North 'will still have to fight' for trains funding despite Great British Railways announcement

The north will still have to fight for much-needed investment to its railways under a proposed new public sector body for Britain's rail system, according to a University of Leeds academic.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 5:44 pm

Great British Railways (GBR) will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms to run trains, set most fares and timetables, and sell tickets, from 2023, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced today.

Passengers should find the new system easier to use, according to Greg Marsden, a professor of transport governance at the University of Leeds' Institute of Transport Studies.

But he said the move would not tackle the underlying lack of investment in our region's railways.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at Leeds Station.

He said: "Some of the journey times are crazily slow in the north, some of the rolling stock is pretty terrible in the north, and we need it all electrified - those things don't go away."

GBR will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end what the Department for Transport (DfT) branded a “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.

Mr Shapps said during the 2018 timetable fiasco there was no “Fat Controller” in charge of the system, referencing the Thomas The Tank Engine stories.

He told Sky News: “It’s just too complicated.

“But I don’t want to go back to the days of British Rail either.

“We had declining passenger numbers and railway stations closed.

“This will be still with the involvement of the private sector, running the concessions, running the actual trains, but they get paid for running those trains on time, keeping them tidy and clean, and it will be a single organisation selling you the tickets and running the timetable.”

Mr Marsden said the new system would make events like the timetable fiasco, which saw massive disruption across Leeds and other areas of the country, less likely.

Many reforms will be brought before the body is launched.

Flexible season tickets will be introduced, offering savings on certain routes for people who travel to work two or three times a week.

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.

Mr Marsden said: "The things that are going to be good for passengers are simplification of fares, ticketing, timetabling arrangements and coordination.

"The downside risks are there anyway, which are - just how many people are going to come back to rail [post-Covid]? And what will that mean for how long and how much money government will put into support services.

"But for people in the north - we've still got effectively one lien between Manchester and leeds and when that falls over, it's incredibly disruptive

"It's going to hinge on persuading the treasury that we still need that investment in the north."

TUC Yorkshire & Humber Regional Secretary Bill Adams said: "This is a missed opportunity to put passengers and staff at the heart of our region’s rail services.

""We should avoid any version of the failed privatisation model.

"We need Yorkshire’s railways fully back in public hands.

"If every penny from every fare goes back into the service, our railways will be better quality and better value.”

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