focus solely on requests for new investments or enhancements will not be considered, and any proposals for new funding will need to evidence the cost reductions or efficiencies such proposals would realise’.

The Rail Delivery Group said the call for evidence ‘gives train companies an opportunity to influence the future shape of the railway’.

Director general Andy Bagnall said: ‘The whole industry strategic plan is a generational opportunity to develop a long-term vision for rail to be the backbone of a truly integrated, low carbon transport system that delivers more for customers and the whole country.

‘We want to work together across the industry to ensure we have a railway that connects not only British communities to jobs and opportunities, but tackles congestion and makes the air in towns and cities cleaner with every journey.’

Consumer watchdog Transport Focus said passengers’ priorities are reliability, cleanliness, space to sit and stand comfortably, good quality information and value for money. It added that long-term reform of rail fares and tickets will part of the ‘jigsaw’, with flexible rail tickets needed to suit the way more people are now travelling and spearhead the drive for growth in passenger numbers and revenue that will be needed to accompany cost control.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘The starting gun has now been fired on a true long-term plan for the railway. Transport Focus will help Great British Railways get passengers’ views at the heart of its thinking using our wide range of passenger insight.’

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), described the call for evidence as a ‘positive’ move.

He said: ‘A Plan that provides long-term certainty for businesses in rail will be vital in the coming years, to ensure the sector can deliver efficiently and effectively. RIA and our members look forward to working with the new GBR Transition Team to develop the plan in the months ahead.’

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