Transport Secretary wants to 'integrate track and train'...
"Our railway is much better run by one team of people working together."
OPERATION of track and trains will be brought together again, under plans unveiled by Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling on December 6.
In a speech to the Policy Exchange, he said: “It will be a process of evolution and not revolution, but I believe it will mean a better railway on a day-to-day basis, and it will mean that it is much easier to meet the challenges today’s network faces.”
Speaking about Network Rail, Grayling said it was “a committed organisation with a fantastic safety record, the safest major railway network in Europe. But it has been too cumbersome, has not always been an unqualified success in delivering the upgrades our railways need, and does need to focus much more on passengers.” He said it “needed to change” and that its management want change to happen.
Grayling highlighted Nicola Shaw’s recommendations around devolution, but added: “Every monopoly needs competition. So I want to go one step further, and bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways - to test the ways we are doing things right now, and find ways of doing them better. I want to bring forward a new strategy for rail in due course, but I want to outline today some of my thinking.”
Grayling expects the South Eastern and East Midlands franchises to have integrated operating teams. These are the next franchises due in the bidding process, with both to be re-let in 2018.
He said: “Whether it’s planning essential repairs, putting in place improvements that can squeeze in an extra service on a crowded route, or responding quickly to a problem on the network, our railway is much better run by one team of people working together. They don’t have to work for the same company. They do have to work in the same team.”
Grayling said he plans to press ahead with a recommendation put to the Government by Sir Roy McNulty (in his Realising the potential of GB Rail report in 2011) that to reduce unit costs included train operating companies working closer and partnering with infrastructure bidders. He said: “I will do this initially at an operational level.”
Government will continue to develop the model as further franchises are renewed. Joint ventures will be considered, and Grayling added that the needs of freight and open access operators must also be considered.
“The solutions in various areas may differ from each other in their models, but the outcome will be the same - a railway that is predominantly run by an integrated local team of people with an absolute commitment to the smooth operation of their route,” he said.
Grayling also announced that Government will change the way franchises are let.
“On a network which needs substantial public subsidy and which needs billions of pounds of investment, it is right that we seek to maximise the revenue which flows back to the public purse. But this cannot be done at the expense of the passenger experience,” he said.
“I believe we can push for quality and still achieve the financial performance that the taxpayer needs.” He said he will be reviewing how this is completed ahead of the forthcoming East Midlands franchise competition.
Speaking to the industry, he said: “The industry cannot simply take comfort in its success in attracting the growth of the past 20 years. It already struggles to cope with demand - and the margin for error is so slight that a small problem can lead to long delays, cancellations and overcrowding. The level of demand and the number of trains mean that things wear out quicker, and that there is less and less free time to do the repair works that the network needs.
“Performance has been declining - and on a day like today, when commuters have been struggling to and from work, this is not good enough. We have to turn this around.
“Our railways need to adapt and change, in order to be able to cope with the growth that they have already experienced and that which lies ahead. We need a railway
which is sustainable in all senses of the word.”
Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne responded: “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.
“We also strongly believe there should be better alignment of incentives between train companies and Network Rail. That is why we now align the performance incentives for all of Network Rail’s 35,000 staff, around targets agreed jointly with train operators. But more needs to be done across the industry.
“Network Rail’s published transformation plan is moving us to being a public sector body that acts focus on what customers want.”
However, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: “Inviting private train companies to take responsibility for safety-critical repairs and maintenance is an irresponsible move.
“We don’t want to see a return to the bad old days of Railtrack, where underinvestment and a poor safety record led to passengers being put at risk.
“Train operating companies, some of which run abysmal services, should not be invited to take responsibility for the repair and maintenance of Britain’s railways. Private companies are only likely to have concern for our infrastructure for their period of commercial interest, but our railways require long-term investment and strategic thinking. These are the wrong plans for Britain’s railways.
“It is time for our railways to be run under public ownership in the expire, with affordable fares for all and long-term investment in the railway network. Today’s announcement will take us further away from that.”
Rail Delivery Group Chief Executive Paul Plummer said: “Everyone in the railway wants to transform services for our customers, including better reliability. The Secretary of State is setting out a positive vision that we can all support, and one that together we want to make work.
“We need to ensure that every part of our railway is more joined-up and working closer together - one railway pulling in the same direction. Effectively- managed teams focused on the same objectives will resolve problems and make progress more quickly.”
Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith said: “Passengers want to see a more joined-up railway with trains and track companies working much more closely. So these proposals, in time, could make a positive difference to the things passengers care most about: reliability and value for money.
“The key in any new arrangements is putting passengers, their satisfaction and priorities for improvement at the heart of them. It is the outcomes that are most important for passengers.”
Grayling: “Our railway is much better run by one team of people working together.”