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Britain's railways need to change

Darren Shirley's picture
Photo: people at station

Today we've published our Future of rail report which examines the current failings of the railways and what steps the Government needs to take to get them back on track.

It'll come as no surprise to long-suffering passengers that the failures are many and widespread. After yet another month of delays and disruptions, the annual fare rise due next week will see fares rising on average 2.7 per cent, further adding to passengers' dismay.

With an unwieldy, unaccountable, unimaginative and ineffective structure and franchising system, that provides little alignment with society's needs, neither passengers or taxpayers are currently getting value for money from the railways. 

It's clear to everyone that Britain’s railways need to change, including the Government which set up a review of the railway last year to inform future rail policy. We submitted evidence over this year to the review, and this has informed our Future of rail report and the following recommendations for how to radically improve the railways:

  • Introduce a new national rail policy which rethinks how the railways are run and what they exist to do
  • Devolve management of regional routes to city authorities and sub-regional transport bodies which are better placed to oversee services that integrate with wider local transport
  • Replace the current overly complex franchise system with a much more flexible outcome-based one which allows competitive intercity services, concessions for commuter areas, and specialist agreements for areas seeing significant change and investment.
  • Totally reform the fares system with speedier implementation of part-time season tickets, pay as you go travel, multimodal fares and zonal ticketing, as well as replacing the RPI-linked annual increase
  • Find new sources of funding in addition to the fares income, such as land value capture and the Community Infrastructure Levy to raise revenue from development
  • Establish a new industry structure with a new publicly funded arm’s-length body to manage rail planning and the overall use of the network, including overseeing local rail operations and delivering national policy.

The railways have the potential to deliver huge economic, social and environmental benefits to communities and the country as a whole, but in order to deliver these objectives the system needs to change fundamentally. 

The long awaited Williams Review is due to be published early next year. The Government must seize this once in a generation opportunity to radically change the way our railways are run for the better.

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