Here it is, “The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail”, and a new brand, Great British Railways. His name hyphenated pointedly onto independent chair Keith Williams’s (ghost-written) magnum opus, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is surely committed to making it work. Since the May 2018 timetable omnishambles, many of us have said a disintegrated railway needs putting back together. GBR will be a guiding, unifying mind, controlling what goes into the timetable. Private train operators (TOCs) will be on contracts, concessions, not franchises. But a managerial frontier will remain between track and train operation, even if the terms of engagement are new.
What about devolution? Who should be in control? Initially GBR is to be based on Network Rail “regions”, large north-south oriented structures like Eastern (spanning Southend and Berwick-upon-Tweed) and North West & Central (London to Carlisle). Each region encompasses several locally managed “routes” (really areas). A couple of years ago we heard talk of the Northern TOC being split into east and west halves lined up Network Rail north-east and north-west “routes”. The rumour was denied. The white paper promises engagement with regional bodies. So Transport for the North (TfN), planning strategic transport and engaging with a rail network that spans the Pennines, will have to work, at least at first, with two separate GBR regions/routes and possibly still separate TOCs. The white paper does say that, come Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – however that turns out – there might be a cross-North organisational unit. We say such integration should happen from the start. Why have another reorganisation later?
There is a 2-hour gap late at night in services back from Manchester calling at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge. Two trains fly through non-stop. We asked for stops to be added, surely a minor operational inconvenience with the benefit of getting people home. The gap remains.
Will Great British Railways help bridge these gaps? Tell us what you think! – JSW