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Rail companies call for reinvigorated public-private partnership for Britain’s Railway

20 July 2022
  • Major transport businesses have come together to form a new trade body - Rail Partners
  • At launch, Rail Partners sets out five priority areas for successful reform
  • The body will advocate for private sector passenger owning groups and freight companies, demonstrating how their expertise can deliver for passengers, freight customers and the economy.

Today, train companies have called for a renewed public private partnership for Britain’s railway as part of the launch of ‘Rail Partners’, a new industry body to champion better railways that deliver for clients, passengers and freight customers.

Rail Partners published its prospectus: Working Together for a Better Railway, which sets out five priority areas for reform to create a thriving railway that will benefit passengers and freight customers as well as the clients who commission services and taxpayers.

It outlines proposals which will enhance passenger experience and reduce the need for taxpayer support.

In May 2021 the Government set out its plan for the future of Britain’s Railways. Rail Partners’ members share the ambitions for customers of the ‘Williams Shapps Plan for Rail’ and welcome reform, but the detail as to how those ambitions are met is critical, not just for the industry’s own sake but for a green, prosperous future for the country as a whole. 

To support those implementing the reforms, Rail Partners has been created to develop solutions which harness the innovation and expertise of the private sector and to help shape a railway that works for generations to come.

Through a renewed, collaborative partnership between the private and public sectors, Rail Partners believes there is an opportunity to co-create successful reform.

Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive of Rail Partners, said:

 “The industrial turbulence we are seeing on our railways at the moment only serves to highlight the need to secure a sustainable network for the future. Our members have previously restored our railways finances, driving up passenger numbers, introducing new trains and overseeing a renaissance of both the passenger and freight railway.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, the expertise, innovation, and appetite exist within the private sector to replicate and surpass this previous success.

“Rail Partners and its members share the government’s ambition for rail. To make it a reality, we need a renewed, improved and reinvigorated public private partnership, where operators are empowered to do what they do best, not only in the interests of the industry and its people, but to the benefit of the nation as a whole.”  

Rail Minister, Wendy Morton MP said:

“The launch of Rail Partners is a key moment in our transformation of the railways and our desire to use expertise and innovation to modernise the industry.

As we continue delivering on our Plan for Rail, the Rail Partners team will play a vital role working with government to forge a new partnership between public and private sectors, building on private sector knowledge while always putting the needs of passengers and freight customers first.”

Welcoming the launch Matthew Fell, Chief Policy Director, Confederation of British Industry said:

“The government’s vision for a better, greener, and more dynamic railway can only be achieved through effective partnership between the public and private sector.

Rail Partners will play a vital role in championing the benefits that the private sector has to offer, including investment, innovation, and experience of growing passenger numbers.

Rail Partners will provide a strong voice for private companies in a changing sector and a laser-like focus on delivering for passengers and freight customers”

The launch and publication follows what has been a turbulent few months for rail and the transport sector. With industrial action forecast for the rest of the summer, how our trains are managed and the prospects for easy, clean train travel for future generations will remain a crucial enabler of delivering wider political ambitions of economic recovery, levelling up and meeting net zero targets. 

About Rail Partners

Rail Partners exists to make the railway better by harnessing the expertise and creativity of private sector operators for the benefit of those who use the railway, passengers and freight customers, and those who pay for it, including taxpayers.

Rail Partners provides advocacy and policy solutions for its private sector passenger owning Group and freight company members. Rail Partners additionally provides technical services to train operating companies in both the public and private sectors. For more information regarding our membership visit railpartners.co.uk

A full list of our owning group and freight operating members can be found at railpartners.co.uk/the-partners

The five key priorities for Rail Partners as set out in ‘Working Together for a Better Railway’:

1. Great British Railways must be a guiding mind not a controlling mind

It needs to be a strong, independent public sector body at the centre of a reformed system with the necessary freedom from government. Generating a commercial culture inside Great British Railways (GBR) will be an essential prerequisite of success. It also needs to avoid over-centralisation and give operators sufficient freedom to do what they can do best, not create a bureaucratic, inward-looking system.

2. The new rail contracts are key to an effective public-private partnership

While there is no doubt that it had run its course and change was essential, franchising was a successful system on any objective measure. The new Passenger Service Contracts must look to similarly harness the private sector creativity and entrepreneurialism which, over 25 years, consistently demonstrated its strengths and ability to innovate in growing patronage and revenue, reducing waste, making best use of existing assets and driving modal shift.

3. Transforming the customer experience is vital

This means a retail revolution, with modern products helping to grow new markets. Buying tickets, and the perceived ease and fairness of the transaction, go to the heart of how people judge the railway. It is central to that experience and had become one of the biggest causes of concern to customers. For change to happen, and to move towards a much more transparent system in the future, there needs to be an acceleration towards single leg pricing as the bedrock of that system. A transformed experience is equally essential for the growing number of customers who have accessibility needs and expect the railway to respond.

4. An ambitious target to treble freight volumes by 2050 is needed

Given that rail freight contributes an estimated £2.45 billion to UK plc every year, with over 90% of the economic benefits occurring outside of the South East, and that each freight train takes up to 76 lorries off our roads, the economic and environmental rationale for developing a rail system that enables freight to flourish is well-established.

5. Decarbonising the railway is critical to achieving net-zero

With the right structures, contracts, fares and access regime, and the contribution of the private sector not squeezed out, the railway will be in a position to meet the challenges it faces, and set itself up to overcome perhaps the biggest challenge of all – addressing the climate emergency. Attracting people to rail directly reduces transport carbon emission but we must go further and commit to along terms strategy to further decarbonise the railway.

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Rail Partners Working together for a better railway
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