The chair of an independent review of the UK’s railways says government involvement should be limited and a “Fat Controller” type figure should be put in charge of day-to-day operations.
Former British Airways chief Keith Williams told the BBC he doesn’t believe the Department for Transport should manage the rail system and that government involvement should be limited to overall policy and budget decisions.
His “Fat Controller” statement references a character from children’s television series Thomas the Tank Engine who manages the fictional railways.
Williams says the creation of an individual or organisation in charge of the entire system would be key to “regaining public trust” – something that was damaged by severe disruption in the north and south following the introduction of a new timetable in May 2018.
The Williams review was launched by the government following the incident, with Williams’ full report due to be published this autumn. So far, the review has received proposals from the likes of Virgin Trains, which wants to launch a rival service on the London-Liverpool route after it loses the franchise in 2021.
The rail industry has also proposed a ‘radical’ fares reform aimed at making it easier for passengers to understand the ticketing system so they can ensure they’re getting the best possible fare for their journey.
In addition, train operators said they would like to see more competition from their rivals on long-distance routes in order to make services “more responsive” to passengers’ needs.
In the BBC interview, Williams also said he believes future rail franchises should be held to punctuality and performance-related targets.
He did not say what relationship the individual or organisation in charge would have with the government, but he added that he does not believe Network Rail, which oversees the railways’ infrastructure, should take such a managerial role.
In addition, Williams suggested that rail franchises should be changed so companies are in charge for a longer period than the typical seven to eight years, as this could be incentive for them to invest in and improve their services.