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Rail review ‘moves forward’

Railway tracks with the sun in the background

A review of the UK’s railways being led by independent chair Keith Williams has issued a call for evidence, moving the process forward.

Former British Airways CEO Williams is inviting evidence from stakeholders across the country, including passenger representatives, businesses and investors, as well as local and devolved bodies and governments.

The Williams Rail Review was launched following this summer’s timetable fiasco and the collapse of the East Cost Mainline franchise agreement with Stagecoach and Virgin Trains. It will end with a recommendation on “the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks” for the government to move the rail industry forward.

The review will consider options for the government’s franchising strategy and “bringing track and train closer together to reduce disruption and improve accountability”.

Williams has told the BBC that “all options are on the table” and did not rule out re-nationalisation of the railways as a potential recommendation for the government.

However, transport secretary Chris Grayling has said he would prefer a ‘balance of public and private sector’.

The call for evidence is open until 2345 on 18 January, with Williams due to publish his recommendations later in 2019. Reforms are planned to start from 2020.

It comes after the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) ordered Network Rail to improve its performance in order to limit disruption to passengers.

An initial ORR review into the summer chaos found failures at every step of the process leading up to implementing new timetables, citing a lack of accountability on the part of Network Rail, the Department for Transport, Northern, Govia Thameslink Railway and the ORR itself.

The ORR has today released its final report on the timetable disruption, with recommendations for how the industry can prevent a similar situation from happening in future.

As part of its bid to improve value for money for passengers, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has launched a national Rail Ombudsman to handle unresolved or unsatisfactory customer complaints.

Commenting on the call for evidence, Williams said: “Creating a railway for the 21st-century passenger is at the core of this review. We’re launching a call for evidence and want to hear from passengers, the industry, leading thinkers and investors – and also the cities, towns and regions who depend on their rail connections.

“Next year, after forensic investigations and conversations with people across the country, we will deliver a white paper with ambitious proposals for change.”

Comments for the review can be submitted here.

The winter timetable will go into affect across the network on 9 December, though Network Rail and the RDG said the process would be 'dialled back' compared to the May change, which was the biggest in recent history.

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