December 06, 2016

British transport secretary seeks limited reintegration

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Southeastern could be one of the first modified franchises. Southeastern could be one of the first modified franchises.

BRITAIN’s secretary of state for transport, Mr Chris Grayling, has announced changes to the way the railway is run in England which he says will improve the reliability of rail services.

The plan calls for the establishment of a special purpose vehicle (SPV), separate from infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR), to implement the East-West rail project which is designed to restore direct train services between Oxford and Cambridge. The SPV will design and construct the missing sections of railway between Bicester and Bletchley, and Bedford and Hitchin, and then operate and maintain the railway. The SPV will be chaired by Mr Rob Brighouse, a NR non-executive director.

 

“The new organisation will work hand in glove with the National Infrastructure Commission as it plans the development of this nationally-important transport corridor to identify the best way to deliver the project,” Grayling says.

In addition, Grayling says he wants franchisees and NR to work more closely together to resolve infrastructure problems more quickly. In future, new rail franchises will include integrated train operating and infrastructure maintenance teams, and the first of these is likely to be the new Southeastern and East Midlands franchises which are due to be awarded in 2018.

“We want to see closer working across the industry, to resolve problems more quickly - putting the needs of the passenger first,” Grayling says. “When things go wrong, a lack of a joined-up approach can make things much worse for the passenger. I intend to start bringing back together the operation of track and train on our railways. Our railway is much better run by one joined up team of people. They don’t have to work for the same company. They do have to work in the same team.”

“We have already devolved NR into route-based businesses closer to customers,” Mr Mark Carne, NR’s CEO says. “These Government plans will build on the alliances we have created between our route businesses and train operators. We also strongly support better alignment of incentives between train companies and NR. That is why we now align the performance incentives for all of NR’s staff around targets agreed jointly with train operators. Delivery must be our focus at the moment. Passenger experience of our railway is the worst it has been for many years and coupled with industrial action, too many passengers are really suffering in the run up to Christmas.”

However, Britain’s Rail Freight Group (RFG) has expressed concern about giving more operational control to passenger operators which it says could disadvantage freight operators and their customers. RFG wants any changes to balance the needs of all users which should include:

• strengthening NR’s Freight Route to promote the interests of freight customers across the network
• a powerful national system operator with responsibility for timetabling, capacity management and coordination of engineering work
• a framework which incentivises integrated franchises to support growth in rail freight including new freight terminals and services
• a regulatory structure which is refocused on protecting the needs of non-incumbent operators and their customers, and
• an absolute requirement to maintain the national rail network in a fit condition for rail freight.

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