Biggest rail review since privatisation to start after damning report slams industry

Former British Airways boss Keith Williams is to lead a sweeping review of the UK rail industry in which the government vows to “leave no stone unturned” in ensuring passengers benefit from a network fit for the 21st century.

Despite a summer of despair for passengers which was plagued by masses of delays and cancellations, commuters face an increase of up to 3.2% in the cost of season tickets from January.

Passengers were left stranded on platforms across the country as the industry attempted to implement one of the biggest timetable changes in a generation, mainly on Northern and Govia Thameslink (GTR) routes. The service providers cancelled up to 470 and 310 scheduled trains respectively each weekday over a period of weeks.

An investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator into the May timetable change concluded Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport and the ORR itself all made mistakes.

In its report, the ORR stated: “The impact of this experience has had a significant financial and emotional cost to those passengers affected, directly impacting upon their work and families and in some circumstances their personal safety.”

A review which will be led by the former BA boss is attempting to uncover reasons for failings and look at the structure of the whole rail industry, including increasing integration between track and train, regional partnerships and improving value for money for passengers and taxpayers.

A white paper will be published next year after the report is published with reforms expected to be put in place from 2020. Williams will be supported by an external panel which will consider all parts of the rail industry - from the current franchising system and industry structures to accountability.

“It’s clear that Britain’s railway has seen unprecedented growth and is carrying more passengers than it did a century ago on a network a fraction of the size,” Williams added. “But it also clear it faces significant challenges. I am looking forward to working with the industry and passengers to tackle these challenges.”

While the review is underway, the Department for Transport will work closely with industry to ensure that rail delivers the day-to-day performance and transformational improvements that passengers expect.

Commenting on the review, transport secretary Chris Grayling, conceded the rail sector "needs reform to prioritise its passengers" and noted plans for closer partnerships between track and train operators on the East Coast and South Eastern routes.

“Privatisation has delivered huge benefits to passengers on Britain’s railways — doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment,” he added. “But as part of our vision for the future of mobility, we need to go further and more quickly, to get the best from the public and private sectors and deliver the railway we need for the 21st century. It is vital that this review leaves no stone unturned and makes bold recommendations for the future.”

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