Rail companies 'call time on short-term fixes' with plan for 'generational system upgrade'

Following months of consultation with passengers, businesses and communities, the Rail Delivery Group has submitted proposals to the Williams Review that would create a generational step-change in accountability and customer focus.

  • Proposals would replace the current franchising system with TfL-style networks on some mass-commuter routes, more choice and competition for passengers on some long-distance routes, and services running on other routes with tough outcome-based targets and incentives to meet customer needs.
  • Accountability would be strengthened by putting a new independent national organising body in charge of the whole industry, acting as the glue that binds it together.
  • New system would be underpinned by the industry’s proposals to deliver an easier to use, better value fares system.
  • Plan to be taken round the country to consult about how the benefits of the proposals could be maximised.

Britain’s rail companies are proposing a radical alternative to the current franchising system that would better join up the railway, improve accountability for passengers and result in easier, better value fares for all.

The proposals to the government’s rail review, independently chaired by Keith Williams, are informed by conversations with passengers, businesses and communities across the country and set out the building blocks of a future system. They would see a new independent organising body put in charge of the industry, acting as the glue that binds it together so that everyone is working to meet the same customer-centric goals. Sitting outside day-to-day politics, the organising body would drive up accountability and standards, helping to end the blame game when things sometimes do go wrong and giving penalties where rail companies fall short.

With this new organising body in charge, the current one size fits all franchise system would be replaced with different types of services designed to suit the needs of different groups of passengers.

  • On some mass-commuter routes there would be democratically accountable, TfL-style single-branded concessions, where an integrated transport body is given more devolved control and rail companies are better integrated to deliver services for passengers.
  • On long-distance routes, where appropriate, multiple operators would compete for passengers’ business, making services far more responsive to their needs. Whether its quicker more comfortable journeys or faster Wi-Fi, demand would shape the market - with passengers able to vote with their feet if they wanted change.
  • On other routes, where passengers have less choice about how they travel there would be tough targets and incentives for train companies to deliver the outcomes their customers want, instead of today’s tightly specified inputs-based contracts. This would give operators the freedom to innovate to improve, while only being rewarded for good performance.

The new system would be underpinned by an easier to use, better value range of fares, delivered by updating decades old regulations. This could see pay-as-you-go with a price cap introduced on commuter services across the country, giving flexible workers a better deal. It would also enable greater local control over fares in devolved areas and better integration of rail fares with those for other modes of transport.

For long distance routes, updating fares regulations around peak and off-peak travel would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, incentivising more people to travel while spreading demand more evenly across the day - potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services.

With a fully reformed fares system, for the first time passengers would able to benefit from a guarantee that they would pay the best fares for their journey, every time, with no need to split ticket.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail companies, said:

“These proposals call time on short term fixes and set out the once-in-a-generation system upgrade the railway needs if it is to help the country prosper over the next 25 years.

“We want to move forward with a rail system that is more focused on customers, more responsive to local communities and more accountable, letting rail companies deliver what people want in each area of the country and rebuilding trust between the industry and passengers.”

Over the summer, rail companies will continue consulting with passenger groups, business groups and local and regional bodies on how the benefits of the proposals could be maximised.

The proposals would also reinforce rail freight’s central role in delivering for Britain’s economy, highlighting the need to maintain a joined-up, national approach to coordinating the railway in order to ensure the access needed to keep supermarket shelves stacked, the lights on and the economy moving in the global marketplace.

To deliver these ambitious proposals and enable rail to meet the challenges of the next 25 years, a motivated, engaged and happy workforce is key, and the proposals highlight the need to invest in the rewards, skills and resources they need to secure long-term, rewarding careers for this generation and the next.

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General said:

"Business wants an efficient and reliable rail system that delivers for the economy and that means reinvigorating the public private partnership that runs the railway.

“These proposals from the rail companies mark a necessary break from the status quo. They seek to drive innovation through private sector competition while improving accountability to passengers.

“It’s good to see an industry recognising the need for change and making serious proposals that could be part of the solution."


Notes to editors

  1. The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) brings together the companies that run Britain’s railway into a single team with one goal - to deliver a better railway for you and your community. All passenger and freight rail companies are members of the RDG, as well as Network Rail and HS2.
  2. These proposals are made by the RDG on behalf of all its members, who are working together for change and recognise that reform is essential. In any organisation as broad as the RDG a range of views is inevitable and not all members agree on the detail of all individual elements. Nevertheless, there is support for the principles outlined and a shared view that the package of proposals would provide a positive way forward in delivering lasting change for customers, communities, the economy and our workforce.
  3. Last November, the RDG set out principles for change to shape the national conversation about reforming the railway as part of the Williams Review. The principles were for customers to be at the heart of a reformed railway, that there should be clear accountability and reform should deliver value for money and drive economic growth. Finally, reform should ensure towns and cities across Britain are strengthened by the reform by being more responsive to their needs and also inspire the people who work in rail by providing fulfilling careers.
  4. As part of the RDG’s submission to the Williams Review, we propose a clear, eight point plan to deliver a new system for our customers and the communities we serve:
    1. Deliver easier fares for all
    2. Put a new independent organising body in charge of the whole industry
    3. Introduce response, customer focussed ‘public service contracts’, replacing the current franchising system
    4. Give customers more choice of operators on some long-distance routes
    5. Make sure track and train are all working to the same customer-focussed goals
    6. Bring decisions about local services closer to home
    7. Enhance freight’s central role in delivering for Britain’s economy
    8. Invest in our people to deliver positive long-term change for our customers

      Delivered in full, this plan opens the door to TfL-style concessions in more cities across the country, with customer-outcome based contracts on other parts of the network, operating to passenger-centric targets. These would be complemented by some long-distance routes offering more competition and choice for the customer. In all cases our plan would be underpinned by a modernised, reformed fares system with tap in tap out and a price cap in urban areas, matching the way people live and work today.

      The new system would be overseen by a single organising body, independent of government and industry, ensuring decisions about trains, infrastructure and services are more joined up. It will ensure the railway keeps its promises to its customers and all players are held to account.
  5. The proposals would not change the existing roles and responsibilities of national devolved client bodies (Transport Scotland, Transport for Wales).

Contact Information

Rail Delivery Group Media Team