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End of line for system

Franchising halted in search for new model railway

FirstGroup train, First Group rail services,

Train services will continue to get support

The government has scrapped rail franchising as it seeks a new model for running the network.

Emergency measures, introduced to keep trains operating during the pandemic, have been extended for up to 18 months pending the introduction of a “simpler and more effective structure”.

The Department for Transport has plugged gaps in franchise holders’ revenue since March, at a cost to taxpayers of at least £3.5bn. It says further support will be needed as the pandemic shows no sign of receding quickly.

Although passenger numbers have edged up since lockdown, they are still less than half pre-pandemic levels.

Government support means that trains are still able to run, even with fewer passengers.

Today’s announcement marks the end of rail franchises, which have been in place since the 1990s.

Ministers are considering a concessions-based system in the longer term, whereby train companies are paid a fixed fee to run services.

In a statement, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said: “The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working.”

He said the move to a new system would end “uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company”.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We welcome the ongoing support to keep trains running for passengers and the government’s confirmation of an end to the franchise system, which we have long been calling for.


“These transitional contracts should be a stepping-stone to a better railway. This needs to harness the experience, innovation and investment private sector operators bring, with local train companies taking the decisions that affect their passengers.

“It should be overseen by a new guiding mind for the whole industry and underpinned by a simpler to use fares system.

“A renewed and reinvigorated partnership between the public and private sectors will be the best way to improve services and help regrow the market for train travel which is good for economic recovery and the public finances.

“Combined with the measures the industry is taking to keep trains clean, this announcement means people can continue to travel with confidence.”

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