Transport Secretary Hints of a Tearing-Up of Rail Franchise Rules in September

By Gary Cutlack on at

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has been coming across all mysterious and enigmatic, and this time it's not as a cover for having no idea what is going on. He does know what's going on, but isn't saying.

This is to do with the fact that the government's been looking after the nation's railways under emergency measures agreements for the last few months, with September 20 the date when the current plan expires. Shapps is hinting that things might be rather different on the railways when the measures are dropped and ultimate responsibility is handed back to the franchise holders, although what exactly may change isn't mentioned.

All we got was this: "It is too early to know for sure, but conversations are ongoing within the government and sector and because of what has happened – we've ended up being the ultimate guarantor of operations – that provides a number of different challenges, but also some very significant opportunities to move much faster to a different type of railway."

The changes will be informed by the Williams Rail Review, a big old thinkabout covering the "structure of the whole rail industry" set in motion in 2018, and expected to reveal its findings in 2020. Poor old Mr Williams will have had to throw much of what was written in 2018 and 2019 in the bin, mind, and will be panic-doing his homework again right now.

Shapps says we should see a move towards "a railway that is brought back together a lot more, which has a central guiding mind" in the end, though, which sounds like the partition between service operators and rail infrastructure manager Network Rail is going to come to a dramatic and screeching halt, for a start. [RBD]