The government has announced for the rail system to become publicly owned again, but only in part. This change, hailed by the transport department as one of the biggest in thirty years, will come in the manifestation of the GBR (Great British Rail).
In practice, the organisation will handle ticketing, marketing, the timetables of trains, and “running and planning the network” across the entire country. However, independent companies will still run the train services themselves. The government believes these plans to deliver “simpler”, more “modern fares”.
This new system will interact with customers through a new website that is expected to be fully launched in 2023. The expectations is for the national rail services to become more similar to the transport for London system.
The government’s reasons for this drastic policy are manifold. Firstly, the taxpayer spent £12 billion of public money on keeping rail services that were largely empty run through the pandemic. The government feel that these reforms will help close the gap. Grant shapes, the transport secretary holds that there is a balance between taxpayer support and prices paid for the trains themselves by the customer, that this new solution will have to enact.
The government also believes that in bringing about this new policy, the public will enjoy a hybrid of public and private rail services. British rail was the predecessor to GBR, but it was disbanded in the mid 1990’s by John Major’s government. In GBR, the government hopes to take the better aspects of the old system whilst keeping the majority privatisation that has allowed for increased use.
Keith Williams was head of British rail, but his new role was to lead the government review into rail services. The result is GBR, which Williams says is “built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services” along with “better value fares and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong”.
Supporters of the of this policy will argue that GBR will provide a unified and cost-effective service for customers, aswell as allowing for rail companies to be compatible with the new organisation.
Opposers will argue that GBR gives consumers the worst of both worlds. As rail services will still be factionalised, whilst there is now room for government bureaucracy in their newfound oversight.
Boris Johnsons words after this announcement were “I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve”. He argues that “By creating Great British Railways and investing in the future of the network, this government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of”.
What is clear from a political perspective is that this new conservative government is drifting in a direction of large government spending, bigger promises, and more oversight for key figures within the cabinet. Critics will continue to question whether Boris Johnson government can deliver on it’s promises, and whether there plans are acceptable.