Operators say government should lose oversight of rail

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An independent body should oversee the rail network, according to Britain’s railway companies.

In submissions made to a government-appointed review into rail, the firms also said long-distance routes should be serviced by more than one company.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) also said control of commuter routes could be handed over to local authorities.

It suggested commuter routes could be organised in a similar way to Transport for London in the capital.

There local authority oversee timetables and organisation, with private operators subcontracted under them.

“In the major Northern cities and across the Northern Powerhouse this devolution would make it possible to integrate transport better, which is already being worked towards with more touch in and out travel within and in between our towns and cities in the North,” said Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

“This would be used by more of us as passengers if the government supports the fare system being reformed more quickly.”

Currently, most UK rail services are operated by fixed-term franchises, which involve the Department for Transport (DfT) setting out a specification covering areas such as service levels, upgrades and performance.

Train companies then submit bids to run the franchise and the DfT selects one of the applicants.

Government control

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said the RDG was proposing a “deregulated free-for-all” that would lead to fare rises for customers.

The Rail Delivery Group’s vision is likely to be seen as an attempt to stave off nationalisation, as proposed by Labour.

But the government has said privatisation has helped “transform” the industry.

The UK’s rail network has been beset by problems, with the East Coast Mainline brought back under government control in May – for the third time in a decade.

Last year, hundreds of trains were cancelled amid a huge timetable reorganisation on services including Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern.

This month Virgin and Stagecoach were barred from three rail franchise bids. The Department for Transport (DfT) disallowed the bids because they did not meet pensions rules.

Virgin was bidding to renew the West Coast franchise in partnership with Stagecoach and France’s SNCF.

Stagecoach had also applied for the East Midlands and South Eastern franchises, both of which have been rejected.

Keith Williams, former chief executive of British Airways, is due to deliver a report on the future of the industry this autumn.

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