GREAT BRITISH Railways (GBR) is now expected to come into being in autumn 2024, according to the team that is working to create the new governing body to replace the currently fragmented industry structure and provide a single point of accountability.

The GBR Transition Team (GBRTT) is led by Network Rail chief executive, Mr Andrew Haines, who told a press briefing on February 27 that the legislation needed to create GBR was unlikely to begin its journey through the parliament before this autumn.

Haines said that GBR would start to take shape as the bill passed its second reading, but would not be fully developed at that stage. “We can start populating key roles and be ready to work in shadow mode,” he said. This would include appointing a chairman and a chief executive.

New legislation is needed to create GBR as a corporate body, and to transfer the current powers held by the secretary of state for transport to let passenger operating contracts. It will also be required for changes to the regulatory regime, such as transferring the licence to operate the national network from Network Rail to GBR.

“It’s not messy legislation,” Haines said, pointing out that many of the changes planned under the government's rail reform programme will be made under less time-consuming secondary legislation.

The parliamentary timetable is further constrained by the proximity of general election, to be held by January 24 2025 at the latest. However, Haines reports wide political consensus on the need for rail reform and the changes that creating GBR will make.

“I would be surprised if the bill got a rocky ride,” he said. “I’m not hearing this is a politically contentious issue.”

Preparation of the bill to go before parliament forms one of the 12 commissions that the Department for Transport (DfT) has given GBRTT, which also include changes to the performance regime governing the relationship between the infrastructure manager and operators.

GBRTT is also working on accessibility, a modal shift target for rail freight, and the development of a long-term strategy for rail in Britain, expected to be published later this year.

“I’m really, really keen to have an economic case for rail and a framework for judging rail investment schemes,” Haines said.

At present, the process for selecting projects was “largely political,” he felt, resulting in “a portfolio of things that had appealed to previous politicians.” There was no coherent narrative reflecting wider concerns such as decarbonisation or government “levelling up” policy for greater investment outside London.

“For me, the framework is the most important part of this, the value we add through rail investment,” Haines said.

An in-depth feature on Great British Railways appeared in our October issue.