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Queen’s Speech promises ‘railway reform’

PREDICTIONS that passenger rail franchises are set to be abolished have not been fulfilled in the Queen’s Speech, which included just one sentence: ‘Proposals on railway reform will be brought forward’, writes Sim Harris.

The industry has been expecting radical changes, including a greater distance between ministers and day-to-day operational details, as well as a new form of contract between government and the private sector to replace franchises.

These changes may still occur, but if they are to happen they will depend on the recommendations in the forthcoming Williams Review.

Even so, the industry has been reacting favourably to the concept of reform, even if there are no details beyond leaks and speculation.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘The industry welcomes the government’s firm commitment to take forward the recommendations of the Williams Review, particularly its focus on fares and contract reform. Both are key to a new partnership between the public and private sectors in rail that delivers more for passengers and the country.

‘We agree that decisions about trains should be brought closer to home and are pleased government plans to reform the regulations that underpin fares to enable greater local control.’

Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘With the Williams Review due to report shortly, the Railway Industry Association urges that any changes to the structure of the UK railways must consider the entirety of the rail industry, including rail suppliers, who provide the products and services that keep our rail network running, as well as, of course, infrastructure and the train operators.

‘For these businesses, many of whom are RIA members, it is paramount that changes to the structure of the rail sector do not lead to a pause in work on our railways or a hiatus in longer-term investment.’

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Darren Shirley said: ‘Passengers have borne the brunt of the failures of the rail network for too long, so the recommendations from the Williams Review, particularly around local devolution and fares reform, must be swiftly brought forward and lead to enduring improvements across the railway and for the country as a whole. The Government can make one swift change in advance of the White Paper that will benefit passengers immediately: it should commit to dropping the RPI fare rise due in January 2020.’

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