The future of rail

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps: 21 May, 2021

Close to Keighley, in the small village of Oakworth, is a rail station that defines this country’s love affair with the railways.

With gas-lit lamps, a framed portrait of Queen Victoria, and polished signs for Brasso and Old Calabar dog food, it is a place near-frozen in time.

As the filming location for the Railway Children, which continues to host magnificent steam engines to this day, Oakworth shows how trains are woven into our national psyche. Britain invented, and then exported the railways, changing the world.

Nowadays, we need them more than ever. We need them to reconnect our country post-Covid. We need them to rebuild our economy. And we need them to meet our ambitious environmental commitments, and achieve net zero carbon emissions.

So today, I’m announcing a new vision for our railway – a plan that ensures we will be as proud of our railway future as we are of its past. Great British Railways will be a single, familiar brand with a simple purpose – to deliver punctual, comfortable and clean services, and tickets that are easy to buy and understand.

Great British Railways will provide accountable and clear leadership, taking responsibility for infrastructure, collecting fares and setting timetables, so you’ll know who is in charge. Rather than different rail organisations arguing about who is responsible for delays as we see today, Great British Railways will focus on resolving them.

A new system of tougher contracts will ensure we retain the most beneficial advantages of private sector involvement – innovation, ingenuity and creativity, to improve services for passengers. They’ll only be paid when they perform, so there’s no excuse not to deliver a first-class experience on every journey you take.

We’ll substantially increase contactless and pay-as-you go ticketing, and make fares fairer with new flexible season tickets. Part-time commuters could save hundreds of pounds.

For Mayors and political leaders in Yorkshire and beyond, this new system will give greater control and a stronger voice, ensuring the services and stations in their area are designed around the passengers who use them every day.

As we build back better from the pandemic, the reforms will encourage people back to the railways by responding to their concerns. For example, we’ll improve, or phase out, ‘ironing-board’ seats. And we’ll protect off-peak services to support the late-night economy.

We’ll publish plans to make our trains cleaner and greener, along with a full accessibility audit, and a 30-year plan to ensure we invest where it’s needed most.

And we will continue to expand our railway, pressing on with our efforts to reverse Beeching closure and restore railways.

This is a bold new blueprint for a better railway, arriving exactly three years after a botched timetable change caused massive disruption for passengers across the North.

That dark chapter showed just how badly rail reform was required. When I intervened to take back control of the Northern franchise, I promised to turn the page on our fragmented, unreliable railway, and get services back on track.

Now it’s time to turn the page. These ambitious reforms are not about ideology, or nationalisation versus privatisation – they’re about making the railway work for passengers. A railway that Yorkshire, and Britain, can be proud of.