UK railways need ‘radical overhaul’, campaigners say

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The entire British rail network should be radically overhauled to end the spectre of “nightmare journeys”, campaigners have said.

Scrapping franchises, reforming fares and handing control to city regions could help improve the railways, the Campaign for Better Transport said.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it intends to “create a fairer, more effective” railway system.

It comes as regulated fares are set to rise by an average of 2.7% next week.

Many of the demands made by the group have already been spoken about by Keith Williams, the former British Airways boss leading a review into the UK’s rail network.

Mr Williams said in July that government involvement in rail should be limited to broad policy and budget decisions.

Darren Shirley, the Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive, said passengers have “suffered unreliable, expensive, overcrowded trains for too long” as he urged the government to “seize its chance to put an end to nightmare rail journeys”.

He added that the railways must “change fundamentally” to deliver potentially “huge” economic, social and environmental benefits.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham welcomed the report, saying that the current system in his region needed reform as he was not able to integrate train fares with the tram or bus services, as happens in London, so passengers had to buy separate tickets.

He said: “That’s what cities like Manchester need if we want to go up to the next level – a London-style transport system.”

He also said the government had to act now and deal with rail operators Northern and Transpennine, which he described as “failing franchises”.

“I am certain of one thing – we cannot have another year like the one we’ve just had. It’s been utterly chaotic once again,” he added.

‘Root and branch review’

The majority of rail services in Britain are operated under fixed-term franchises, which involve the DfT setting out specifications covering areas such as service levels, upgrades and performance.

Train companies then submit bids to run franchises, with the DfT selecting which applicants are successful.

The campaign group is calling for this system to be replaced by several models satisfying the different needs of passengers and communities across the network.

Rail punctuality across the UK sank to a 13-year low in 2018 with trains clocking up 32 years of delays.

A DfT spokesman said: “The government will shortly bring forward reforms from the Williams Review, the first root and branch review of the rail industry in a generation.

“These reforms will put passengers first, end the complicated franchising model and simplify fares to create a fairer, more effective system.”

The findings of Mr Williams’ review are due to be published by the DfT in the coming weeks.

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