Opinion Former Article

Grayling signals rail shake up

Track and train operations will be brought together in new rail franchises under plans announced by the Transport Secretary on Tuesday. This will mean that infrastructure maintenance will in future be looked after by management teams that include representatives from train operating companies.

Unions fear the move signals the start of a privatisation of railway infrastructure and a return to the Railtrack model which ended badly two decades ago. But sector specialists argue that the announcement is more about encouraging closer working on the railways and should be welcomed.

Chris Grayling also announced that a new East West Rail company will look after the proposed Oxford to Cambridge route and deliver design, construction and operation separately from Network Rail. 

“We want to see closer working across the industry, to resolve problems more quickly and put thfe needs of the passenger first,” the Transport Secretary said. “When things go wrong, a lack of a joined up approach can make things much worse. Our railway is much better run by one joined up team of people.”

RMT union general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is the Tory Government dragging the railways back to the failed and lethal Railtrack model of the private sector running infrastructure. There is no question that this plan represents the piecemeal privatisation of Network Rail. The introduction of the profit motive into infrastructure raises again the spectre of (the) Hatfield and Potters Bar (train crashes).”

But railway historian Christian Wolmar told TP Weekly News: “This announcement does not signal the break-up of Network Rail as some have suggested.

“If everything was to be handed over to a private company I would worry. But this is about integration. Returning to the days of Railtrack just wouldn’t be politically palatable.”

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