Britain’s railways are crucial to our economic future, and we have seen significant growth in passenger numbers in the 20 years since privatisation. This growth brings challenges, and the impact of disruption can be immediate, significant and wide ranging.
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’re spending huge amounts trying to tackle the challenge – with new and longer trains and more capacity being introduced across the country. The Shaw Report made a series of recommendations for change, including that Network Rail devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw Report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is much more to do.
I intend to press ahead with a recommendation put to the department 5 years ago by Sir Roy McNulty, when he reported to Philip Hammond on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises – starting with South Eastern and East Midlands - to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure. I will also be inviting Transport for London (TfL) to be more closely involved in developing the next South Eastern franchise, through seconding a TfL representative to the franchise specification team.
We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed – including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule which I am placing in the libraries of the House.
I also want to bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge, to support a range of opportunities including housing, science, technology and innovation. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation. This East West Rail organisation will be established early in the New Year and chaired by the former Chief Executive of Chiltern Rail, Rob Brighouse.
Along with reform of the investment planning process to take better account of the needs of passengers and freight shippers, and extensive work across the industry to improve skills and diversity, these reforms will set the railway on a firmer footing for the future. We can and we will make sure our rail network plays its part in making this a country that works for everyone. I will bring forward a new strategy for rail in due course which will provide greater detail on our plans.