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Great British Railways has found its home in Derby – now legislation is needed to make reform a reality

Great British Railways has found its home in Derby – now legislation is needed to make reform a reality

Rail Partners - Great British Railways has found its home in Derby – now legislation is needed to make reform a reality
24 March 2023
Hannah Moxon, director of external affairs

The announcement this week that the headquarters of Great British Railways (GBR) will go to Derby is an important next step towards wider reform of the railway.

The strength of competition, which shortlisted six great railways cities, and saw over 200,000 members of the public vote, speaks to a belief in the transformative power of rail as an engine for green growth.

Now GBR has found its future home, legislation is needed to cement reform and deliver a reinvigorated public-private partnership on our railways.

We were delighted when the Transport Secretary recommitted to rail reform at the George Bradshaw Address last month. After what felt like multiple false starts and attempts to re-diagnose the woes of the railway, Mark Harper, with the support of the Chancellor and Prime Minister, committed to implementing the broad reforms set out in the ‘Plan for Rail’ White Paper. He also gave some crucial reassurances about the role of operators in the new system which will allow them to better focus on the customer.

The legislative elements of the White Paper were relatively few. Much can be done without the need for new law, and there is significant cross sector collaboration to get on with the job at hand - so why does the legislation matter so much?

Put simply, the creation of GBR as a legal entity underpins the wider rail reform process. Putting GBR on the statute books, as well as the subsequent transfer of contracting powers from DfT to GBR, are fundamental to enabling reform, and ultimately delivering better outcomes for customers and taxpayers.

Keith Williams identified in his review that a single entity is needed to provide accountability and coherence. While Keith was writing the main elements of his review just after the 2018 timetable failure, and five years have since passed, the need for GBR hasn’t lessened.

As we set out in our consultation response in August, legislating to create the right structure for GBR will set the new parameters for the relationships between different elements of the system. It will provide the rules of engagement – clearly defined responsibilities and accountability when things go wrong and independent strategic oversight of the network as a whole.

This restructuring should be combined with much needed evolution of the contractual model to give operators the commercial freedom to innovate and attract customers back to the railways. This can help address the financial challenges the railway faces. There are steps we can take now such as turning on revenue incentives in National Rail Contracts which could secure nearly £1.6bn over two years for the Treasury in additional revenue.

As our chief executive, Andy Bagnall, told the Accelerate Rail conference this week, ‘if we get the relationships right there is every chance we can set the railway on the path to a thriving future’. GBR must enable operators to look outwards to their customers, responding to their needs.

Both Government and the Opposition have identified the need for a public body to hold the railway to account. After a tough year for the railways, legislation to create GBR presents an opportunity to reset, and get on with delivery.

While Derby rightly celebrates the next chapter of its railway history, and with under six months until the King’s Speech, we must ensure we see reform through, and get on with securing the economic and environmental benefits a reformed and vibrant railway can deliver for Britain.

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