Pub­lic op­er­a­tor could run HS2, says Grayling

Birmingham Post - - NEWS -

HS2 high speed rail ser­vices could be run by a pub­licly-owned op­er­a­tor, Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling has said.

Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ters have pre­vi­ously ruled out pub­lic man­age­ment of rail lines, no­tably in the case of the East Coast in­ter-city line.

But in what ap­pears to be a shift in Gov­ern­ment pol­icy, Mr Grayling said the new HS2 ser­vice could be run by a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship.

And he said Manch­ester Air­ports Group, a body ma­jor­ity-owned by lo­cal coun­cils, could be a model for a part­ner­ship op­er­at­ing HS2 trains.

Mr Grayling said: “Manch­ester Air­ports Group is a strong and ef­fec­tive pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ship or­gan­i­sa­tion that has ex­panded in the UK run­ning first great op­er­a­tions in the UK, and is now do­ing so in­ter­na­tion­ally. It has proved it­self ef­fec­tive at man­ag­ing ma­jor projects and de­liv­er­ing good cus­tomer ser­vice.”

It would mark a shift away from the cur­rent pol­icy of fran­chis­ing, some­times de­scribed as pri­vati­sa­tion, in which pri­vate firms bid for fran­chises to run trains.

One op­tion the Gov­ern­ment is keen to ex­plore for HS2 is cre­at­ing an “in­te­grated rail­way op­er­a­tion” re­spon­si­ble both for in­fra­struc­ture such as the track it­self, and for man­ag­ing rail ser­vices.

These roles are cur­rently split on other parts of the rail net­work, with pub­licly-owned Net­work Rail, an arm’s length pub­lic body of the Depart­ment for Trans­port, man­ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture while pri­vate busi­nesses op­er­ate trains.

Set­ting out the op­tions, Mr Grayling stressed that “fi­nal de­ci­sions” are “years away”.

But he said it was right “that we start to look to­wards what that end point could be.”

Mr Grayling said: “For ex­am­ple, one op­tion could be an in­te­grated rail­way op­er­a­tion, in charge of both its in­fra­struc­ture and its ser­vices, akin to some Ja­panese high-speed lines, and in line with the gov­ern­ment strat­egy of bring­ing to­gether track and train.

“It could also be struc­tured as a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship and there will also be other op­tions that we should ex­plore be­fore any fi­nal de­ci­sions are made.

“While the ex­act shape and end­state of the or­gan­i­sa­tion does not need to be de­cided now, I am very clear of one thing, I want HS2 to be­come a strong, Bri­tish or­gan­i­sa­tion, po­ten­tially ca­pa­ble of not just build­ing but also op­er­at­ing a suc­cess­ful rail­way here. It should also be­come a strong in­ter­na­tional cham­pion for the UK – in the way, for ex­am­ple, that the or­gan­i­sa­tion that runs Manch­ester Air­port has.”

Manch­ester Air­ports Group is owned 35.5 per cent by Manch­ester coun­cil, 29 per cent by other Greater Manch­ester coun­cils and 35.5 per cent by global in­vest­ment firm IFM In­vestors.

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