Trains and track come together in rail management revamp

The way that England’s railway network is run is set to be overhauled under plans outlined by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

He wants each rail franchise to be run by joint management teams, including representatives from both the train operating company and Network Rail.

Mr Grayling said: “I intend to start bringing back together the operation of track and train on our railways.”

The changes will start when each franchise is renewed in the future.

The minister stressed that he wanted his proposed changes to lead to a big improvement in service for passengers, who are travelling on an increasingly crowded and expensive network.

“We need to change the relationship between the tracks and the trains on the railway,” Mr Grayling said.

“In my experience passengers don’t understand the division between the two.

“They just want someone to be in charge. They want their train to work. I agree with them,” he added.

The plan to make England’s railways run better, day-to-day, will involve each franchise being run by one joint team, even though the franchise owner and Network Rail will continue to exist separately as at present.

The first new, joint management teams will come into operation when the South Eastern and the East Midlands franchises are re-let in 2018.

The proposed shake-up will reverse some of the effects of the huge rail privatisation project which was controversially initiated in 1993 by John Major’s Conservative government.

That change broke up the old state-owned British Rail and separated the ownership and management of the UK’s rail infrastructure – such as rails, stations and signalling – from the ownership and control of the trains and services running on it.


Analysis

By Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

I have never met anyone, no matter what their politics, who thinks it was a good idea to have one company running the trains and another running the track they run on.

But that’s what they decided to do when they privatised the network 20 or so years ago.

I’ve heard of crazy situations, where train companies made money out of Network Rail when it overran on engineering work (they had to pay a fine).

Then the firm would make extra money running the replacement bus service too.

Different companies with different priorities.

Now Chris Grayling has become the latest transport secretary to try to get Network Rail working as one with private companies to fix the problems together, rather than arguing about whose fault it is.

They are already trying something like it across Scotland and with South West Trains.

As for getting one private company running everything on a future Cambridge to Oxford line, some fear it’s an attempt to privatise rail repairs, which ended disastrously under Railtrack.

Speaking to the transport secretary though, he told me that he had no intention of making radical changes across the network, or breaking up Network Rail.

He just wanted the public and private sector, train and tracks, to work together, not against each other.


The separation of rail infrastructure from train operation is held by some critics to be a significant source of delays to management decisions, repairs and therefore to train services.

Reacting to the government’s plan, Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail said: “We strongly welcome these plans to bring more joined up working within the industry.

“We have already devolved Network Rail into route-based businesses closer to customers, and the proposals announced today will build on the alliances we have created between these route businesses and train operators.”

Varsity line

The new management approach may also be applied to the running of the revived “Varsity Line”, which the government wants to see running between Oxford and Cambridge.

Confirmation was made in the recent Autumn Statement that this line, closed in the 1960s, should be rebuilt and reopened.

When it is functioning, the line will be run by a new body called East West Rail, which will be separate from Network rail and which will oversee the design and construction of the route as well as its subsequent operation.

Mr Grayling said: “The new organisation will work hand in glove with the National Infrastructure Commission as it plans the development of this nationally important transport corridor to identify the best way to deliver the project.”

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