Control of trains and track will be brought under a new public sector body named Great British Railways as part of sweeping transport reforms, it has been announced.
The organisation, which will take charge in 2023, will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms to run trains, set most fares and timetables and sell tickets.
It will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end the current “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.
The move has, however, angered Scottish ministers, who say they have not been consulted on the plan.
“The beginning of a new railway era, that Britain can be proud of.”🚆
— Department for Transport (@transportgovuk) May 20, 2021
The Scottish Government, which is planning to nationalise train services by March 2022, said: “There is no mention of Scotland in these details, and it is not clear how these proposals will respect the established and successful devolved responsibility for railways in Scotland.
“The white paper will affect Scotland’s Railway, yet the Scottish Government has not been consulted on what is now published.
“Our view remains that a public sector controlled, aligned and better integrated railway will deliver for Scotland’s economy and its communities.
“Full devolution of our railways is necessary to ensure that we can deliver the high-performing and responsive services that Scotland’s communities and its economy deserves.”
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed the claims in the Commons, however, saying “there’s been extensive discussion with the Scottish Government at official level about all of this”.
He added: “There’s nothing in this white paper that reverses or changes the devolution picture.
“The Scottish Government will carry on running Scot Rail as it sees fit.
“But I do think we have to recognise that we all need to work together, our passengers, our constituents, need to travel around, they don’t really care about all of the insider detail, they just want a railway that works.”
GBR is expected to launch in 2023, although many reforms will be brought in before then.
Flexible season tickets will be introduced, offering savings on certain routes for people who travel to work two or three times a week.
These will go on sale on June 21 for use seven days later.
There will also be a “significant rollout” of more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
The new body will also specify most of the timetables and fares.
Operators will be incentivised to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers.
Former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams, who has come up with the plan, said: “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.”
Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn, who has campaigned for a new railway station to be opened in Cove, called the GBR announcement a “missed opportunity.”
Mr Flynn said: “I think it’s a missed opportunity.
“The reality is that we have an absurd situation where most of the delays on Scotland’s rail network are caused by the infrastructure, which is the responsibility of the UK Government.
“What should have been announced today was the devolution of rail infrastructure to Scottish Parliament, so we could have a railway fleet and infrastructure operating in tandem going forward.”
He said he believes the question of how the new GBR plans could impact the creation of a new station in his constituency is “up in the air”.
Mr Flynn continued: “What we needed to see is Nestrans, Transport Scotland and indeed Network Rail working in tandem, but now we’ve got a new player in the mix, and it’s a question of how those discussions and negotiations are going to go.
“I’ll be resolute in my campaign to ensure that Cove or Altens gets the rail stop that’s necessary, as the south of the city has been calling out for proper rail infrastructure for a long, long time.”
North-east Tory MP Andrew Bowie, responding to the comments, said: “People across Scotland rely on our railways every day, but the SNP’s 14 years in charge have seen delays become the norm and vast sums of taxpayer cash wasted.
“Any plan to simplify services or – heavens forfend – improve them should be welcomed.
“What I would like to see from the SNP government, rather than grievance, is cooperation to improve rail across the U.K.
“I would also love to see the £200m they promised to speed up north east rail journeys before the 2016 election.”