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Shake-up unveiled

Rail network back under unified state body

Glasgow station and ScotRail

Timetabling will be part of GBR’s responsibilities (pic: Terry Murden)

Britain’s rail network is to be brought back under a unified structure, bringing responsibility for track and stations under one body to simplify the system and rebuild confidence.

Great British Railways will replace Network Rail in a move designed to end the conflict between train and track operations by bringing management of both under one body.

It will oversee ticketing, timetables and network planning and will use a modified version of the famous British Rail double-arrow logo.

The Department for Transport says the new system should look more like Transport for London, with multiple operators under one brand.

It will include more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.

The iconic logo will retained, though modified

However, the change does not signal a return to nationalisation. The trains will continue to be run by private companies under new ‘Passenger Service Contracts’ that will replace the franchise system. They will pay a management fee, but will be able to focus more on performance.

The changes will take place in 2023 and, like Network Rail, Great British Railways will manage the rail infrastructure in Scotland.

The move comes two months after the Scottish Government stated its intention to place Scotland’s train services under state control.

Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps: overseeing changes

Dutch state transport firm Abellio will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March next year.

After this an “arms-length” Scottish government company will take over the running of services.

Abellio has been running the franchise since 2015 but had its contract ended early amid criticism over cancellations and performance levels.

There remains questions over how Transport secretary Michael Matheson will deliver his plan without full devolution of rail powers to Scotland, but he has been engaged in the review and is said to be supportive of the plan.

In Scotland, ScotRail and Network Rail have worked together as the ScotRail Alliance which helped inform the review.

The switch to Great British Railways was unveiled by UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps based on the recommendations of a review carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams.

Mr Williams commented: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the BCC, said: “It’s good to see recognition of the ongoing need for private sector investment and innovation in our railways. Rail reform, now long overdue, needs to give industry the confidence to invest for the future and ensure that the needs of the passenger come first.  

“Passengers want more reliable services that give them the confidence to travel by rail and more affordable and flexible fares that support a diversity of working patterns and modern means of employment.


“To make that work the pricing system for tickets must be equally flexible – supporting businesses who need to travel at short notice and the needs of commuters. Flexible fares must provide a reasonable level of discount without a straitjacket being placed on their use. Get this right, and it will encourage more people to travel, rather than penalising them when they do.

“This encouraging start must translate into a longer-term concrete commitment to positive change for our railways that places the passenger at the heart of the system.”

Passenger groups broadly welcomed the move.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “I think passengers will see this as a good step towards a more joined up, more efficient, more coherent railway.

“We talked to a lot of passengers before the review and they said they want accountability, to know who’s in charge of my line, who’s in charge of the whole train set?

“So joining up the trains, the track, the money and the planning in one place seems like a good step.”

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Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “Train companies have long called for many of the reforms in this white paper and these proposals can deliver the biggest changes in a generation.

“Getting the detail right will be crucial to ensuring that the white paper fulfils its potential to improve journeys, offer independent oversight and clear accountability, and create a new set of fares which are simpler and more value for money.”

However, Mick Lynch, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, described the reforms as “a missed opportunity by the government to make a clean break from the failures of the past that have left Britain’s railways in the slow lane.”

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