Passengers promised more reliable train journeys with end of rail franchising

The country’s current rail franchising system is set to end with passengers promised more reliable train journeys.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 12:56 pm
Southeastern and Southern train services

Ministers argue the changes will result in a simpler and more effective structure, which will take shape over the coming months.

The first stage, announced on Monday, is moving operators on to transitional contracts.

Franchising is being replaced with emergency recovery management agreements, which look to address the massive drop in passenger numbers due to the pandemic.

These management agreements have tougher performance targets and lower management fees and allow the government to make an early start on key reforms including requiring better co-ordination between operators and driving down ‘excessive’ capital costs.

Under current public health guidance, the intention is also for operators to run an almost a full service, to ensure there is space to help passengers travel safely.

Until passenger numbers return, significant taxpayer support will still be needed.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working.

“Our new deal for rail demands more for passengers. It will simplify people’s journeys, ending the uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company.

“It will keep the best elements of the private sector, including competition and investment, that have helped to drive growth - but deliver strategic direction, leadership and accountability.

“Passengers will have reliable, safe services on a network totally built around them.”

Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Southern and Thameslink trains, runs the majority of services in Sussex, with the Southeastern network also covering parts of East Sussex.

Although GTR’s performance has stabilised over the last few years, passengers had to endure one crisis after another from severe reliability issues to staff shortages, a massive industrial dispute and the chaotic introduction of new train timetables.

Many critics feel the GTR network, which also includes Great Northern, is too large and unwieldy, with frequent calls made for it to be spilt up.

This week’s announcement is a prelude to a White Paper, which will respond to recommendations made by the Williams Review.

Keith Williams, chair of the Williams Review, said: “These new agreements represent the end of the complicated franchising system, demand more from the expertise and skills of the private sector, and ensure passengers return to a more punctual and co-ordinated railway.

“I am ensuring the recommendations I propose are fit for a post-Covid world, but these contracts kickstart a process of reform that will ensure our railways are entirely focused on the passenger, with a simpler, more effective system that works in their best interest.”