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Transport Secretary Reveals Plans to Modernise Rail Industry

Transport Secretary Reveals Plans to Modernise Rail Industry
03 March 2023

In the George Bradshaw Address for 2023, Transport Secretary Mark Harper outlined plans to modernise the rail sector by “taking politics out of the railways”.

Let’s take a look at the government’s plans:


The Railways Need ‘Fundamental Reform’


The government introduced its “Plan for Rail” in 2021, and Mark Harper stated that delivering that policy would be his priority.

This plan includes the formation of a new public body, Great British Railways (GBR), which will run and plan the rail network, own the infrastructure, and receive the fare revenue. Like the Overground service model, Great British Railways will contract private partners to operate trains to the timetable and fares it sets.

Mark spoke about “misinformation” about GBR, stating that it would be “an arm’s length body” and not Network Rail 2.0 or a return to British Rail.

He also said it was important to transition operational decisions away from ministers: “For example, I shouldn’t need to approve whether a passenger train ought to be removed from the timetable to allow a freight train to run instead, as I was doing earlier today. That will be left to industry experts in 5 regional GBR divisions working in partnership with regional bodies such as the Greater Manchester and the West Midlands Combined Authorities.”


Commercial Land Near Stations


Mark also outlined that he wanted to “expand commercial opportunities around land and property near stations”. He gave Japan as a best-in-class example where rail companies take full advantage of these investments, generating even more income for the railways.

Under the GBR’s plans, LCR Property, the government’s transport property body that has regenerated London King’s Cross and Stratford, could help to unlock complex sites and integrate station developments in towns and cities in the future.


£96 Billion Integrated Rail Plan


The £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan is the largest single investment ever made in the UK’s railways, designed to increase capacity and deliver faster journeys or more frequent services on eight out of the top ten busiest rail corridors across the North and Midlands.

It includes plans to complete the Western Leg of HS2 to Manchester and build a new high-speed line from Birmingham to the East Midlands. It currently takes an hour and a quarter to get from Birmingham to Nottingham, but the new link will cut the journey time to less than half an hour.

Additionally, the core Northern Powerhouse Rail network, which will include 40 miles of a new high-speed line between Warrington and Yorkshire is also in planning.

Construction has already begun at Curzon St Station in Birmingham, the first new intercity terminus built since the 19th century which will be one of the most environmentally-friendly stations in the world.


Pay-As-You-Go Ticketing


In order to make ticket booking less confusing, the Pay-As-You-Go ticketing system will be extended. This involves tapping in and out of selected stations and allows you to get the best value on the day of travel. 52 stations across the south-east are set to be added to the scheme this year including on Chiltern, London Northwestern, and C2C services.

After being trialled on LNER’s services, the government will also roll out single-leg pricing, meaning a single flexible fare will always be half the cost of the equivalent return – giving passengers more flexibility and better value.  Demand-based pricing will also be trialled on some LNER services.


Strategic Freight Unit


Mark Harper was keen to point out rail freight’s “untapped potential for green growth”, and he spoke about creating a dedicated Strategic Freight Unit tasked with creating better safeguards, more national coordination and setting a long-term freight growth target.

Rail freight accounts for just 10 per cent of surface freight moved in Britain, delivering economic benefits worth £2.5 billion to the UK each year. Moving goods by rail benefits the environment compared to HGVs, producing around three-quarters less carbon per tonne of goods transported.  Every additional freight train represents around 75 HGVs taken off the roads and in 2016-7 freight moved by rail avoided 8.2 million HGV journeys.

Picture: a photograph of Mark Harper. Image Credit: via an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence:


Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 03 March 2023


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