Britain to hold "root and branch" review of rail transport
LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Britain is to launch a major
review of its much-criticised railways after months of
disruption to passengers caused by strikes, timetable changes
and problems with the franchising system first introduced in the
The "root and branch" review will be headed by Keith
Williams, a former British Airways chief executive and current
deputy chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, the transport
department announced on Thursday.
Implementation of any reforms it recommends will start from
"The review – the most significant since privatisation –
will consider ambitious recommendations for reform to ensure our
vital rail system continues to benefit passengers and support a
stronger, fairer economy," Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
said in a statement.
Williams and his panel will consider all parts of the rail
industry, from the franchising system and industry structures,
accountability, and value for money for passengers and
They will look at changing travel and work patterns, the
department said, and will make recommendations to improve the
current franchising model.
Britain's rail industry was privatised in 1997 under the
Conservative government of John Major which separated the
running of trains and tracks, but passengers’ groups have long
claimed the division promotes buck-passing and inefficiency.
Since privatisation, fares have risen relentlessly and
passenger numbers have doubled, leading to overcrowding and
putting more pressure on state-owned Network Rail, the
organisation that maintains tracks and upgrades infrastructure.
Services on several lines have been further hit by strikes
as unions try to protect the role of guards on trains and by
chaos caused by timetable changes introduced by eight franchises
in May which led to widespread delays and cancellations.
Also in May, the government was forced to renationalise the
rail route between London and Edinburgh for the third time since
2007 after the private company over-estimated profits,
reigniting the debate over who should run the railways.
Unions have long called for the rail system to be
re-nationalised but Thursday's announcement of the review made
no mention of any change to the current franchising system.
"Privatisation has led to a level of growth never seen under
nationalisation, and reversed the decline the railways saw under
British Rail, where routes and stations were closing," the
department said in its statement.
"The government has already taken steps to strengthen future
train franchises and improve reliability. However, we want to
ensure the rail system continues to deliver benefits in the face
of these challenges," it added.
(Reporting by Stephen Addison;
Editing by Alistair Smout)
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