Get Rid of Rail Franchises, Says Government's Reviewer

By Holly Brockwell on at

The current system of parcelling up all the different bits of the train network into different franchises is broken and needs replacing, says the man the government has put in charge of a major rail review.

Keith Williams – formerly of British Airways and currently of John Lewis – was appointed last year to run the wanky-sounding "root and branch" review of the railways, by which they basically mean "look at all the bits and see if it's any good."

It seems it is not, in fact, any good.

Williams was delivering an annual speech to train industry big cheeses in London when he said:

"I have heard a great deal about the franchising model […] driving growth in passengers and benefits to services. But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, whilst many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace.

Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers."

Was it ever?

For their part, reps for the train companies said they agree we can't go on like this, with suspicious minds useless and confusing local franchises that don't work well together.

As Rail Delivery Group chief exec Paul Plummer puts it, "Maintaining the status quo on the railway is not an option."

Travel watchdog Transport Focus adds:

"Passengers will judge the success of the Rail Review on how far it meets their priorities for improvement: more punctual and reliable services, more chance of getting a seat or standing in comfort and better value for money."

It's a tad depressing that the bright future they imagine for the railways still includes having to stand up.

There'll be a report from the Williams Rail Review towards the end of this year, but we've already seen some very sensible suggestions from it.

Would you be happy to see rail franchises abolished? Let us know in the comments while you wait for your thrice-delayed commuter train.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash