The government says it will publish a White Paper on the recommendations of the independent Williams Review later this autumn and will start to implement the reforms in 2020.

Mr Keith Williams, the former British Airways chief executive, who is leading the review set up by the government in September 2018, which included a 10-month consultancy with the industry, is set to announce its findings in the next few weeks. The review is focused on reforms in five key areas:

  • a new passenger offer focussed on customer service and performance measures that drive “genuine behavioural and cultural change” with initiatives to give a stronger consumer voice, improved accessibility, and better passenger information
  • simplified fares and ticketing that help to promote innovation and customer-focused improvements across the network, including the roll out of “pay-as-you-go”
  • a new industry structure to reduce fragmentation, align track and train more closely, create clear accountability and reduce government influence in day-to-day operations - Williams says a wide range of organisations have expressed support for a new arm’s length body to act as a ‘guiding mind’
  • a new commercial model: Williams argues the current franchising model “has had its day” and is holding the sector back, stifling collaboration, preventing the railway from operating as a cohesive network and encouraging train operators to prioritise “narrow commercial interest” over passengers, and
  • address people-related challenges: a range of proposals on leadership, skills and diversity are being drawn up to support reform and help involve the workforce in the long-term.

The government says the Williams Review is the first comprehensive review of the railway in a generation and is a clear commitment to bring in root and branch change. Prime minister Mr Boris Johnson has already announced plans to give leaders in the north of England more say on how the railway is run across their region.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the industry, welcomed the announcement.

“The industry welcomes the government’s firm commitment to take forward the recommendations of the Williams Review, particularly its focus on fares and contract reform,” says Mr Paul Plummer, RDG chief executive. “Both are key to a new partnership between the public and private sectors in rail that delivers more for passengers and the country.”