A HIGHLY critical rail report from a committee of MPs published today says the Department for Transport faces ‘an extremely challenging and uncertain environment in which to implement its proposed reforms’. In response, the RMT union has called for an ‘urgent’ government rethink.
The Public Accounts Committee says the English rail system has ‘suffered from a lack of strategic direction and accountability for many years’ and ‘struggled to improve service reliability, quality and flexibility with ‘delivery of services not sufficiently focused on the needs of passengers’.
It adds that the DfT also ‘lacks a convincing and timely plan for encouraging passengers back to the railway as part of Covid-19 recovery’ and this, combined with a ‘disappointing lack of progress in agreeing a specific and funded plan for rail electrification’ pose further a risk to the government’s own net zero targets.
The reforms, unveiled in May, include the creation of a new ‘guiding mind’ to be called Great British Railways, which will absorb Network Rail and award contracts to operators, although these will be concessions rather than franchises.
The RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Behind its measured language, what this report shows is that Ministers have got all their priorities wrong. Their response to the plight of rail is clouded by a dogmatic fixation with designing a system which can bolt the failed private train operators back into place instead of setting a clear strategy for rail to play its part in delivering a long term safe and sustainable massive increase public transport use to help meet the climate change challenge.
‘Every single failing detailed by the Public Accounts Committee, without exception, could begin to be tackled if we took back real control and created an integrated, publicly owned and publicly accountable railway where time, resources, and every penny of tax and fare payer is spent on improving services and not wasted trying to satisfy the parasitical carpet baggers clustered round our railways.
‘We need a rail rethink which puts rail and public transport generally at the heart of a green transport revolution that will reduce emissions and pollution.’
Although the government’s reforms will need primary legislation, it has been reported that GBR could be set up in ‘shadow’ form as soon as 5 October.
The Committee’s chair, Dame Meg Hillier, said: ‘Decent public transport is crucial to both household and national economies. Rail reform won’t work if it doesn’t work for tax-payers and fare-paying passengers, and the Government won’t achieve its economic and environmental goals without effective rail reform.’