NETWORK Rail is being jettisoned as the control and ownership of the nation’s rail tracks, stations and signals and track is being brought under a new body named Great British Railways as part of sweeping reforms.
The new body will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end what the UK government has called the current “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs, the Department of Transport has said.
Great British Railways is not expected to be established until 2023. Its logo will be an updated version of British Rail’s double arrow.
Like Network Rail, Great British Railways will continue to own manage the rail infrastructure in Scotland. South of the border it will also issue contracts to private firms to run trains and set most fares and timetables and sell tickets.
The Department of Transport said that the Scotland “will continue to exercise its current powers and to be democratically accountable for them”. The move comes two months after the Scottish Government moved to place Scotland’s train services under state control.
Dutch state transport firm Abellio will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March next year.
After this an “arms-length” Scottish government company will take over the running of services.
Abellio has been running the franchise since 2015 but had its contract ended early amid criticism over cancellations and performance levels.
The move places questions over Scots transport secretary Michael Matheson’s vision of a public sector controlled integrated passenger railway as the future for Scotland enabling what he called a “more cohesive, fleet of foot strategic decision making structure between rail infrastructure and services with full accountability to the Scottish Government”.
He has previously admitted that that vision cannot be delivered under the existing legislative framework, which is reserved to the UK Government and that that is why he has repeatedly sought full devolution of rail powers to Scotland. His calls have so far been rejected.
Network Rail, the nationalised body that manages the rail infrastructure, such as the tracks and signals, was responsible for two in three of the delays in 2018, which saw train operator ScotRail forced to settle 65,000 successful claims from passengers.
The move is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry being carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams and it is being published as a white paper.
The plan was initially due to be published in autumn 2019 but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.
The shake-up of rail infrastructure ownership is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams following the chaotic introduction of new timetables south of the border in May 2018.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve.
“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.”
At the end of 2019, Scots ministers announced it had stripped Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.
It came after a 2018 winter timetable with the introduction of high-speed trains and new class 385 electric trains ushered in months of cancellations and disruption to services with much of it put down to staff shortages partly due to training to deal with the new trains and timetable.
ScotRail was forced to submit a plan by February, 2019, to address falling performance levels which, if unsuccessful, could result in a breach of contract and lead to Abellio losing the franchise early.
Mr Williams commented: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”