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The Prime Minister and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unravelled their ambitious plan to create a new public sector body to oversee Britain’s railways. Mr Shapps said on Thursday that the new body will simplify a system that is “too complicated”.
The decision was described in the French daily Le Monde as a “profound reorganisation of the rail system”.
They wrote: “Gradually, without really saying it, Boris Johnson unravelled stitch by stitch the Thatcher revolution.
“After sharply increasing state spending, the Covid-19 pandemic requires, the British Prime Minister is implementing a profound reorganisation of the rail system, largely undermining the privatisation launched in 1994.
“Thursday, May 20, the British government announced the creation of a public company which will henceforth oversee the operation of trains in the United Kingdom.”
Frexit campaigners jumped at the opportunity to praise the UK for its political success, claiming Brexit was at the heart of it.
Sharing the Le Monde article on Twitter, Generation Frexit’s Deputy Secretary General Hugo Sonnier mocked Brexit sceptics who claimed the UK would face a catastrophic fate ahead of the Brexit referendum.
He joked: “News from the country fallen into the abyss of Brexit.
“Let’s take back control! Frexit!”
Great British Railways (GBR) will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms to run trains, set most fares and timetables, and sell tickets.
It will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end what the Department for Transport (DfT) branded a “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.
Mr Shapps said during the 2018 timetable fiasco there was no “Fat Controller” in charge of the system, referencing the Thomas The Tank Engine stories.
He told Sky News: “It’s just too complicated.
“But I don’t want to go back to the days of British Rail either.
“We had declining passenger numbers and railway stations closed.
“This will be still with the involvement of the private sector, running the concessions, running the actual trains, but they get paid for running those trains on time, keeping them tidy and clean, and it will be a single organisation selling you the tickets and running the timetable.”
The Cabinet minister, who described himself as a commuter who wants “a railway that works”, added: “It’s a simplification which I think people will broadly welcome.”
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The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail has been published as a white paper.
It is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams following the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018.
The plan was initially due to be published in autumn 2019 but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve.
“By creating Great British Railways, and investing in the future of the network, this Government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of.”
GBR is not expected to be established until 2023.
Its logo will be an updated version of British Rail’s double arrow.
It will be released at a later date.
Many reforms will be brought before the body is launched.
Flexible season tickets will be introduced, offering savings on certain routes for people who travel to work two or three times a week.
These will go on sale on June 21 for use seven days later.
There will also be a “significant rollout” of more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
Rail franchises were effectively ended when the Government took over the financial liabilities of operators in March 2020 to keep services running amid the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic, at a cost of £12 billion.
The emergency agreements will be replaced by passenger service contracts, with GBR contracting private firms to operate trains.
This concession model is similar to the one used for London Overground and Docklands Light Railway services by Transport for London.
The new body will specify most of the timetables and fares.
Operators will be incentivised to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers.
Mr Williams commented: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”
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