Rail firms have called for a national organising body to oversee the industry, as well as more competition on long-distance routes to make services more responsive to passenger needs.

The Rail Delivery Group’s (RDG) proposals form part of the Williams Review of the UK’s railways and come after a nationwide consultation with passengers, businesses and communities.

An independent national organising body in charge of the whole industry would act “as the glue that binds it together so that everyone is working to meet the same customer-centric goals”, according to RDG, which represents all train companies in the UK. Such a body would have to sit outside of day-to-day politics and drive accountability and standards to “end the blame game when things sometimes do go wrong”, the group says. It is also proposing penalties when rail companies fall short.

With such a body in charge, RDG says “the one-size-fits-all franchise system would be replaced with different types of services designed to suit the needs of different groups of passengers”.

For mass-commuter routes, the group is proposing Transport for London-style single-branded concessions where an integrated transport body is given devolved control and rail companies are better integrated to serve passengers.

On some long-distance route, firms want to see multiple operators competing for passengers’ business by making services “more responsive to their needs”. This would enable customers to “vote with their feet if they wanted changed”, according to RDG.

And on other routes where competition isn’t possible or passengers have less choice, train companies would be set targets and incentives to deliver on their customers’ needs. RDG claims this would give operators more incentive to innovate and improve and would mean companies are only rewarded for good performance.

An earlier proposal by the rail industry to reform the network’s fares system would see a pay-as-you-go price cap introduced on commuter routes and local control over fares in devolved areas. Updating regulations on long-distance route could help spread demand more evenly across the day and reduce overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services, RDG claims.

CEO Paul Plummer said: “These proposals call time on short-term fixes and set out the once-in-a-generation system upgrade the railway needs if it is to help the country prosper over the next 25 years. We want to move forward with a rail system that is more focused on customers, more responsive to local communities and more accountable, letting rail companies deliver what people want in each area of the country and rebuilding trust between the industry and passengers.”

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, commented: “Business wants an efficient and reliable rail system that delivers for the economy and that means reinvigorating the public-private partnership that runs the railway. These proposals from the rail companies mark a necessary break from the status quo. They seek to drive innovation through private sector competition while improving accountability to passengers. It’s good to see an industry recognising the need for change and making serious proposals that could be part of the solution.”


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