The Enterprising Railway

Williams – Shapps report comment


Monday May 24th 2021

New Railways Report ‘sadly disappointing’ says independent rail think-tank

The Rail Reform Group, an independent ‘think tank’ of senior rail professionals, has published a sharply critical analysis of ‘the ‘William-Shapps Report’ on the future of the railways.

The Group says that “After such a long time in gestation the Williams-Shapps Report is sadly disappointing.  There is no analysis of the deep-rooted problems in the industry which led to the report’s commissioning two years ago. There is scant reference, let alone, analysis, of the other key issues that need to be addressed such as decarbonisation (electrification) and infrastructure development (e.g. Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine) or of why Great Western electrification costs rose out of control.”

“The demise of the franchise system is over-stated. The new ‘National Rail Contracts’ are merely franchises with the revenue risk stripped out.  The same issues as currently exist, including ‘delay attribution’ which is detailed as an example of how contractual (and costly) the railways have become, will continue across the wheel/rail divide (the separation of infrastructure management from train operations), which has been perpetuated for no obvious reason and with no justification.”

The Group suggests that the re-branding to ‘Great British Railways’ covering both the English passenger railway and the Great Britain-wide network will add complexity, confusion and reduce accountability in the railways run by devolved administrations, each of which has their own strong identity. “It seems to be a political ploy to support the Government’s ‘defend the union’ agenda.”

The Group is caustic about the claims to reform fares and ticketing. Some of the suggestions for fares reform have already been available with some operators, there are no new major proposals.

The supportive for community-rail partnerships is welcomed. “It is hoped they will get further funding to develop their work. However, expecting them to bid on their own for ‘micro-franchises’ could be over-optimistic unless resources are made available to assist them.”

The Group suggests that the new GBR “could be a return to the old days of London-based centralisation with little understanding of regional, let alone local, markets…..Centralised control of timetables and fares lacks any link to local markets which are key to growing rail business, yet whilst reference is made to the five current regions (one of which is Scotland and run quite differently) there is no indication that the regions will be the key  specifiers and drivers. It appears that the ‘single guiding mind’ translates into a highly centralised operation, much like the railway of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Instead we need mutually-owned regional companies to run the railways that Ministers and the public can trust – creating a railway for the Common Good.”

Full analysis here:

More information Paul Salveson 07795 008691

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