Transport Secretary reveals coronavirus pandemic could accelerate plans for different type of railway in the UK

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says they are moving to a ‘different type of railway and different types of contracts’ when he was quizzed as to what will happen when emergency measures agreements with train operating companies in the UK ends in September.

Up to £3.5 billion pounds is being spent to keep trains running during the coronavirus pandemic due to the huge reduction in people using services, but at the same time the essential role being played in transporting key workers.

Speaking to the Transport Committee, Mr Shapps was asked what will happen from September 20th the date the emergency agreements end.

He said: “We are working hard what to do next – one of the big pieces of work is the Keith Williams’ Review.

“Without revealed too much we are already moving to a different type of railway and different types of contracts. With everything that is going on at the minute there is an opportunity to move things along faster than might have otherwise been the case.

“So we’ve got these emergency measure agreements and we need to put in place what will replace them or what will continue 20th September.

“Although I can’t tell you exactly what will be happening right at this moment, there is a changed future that is coming.

“It is too early to know for sure, but conversations are ongoing within the government and sector and because of what has happened – we’ve ended up being the ultimate guarantor of operations – that provides a number of different challenges, but also some very significant opportunities to move much faster to a different type of railway.”

The Williams’ Rail Review was established in September 2018 to look at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered. The review will make recommendations for reform that prioritise passengers’ and taxpayers’ interests.

The review’s findings and recommendations were due to be published in a government white paper in Autumn 2019, with reform due to begin this year. However Mr Shapps has said a white paper would have been released by now had it not been for coronavirus, and that it will be at some point before the end of the year that more details will be revealed about the way forward.

He said: “The Williams Review will envisage us a railway that is brought back together a lot more, which has a central guiding mind, that you end up not in a situation that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

“If the bird that hits the overhead line and brings it down is larger than a pheasant it’s Network Rail’s problem, if it’s smaller it’s the train operating companies problem, and all these weird kind of outcomes.

“Instead run a system a bit more like Transport for London that actually contract other operators to run London Overground lines, so they are run as concessions. Run on the basis of the fare being collected centrally by Transport for London, in that case, and investment cases being made by the central organisation.

“Had it not been for coronavirus we would have released the white paper already. Coronavirus has changed the picture because we’ve now ended up holding the entire network in our hands and we think that means we can do things more quickly overall, but we will need more time to put these plans in place – so before the end of the year we will have more to say about the way forward.

“I’m not sure which form it (the release of future details) will take, because the other thing is that a lot of what the white paper did was sort of get us in part to where we are now. So circumstances have ended up superseding a lot of what Keith was doing.

“I am working with Keith and meet with him nearly every single week at the moment and many others in the sector in order to work out the best ways to accelerate the work.

“Unusually, coronavirus hasn’t pushed things back, but actually has potentially sped things up.”

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