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Proposed legislation to establish a new government agency responsible for revamping the UK’s railway system has raised worries about potential delays in implementing significant changes.
The proposal for Great British Railways (GBR) was first introduced in May 2021 and was later included in a preliminary version of the Rail Reform Bill mentioned in the King’s Speech.
The government has stated that the plan must be reviewed by both members of parliament and industry professionals because of the extensive and intricate nature of the proposed changes.
Former head of the Strategic Rail Authority, Richard Bowker, expressed confusion over the delay in implementing significant changes within the industry. The Strategic Rail Authority, a public organization responsible for providing strategic guidance from 2001 to 2005, has yet to see these reforms come to fruition.
He expressed difficulty in understanding why, after two and a half years since the announcement of the Williams-Shapps plan, we have only reached this stage. While any progress towards reducing government involvement in daily operations is positive, the pace seems slow.
“Time is crucial. What have you been occupied with for two and a half years?”
The plans for GBR include tasks such as assigning operating contracts to train companies and overseeing rail infrastructure.
However, some in the industry are worried that the creation of the Rail Reform Bill may never come to fruition as the process is taking a considerable amount of time. As the bill is currently in draft form, it is unlikely to be passed into law during this current parliamentary session or before the upcoming general election, which is scheduled for next year.
In May 2021, the former transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the establishment of GBR through a White Paper. The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail was developed based on a review conducted by former British Airways CEO Keith Williams, which was initiated in September 2018.
When questioned about the urgency of taking swift action, Mr Bowker expressed concern that individuals may lose interest in train travel and it would be challenging to regain their support.
Having a disrupted and unreliable railway undoubtedly impacts people’s willingness to travel. It is crucial that we resolve the issues in industrial relations and return to the fundamentals of running a consistent and dependable railway.
“We must act swiftly to address current issues and ensure we are meeting fundamental needs. If we are not proactive, trust will be lost.”
Labour’s transport spokesperson, Louise Haigh, expressed disappointment in the Conservatives’ failure to fix the problems with our railways.
A proposed legislation, unlikely to be passed, implemented years after promised changes, is a shocking acknowledgement of incompetence.
Andy Bagnall, chief executive of industry body Rail Partners, said: “The recommitment to establishing Great British Railways with the publication of a draft Bill is a step forward, but it is a missed opportunity to not actually legislate in this Parliament.
For over five years, the rail industry has been anticipating changes and improvements following the Williams Review. This eventually led to the publication of the Plan for Rail in 2021.
Continuing to implement that strategy is the most effective way to establish a stronger railway system for Britain. Failing to take action at this time will result in ongoing uncertainty until after the upcoming general election.
Norman Baker, director of external affairs at pressure group Campaign for Better Transport and former Liberal Democrat transport minister, said: “It is not clear why this is a draft Rail Reform Bill rather than a commitment to legislate.
There has been thorough debate on this topic and it is widely accepted among all political parties.
The introduction of benefits for passengers by the Government will not require primary legislation, including measures such as streamlining fares and implementing more pay-as-you-go ticketing options.
The launch date for GBR, originally set for early 2024, was pushed back due to the Government’s decision to cancel their plans for a Transport Bill during the last session of parliament. This was done in order to give priority to legislation addressing the current energy crisis.
In March, the city of Derby in the East Midlands was selected by Transport Secretary Mark Harper to serve as the headquarters for the organization.
Train services have been impacted due to the strike led by members of the RMT union at 14 train companies. The strike is a result of an ongoing disagreement regarding pay, employment, and working conditions.