Sunday 20 November 2016 5:24 pm

Transport secretary Chris Grayling is plotting to crack open Network Rail's monopoly

Transport secretary Chris Grayling will lay out plans to to break up Network Rail's grip on the UK's rail infrastructure within weeks.

Grayling wants to end the state-owned firm's monopoly on repair and upgrade to tracks and signalling, and has commanded officials to investigate how to introduce competition.

Westminster insiders describe the scheme as “bringing train and track closer together”, and Grayling is expected to reveal the plans in a landmark speech before parliament goes into recess on 20 December.

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Although no final decisions have been made, one option being considered would be to hand responsibility to the rail franchise operators.

While the transport secretary acknowledges that Network Rail has suffered from historic underinvestment, there is nonetheless a belief that performance must be improved.

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Any improvements would likely come as music to the ears of commuters. Those travelling on Southern Rail services, in particular, have suffered from cancelled trains, union disputes and failures on Network Rail-operated infrastructure.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport declined to comment.