Transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that the government will use its emergency control of the UK’s railways to change the way the current franchise system operates.
Speaking to the transport select committee this morning, Shapps said: “We were already going to be moving to a different type of railway and different types of contracts and so the point that I wanted to make was there is now the opportunity to move things along a little bit faster than might otherwise have been the case”.
In March ministers took the decision to bring the railways under the government’s control through so-called “emergency measures agreements”, protecting franchises from revenue damage due to plummeting passenger numbers.
Many in the industry had suggested that the move, which has cost the government £3.5bn so far, would give authorities the chance to make changes to the creaking franchises model.
Shapps confirmed these expectations, saying: “We already knew the railway had to change.
“The coronavirus situation provides significant challenges but also significant opportunities to move faster to a different type of railway”.
Asked whether the government would use the time to speed through the long-awaited Williams review into the system, Shapps confirmed that there would be more details on the report by the end of the year.
He confirmed suggestions that the review contained recommendations to change the rail network to a system far closer to Transport for London’s concession model, in which the operator lets contracts to run some services to other operators.
A new strategic body designed to “bring the railway back together” has also been recommended, he said.
Shapps suggested the reforms would largely follow the review’s findings, saying: “Clearly, what we need to do is get to a situation which gets us to the Williams review.
“The route between where we are and where we were has been changing and you might say speeded up”.