Great British Railways set to be delayed

The creation of the new ‘guiding mind’ Great British Railways and the passing of an Act of Parliament is likely to be delayed until the spring, according to reports, as government and Parliament remain tangled in wider political and economic problems.

Official sources have declined to give any firm update, and the new rail minister Kevin Foster was reluctant to commit himself when he was a guest at the Rail Forum annual conference in Derby on Tuesday, saying only: ‘There’s a new government. We’ll take stock, particularly around the legislative agenda. I think we see in the not-too-distant future myself and the secretary of state will perhaps set out a little bit more detail on where we see the vision.

‘But also we’re now starting to see what’s going to be the type of demand, particularly on the passenger side.’

He added that some lines have recovered well from the slump in usage caused by the Covid lockdowns, but others are ‘much, much lower than that’.

He concluded: ‘It does need to inform some of our thinking about the future.’

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has been making progress in reshaping the former franchising system, awarding new National Rail Contracts to a number of operators over the past year. These contracts, which involve much less commercial risk for operators but also much less choice about how they run their businesses, are part of the proposed model for Great British Railways.

Other operators are still continuing to function under directly-awarded contracts which are the remains of the Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements introduced in 2020.

One of these is Avanti West Coast, which has been given a six-month extension to its ERMA amid controversy over reductions to its services which were imposed almost two months ago, on the grounds that not enough staff were willing to work overtime or on rest days. Some of the trains withdrawn then have since been restored, and Avanti says more are set to return in December.