Thought leadership

A review of the rail industry is to be launched by the government next week, following criticism of the way the franchising model is run.

Labour said the model was “broken”, after the East Coast Mainline franchise failed for the third time and passengers on other lines faced strikes and disruption to new timetables. The party says it will renationalise the railways if it gets into power.

But the government says privatisation has helped “transform” the industry. The UK’s rail network has been beset by problems, with the East Coast Mainline brought back under government control in May – for the third time in a decade.

Meanwhile, members of the RMT union are holding the latest in a series of 24-hour strikes on Northern and South Western in a long-running dispute over the role of guards on trains.

Hundreds of rail services are likely to be cancelled and replacement buses will operate on some routes.

The review, to be announced on Thursday, is expected to be led by Keith Williams, the deputy chairman of department store John Lewis.

It is likely to examine how issues such as those faced by the East Coast Mainline can be avoided in the future. The franchise was a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin Trains.

This week the Transport Select Committee described the bid to run the line as “naive” and said the DfT must take the blame for not managing it effectively.

The DfT plans to run the service as the London North Eastern Railway until a new public-private partnership can be appointed in 2020.

The government first began to offer Britain’s passenger train services to the private sector to run on a franchised basis in the 1990s.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has also faced questions over his handling of the disruption faced by passengers on Thameslink and Great Northern trains this year, following the introduction of new timetables by owner Govia Thameslink.

The Office of Rail and Road has launched an inquiry into the problems.

Labour has said it would bring the railways back under public ownership if it was in power.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: “Long-suffering rail passengers don’t need a review to explain to them that the franchising system is broken beyond repair.

“No amount of tinkering will change the fact that rail franchising has failed, does not deliver and never will.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Privatisation has helped transform our railway, doubling passenger numbers and delivering more services, extra investment and new trains.

“We are absolutely committed to improving journeys and are always examining ways to improve how the railway serves passengers.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents the rail industry, said the public and private sectors had achieved a lot working together over the last 20 years but “the time is right for root and branch reform”.

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