Sixty business leaders have written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today, urging him not to delay legislation that would establish Great British Railways (GBR) beyond the current parliament.
The letter, which was also addressed to Transport Secretary Mark Harper and Rail and HS2 Minister Huw Merriman, argued that pushing the reforms into the long grass would increase uncertainty and affect jobs and investment.
Signatories included CEO’s of the Railway Industry Association and construction engineering firm Aecom’s Europe and India branch, as well as senior executives from a host of other infrastructure, rail and engineering groups.
The Great British Railway legislation was first announced in 2021 as part of the ‘William-Shapps plan for rail,’ and would see GBR, the new public sector body, take over from Network Rail to oversee the network.
Last October, the-then transport secretary Anne Marie Trevelyan told the commons that plans would be delayed, with the project now set to come into being in Autumn 2024.
The business leaders wrote that they were concerned that continued uncertainty would threaten jobs, investment and rail performance, stating that businesses need “certainty to invest and deliver best value and a much better deal for the taxpayer.”
“This new partnership will unlock innovation and drive down costs, but time is short, and these benefits should not be delayed.”
The letter asks the government to “bring the Bill forward,” which will “enable the private sector to “grow passenger numbers and freight volumes, at a time when we are all seeking to boost the economy and decarbonise.”
It comes amid fresh strike misery for the rail sector this week, which will see numerous train operators close on Friday and for Saturday’s Eurovision final. Network Rail have estimated the costs of the new action could hit £20-30m per day for the rail network.
The Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) Darren Caplan, said “getting on with rail reform will help provide the certainty rail businesses need to invest, take on staff and develop their business plans, ultimately benefiting passenger and freight customers, and resulting in better value-for-money for taxpayers.”
He added that “there would be a heightened risk of hiatus in rail investment if decisions get delayed as rail reform stalls.”
“We ask Rishi Sunak to take note of the letter, if he wants to have a world-class rail system in the UK, which connects the country and delivers on his own agendas to level-up, decarbonise, and encourage industries which can give a major boost to economic growth.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “We remain committed to reforming the rail industry through Great British Railways, which will modernise our network and better deliver for passengers and freight customers.
“The Government is already getting on with delivering tangible reforms that will benefit passengers including single leg pricing with LNER and extending tap-in tap-out pay-as you-go ticketing on the network. Legislation will be brought forward when Parliamentary time allows.”