Public operator could run HS2, says Grayling
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.