Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Ministers set out blueprint for future of the railways through draft Rail Reform Bill [February 2024]

The press release issued by the Department for Transport on 20 February 2024.

Draft bill sets out blueprint for bringing track and train together under a new Great British Railways, leveraging private sector innovation to benefit customers.

  • draft Rail Reform Bill published – key part of vision for future of our railways
  • new proposals will leverage private sector innovation to deliver a better service overseen by Great British Railways
  • action already underway to improve train travel, including Pay As You Go ticketing and simpler fares pilot

Ministers have today (20 February 2024) put forward a clear plan for the future of the railways, publishing a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The draft Rail Reform Bill sets in motion the plan to deliver a bold vision for future rail customers – of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of passengers and freight users. When passed, it will help deliver on the 2019 manifesto commitment by bringing forward the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system.

Since the end of the nationalisation seen under British Rail, passenger numbers have doubled and the quality of rolling stock has vastly improved. To meet the demands of a modern economy and society, we need our railways to be more responsive and more efficient, more adaptive to technology and innovation, and to fully embrace the private sector and its benefits.

The draft Bill will see the creation of Great British Railways (GBR), which will bring together responsibility for both rail infrastructure and services. This will provide clearer lines of accountability and help build a more modern and financially secure sector and a network that is more adaptable and more efficient.

GBR will ensure passengers and freight benefit from industry expertise through a whole-system approach that will drive financial efficiency. When established, GBR will be the new franchising authority, contracting with the private sector to deliver passenger services and maximise investment, innovation and opportunity.

The reforms will improve connectivity and choice for passengers, including by encouraging private sector open-access operators, where they add value for passengers through more direct links and more options.

The bill applies mainly to Great Britain, with Scottish and Welsh ministers continuing to exercise existing devolved responsibilities, but with an option to delegate contracting authority to GBR to enable the integration of track and train across Great Britain if they wished to pursue it.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said:

It’s been nearly 200 years since the birth of the British railways and with travel patterns having significantly changed over the last few years, it is now more important than ever that they keep up with the changing times.

This draft bill demonstrates our commitment to reforming the railways – working with industry, we will move towards a more modern and financially secure rail network that delivers for passengers for the next 200 years, too.

The draft Rail Reform Bill will now undergo pre-legislative scrutiny to provide parliamentarians and industry experts the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the legislation. This will allow for time to understand the complexities of these reforms and ensure that the final legislation is as robust as possible. Scrutiny will be led by the Transport Select Committee.

The national headquarters of GBR will be in Derby, which was chosen following a rigorous assessment process and public vote, and will deliver yet more high-skilled jobs to the city. Since it was set up in 2021, the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) has already helped lay the foundations for bringing track and train together, uniting expertise from across Network Rail, DfT and the private sector to help tackle the challenges faced by the railways.

GBR will also be tasked with driving forward the UK’s rail freight sector, where the government recently set an ambitious target of 75% growth by 2050.

Many reforms and tangible improvements for passengers are already being delivered. For example, Pay As You Go is currently being rolled out to more stations across the South East and the government recently announced that pilots will also see tap-in tap-out train travel brought to more than 90 stations in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester next year.

These trials will also pave the way for the future rollout of similar technology to more stations across the North and Midlands, funded in part by £100 million under the Network North plan. Network North will see a range of other upgrades to the rail network, including a further £350 million to improve the accessibility of up to 100 rail stations while funding reallocated from HS2 also means that the government can now support the Ely Area Capacity Enhancement scheme that could allow up to an extra 6 freight trains per day to and from the Port of Felixstowe – the equivalent of taking 98,000 lorry journeys off the road every year.

Along with the draft Rail Reform Bill, the government’s response to the public consultation on its Plan for Rail is also being published. This sets out how the public’s views on the proposed reforms have informed what has been taken forward in the draft legislation. The new GBR will bring a whole-system view, benefiting customers and taxpayers and balancing the needs of operators and infrastructure. Across the many responses we received from individuals, industry and organisations there is support for the proposed primary legislative changes set out in the consultation.

Taken together the draft Rail Reform Bill will enable:

More accountability through the establishment of GBR by bringing together the management of the network and the commissioning of passenger services into a new public rail body that puts customers first and delivers efficiency. The Secretary of State for Transport’s franchising authority functions will be transferred to GBR, ensuring that operational and infrastructure decisions are made in a coordinated way. The new body will serve as the single point of accountability for the performance of the railway where previously it was split between Network Rail and the Secretary of State.

Better service by bringing track and train together enabling the sector to run as one system for the benefit of customers and taxpayers. Whole system strategic decision-making should lead to improved reliability and performance of passenger and freight services. GBR’s regional structure is intended to ensure differing regional customer needs are part of decision-making.

Smarter growth of the sector, as GBR will be a commercially-focused organisation that will contract with the private sector to maximise investment and innovation throughout the sector. This includes improving connectivity and choice through more direct links and more options for passengers.

Greater efficiency by working in close partnership with the private sector to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system underpinned by better collaboration and aligned incentives, generating value and savings that will have benefits for passengers and taxpayers.

Improved focus on customers through specific accessibility and freight duties to ensure that accessibility on the railway is improved and the experience for disabled passengers is enhanced. Rail freight will be targeted for growth, recognising the sector’s economic benefits and potential for expansion.

Andrew Haines, GBRTT Lead and CEO of Network Rail, said:

Passengers, freight customers and communities are crying out for a simpler, better railway and the publication of the draft bill is an important step on that journey.

Bringing track and train together under a guiding mind is by far the best way to improve the service the railway offers, unlock the economic potential of a growing network and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.

Jacqueline Starr, CEO of RDG, said:

It is good news that the draft Rail Reform Bill has been published, this is another important step in setting up GBR and moving forward with the agreed reforms to improve the railway for the customer.

The challenges facing the rail industry are well known, but rail is a vital service and should have a bright future if we work together. I look forward to working with the government to further develop the reforms needed to deliver for customers.