Industry reactions to Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail puts the emphasis firmly on passengers.

The government has unveiled the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, based on the long-awaited Williams Review, which includes proposals to create a new body ‘Great British Railways’ to oversee track and train, alongside plans for new service contracts and flexible fares.

Industry leaders have been quick to comment:

Andrew Haines, Network Rail.

Network Rail – Andrew Haines, chief executive: “Passengers deserve a reliable, affordable and sustainable railway, focussed on them. Today’s announcement will help us deliver that by simplifying the railway, paving the way to dismantle the legacy of complexity and fragmentation. Passengers and freight users will once more be put front and centre of a service designed and run for their needs.

“These changes will take time, but I am determined to get to work quickly with the industry and government. The pandemic has created significant challenges for the industry, and that means the changes we have to make are even more urgent. We must attract passengers back, deliver efficiencies and improve the service we provide. Today marks the start of an exciting new chapter for our railway, a chapter that puts the passenger first.”

Robert Nisbet, Rail Delivery Group.

Rail Delivery Group – Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group: “The pandemic has recast how and where people work, which is why we’ve worked with government to introduce new season tickets that will give commuters the freedom and flexibility to divide their time between home and the office.

“New flexible fares will be key to getting people back onto trains, supporting the country’s economic and environmental recovery.

“Flexi Season tickets are a step in the right direction, but to really maximise the benefits and make it easier for people to get good value fares requires government to go further and get under the bonnet to fix the engine of the fares system.”

John Larkinson, ORR

Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the rail regulator and also HM Inspectorate of Railways – John Larkinson, chief executive: “We welcome the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail and will continue to work closely with government and industry to facilitate reform, and reshape rail for the future.

“Our independent oversight and assurance will be important in bringing transparency to decisions and will help ensure the new public body,

“Great British Railways, is held accountable for working in the best interests of all users, funders and passengers.”

Darren Caplan,
Railway Industry Association.

Railway Industry Association (RIA) – Darren Caplan, chief executive: “It is good to see the Williams Review published today, giving some certainty to the Government’s plans for the railways as we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.

“As far as the Railway Industry Association and our members are concerned, we are heartened that the new Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail is a 30-year strategy, which supports modernisation and investment along the lines of the RIA Rail 2050 manifesto we published in November 2019. As we argued then, it is right to take a long-term approach, in order to smooth boom and bust and provide more certainty for rail schemes, decarbonise and digitalise the network, deliver major projects, protect and create jobs, and foster innovation and collaboration between railway partners. We also welcome the ambition to attract passengers and freight back to the network and grow both markets.

“We will of course be examining the contents of the White Paper in further detail over the coming days and look forward to working with Government, the new Great British Railways organisation, Network Rail and other industry stakeholders, to deliver a railway fit for the future.

Mark Phillips, RSSB.

“Our major ask at this stage, however, is that the restructure of UK rail does not cause any hiatus in work being done to renew and enhance railway infrastructure or rolling stock, to ensure everyone in the industry can help rail to build back better as we emerge from the pandemic.”

RSSB (formerly the Rail Safety and Standards Board) – Mark Phillips, chief executive: “RSSB welcomes today’s publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail providing a little more clarity and transparency following the three-year review.

“We look forward to working with government and the new Great British Railways organisation to develop the detail, and continuing to play our part for Britain’s railways, passengers and freight customers.”


Tim Wood, NPR.

Transport for the North – Tim Wood, interim chief executive: “The North saw first-hand the effects of a fragmented rail industry during the 2018 timetable crisis. The fact that Great British Railways will bring track and train together as the guiding mind and put the needs of passengers first is a giant leap forward and something we’ve championed.

“This is a major national moment and a shift in how the railway is run. But this national approach must not be a missed opportunity for further devolution, giving the North’s leaders greater oversight of services and infrastructure investment to deliver more integrated regional networks that work for all.

“The commitment to growing and investing in the railway over the next 30 years only emphasises the real need for the Government to publish the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands without delay, to give us much-needed certainty on delivery of major schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and the Transpennine Route Upgrade.

“As an established and effective partnership in the North of England, Transport for the North will collaboratively engage with government as it begins to work through the detail and we stand ready to drive positive change in the interest of our passengers.”

Manuel Cortes, TSSA.

TSSA – Manuel Cortes, general secretary: “Our union always welcomes a repentant sinner and today the Conservatives have admitted that their Frankenstein privatisation experiment on our railways has failed – and the franchising of train services has hit the buffers.

“Grant Shapps might like to pretend this is the biggest shake up of the railways in a quarter of a century but that is misleading. Rather than take the bold action that our rail network desperately needs this is an attempt merely to paper over the cracks.

“A concessions-based model will still see passengers and taxpayer money leak out of our industry in the form of dividend payments for the greedy shareholders of the private operators who will hold them.

“This will do nothing to encourage people back to our railways – and Ministers should be straight about that. In some ways we are going back to the future with the creation of a strategic body for our railways. We used to have one called the Strategic Rail Authority and it was abolished because it failed to end fragmentation.

“The fact of the matter is that only a fully integrated rail network in public ownership will do this. Shapps, Boris Johnson and rest must think again and stop tinkering around the edges.

“Coming out of this pandemic our country needs a railway that works for people not profit. Nothing else will do.”

Mick Whelan, ASLEF.

ASLEF – Mick Whelan, general secretary: “The railway is a key artery in the industrial body of Britain and the social fabric of this country. It is one of the prime means of moving people, and goods, around the UK.

“That’s why it is deeply disappointing that we have had to wait 18 months for the publication of a report which was finished in November 2019. The people who work on the railway – and the passengers and businesses who depend on us – deserve better.

“We welcome the – albeit belated – admission that the privatisation of our railways by John Major’s Tory government in 1994 has been an abject failure. Everyone is delighted to see the back of the franchise system.

“The big question is why are private operators still involved in what is, and will always be, a service monopoly where there is, and can be, no real competition? The old arguments of “risk and reward” don’t apply. There are no risks, so why should there be rewards?

“Under these plans the private companies will still pocket a profit, but all the risk – the revenue risk – is being dumped back on the public purse. The government is changing the model, but protecting the privateers, and privatising any profit.

“Great British Railways? Well, we believe in a great British railway – in the public ownership of a public service – where the wheels and steel – the locomotives, carriages, and the rails on which they run – are brought back together in a vertically-integrated operation to benefit businesses and passengers.

“We fear that, with capacity falling through the floor because of covid-19, and a £2.9 billion shortfall in revenue at the fare box, the government is going to use the Williams-Shapps plan to try and justify cuts in services.

“We want to see proper investment in the railway, integration with buses in towns and cities and villages, to help people and to help businesses. The railway is the green transport of the future – if it is electrified – and will help the UK meets its emissions targets. Sadly, this report comes up short in too many respects.”

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