TOCs call for minimum controls

TOCs call for minimum controls as part of ‘levelling-up’

The government’s Levelling Up white paper has prompted responses from many parts of the rail industry, with the passenger operators calling for as much freedom as possible when Great British Railways takes over. Rail Delivery Group director general Andy Bagnall said: ‘The railway is crucial to successfully “levelling up” the country. It has the power to boost local economies, connect people to jobs and transport goods to businesses. To get reform right and deliver what passengers want, it’s essential that the new passenger service contracts enable Great British Railways to guide, rather than control, the industry and to listen to and empower operators and the regions.’

FirstGroup sounded a similar note: ‘The government’s vision is best delivered through the expertise and innovation of private transport operators. The vital services and connections we provide help to create vibrant and sustainable communities. We look forward to seeing further detail on the plans outlined in the paper, and ensuring the industry continues to progress beyond the pandemic,’ it said.

Politicians have welcomed the prospect of more devolution to the regions. The West Midlands Combined Authority believed the plans meant ‘local leaders having a greater say over how their local railways are run’.

Rail supply chain companies are urging the government to continue investment. Railway Industry Association chief executive Darran Caplan said: ‘It is particularly positive to see transport connectivity and rail services recognised. We urge the Government to continue investing in rail as passenger numbers return.’

Meanwhile, Siemens warned that public transport must be easier to use. Siemens Mobility CEO Will Wilson said: ‘If the Government is serious about levelling up through improved transport services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing, then money needs to be available for investment in digital “Mobility as a Service” technologies, and powers provided to get all transport operators to take part. We know it works already in places like Copenhagen and it’s about time we made it just as easy for passengers in our towns and cities to plan and book their journeys from the first mile to the last.’

Brighton Main Line to be closed

The Brighton Main Line will shut for nine consecutive days later this month so that a £15 million scheme to improve performance can go ahead. The railway between Three Bridges, Brighton and Lewes will close from 19 to 27 February, as engineers rebuild a junction, lay new track and shore up embankments to reduce the risk of landslips. The project also means the lines between Three Bridges, Brighton and Lewes will be closed over the weekends of 12-13 February, 5-6 March and 3 April for preparations and follow up work.

Recently reopened line to close again for repairs

Train services to Okehampton and Barnstaple in Devon will be replaced by buses from 19 to 27 February while Network Rail repairs Yeoford bridge in Penstone. The Dartmoor Line to Okehampton only began to carry daily passenger trains again in November, after the service had been axed in 1972. Network Rail said it needs to make ‘critical repairs’, and so trains can only run between Exeter and Crediton. Engineers will repair steelwork and brickwork, as well as renewing parts of the track, grit blasting, painting, water proofing and upgrading drainage. New fencing will also be installed. Although trains will only be halted for just over a week, the road under the railway is being closed from 7 February until 4 March, so that more work can be carried out under the bridge.

Train cleaners vote for strikes

Hundreds of cleaners have voted for industrial action which is set to involve several train operators in the south east of England. The cleaners are employed by Churchill, and any walkouts would affect Churchill’s contracts with Govia Thameslink Railway, Southeastern, High Speed 1 and Eurostar. Their union the RMT said that in two of the ballots all those who voted had been in favour of taking action. The RMT’s national executive committee meets today to discuss the next steps.

Revised Forth Bridge plan

A revised planning application has been submitted by Network Rail for its proposed Forth Bridge Visitor Centre and bridge walk. The latest proposals include a single-storey reception hub to be placed east of the bridge, which Network Rail said would be ‘sympathetically positioned in the landscape’ while ‘offering stunning views of the iconic heritage structure’.The submission of the full planning application to Edinburgh City Council follows an exercise held in the autumn to gather feedback from residents.

Work begins on new Bristol station

Construction of a new station in Bristol to link Portway Park & Ride with the Severn Beach branch has begun. Bristol City Council and Network Rail are building the first new station within the city of Bristol for 95 years. The last addition was Parson Street, which was opened as a halt in 1927 by the former GWR. The £4.2 million station at Portway Park & Ride in Shirehampton forms part of the West of England Combined Authority’s wider plans to improve the local rail network through its MetroWest programme.