TLC submits evidence to the Williams Review

Tonbridge Line Commuters has provided written evidence to a major review of Britain’s railways.  The review is being led by Keith Williams, a former chairman and chief executive of British Airways, and has a brief to make recommendations to the Government on the most effective organisational and commercial structures to support a successful railway. Several matters are included in the terms of reference of the Williams Review:

  • commercial models for the provision of rail services that prioritise the interests of passengers and taxpayers
  • rail industry structures that promote clear accountability and effective joint-working for both passengers and the freight sector
  • a system that is financially sustainable and able to address long-term cost pressures
  • a railway that is able to offer good value fares for passengers, while keeping costs down for taxpayers
  • improved industrial relations, to reduce disruption and improve reliability for passengers
  • a rail sector with the agility to respond to future challenges and opportunities

In our response to the review’s call for evidence, we describe how the current franchising model does not always support the needs of the passenger.  The executive summary of our response sets out our position:

“We believe that the current commercial model for franchising is fundamentally flawed. It does not provide adequate incentives or opportunities for franchise holders to improve the service beyond the baseline service that is mandated by the Franchise Agreement. The current lengths of franchises prevent franchise holders from making long term investments that they will be able to realise a return from, but also prevent the Government from quickly changing the franchise specification in order to respond to any wider changes that may arise with travel patterns etc. Overall, this results in franchise holders ‘playing it safe’ – only delivering upon the minimum requirements and not taking on any extra risk through the development of innovative schemes that would benefit passengers.

“The current structures do not promote effective joint-working and often lead to ‘blame games’, resulting in unaccountable and unnecessary cost overheads, and a lack of agility on the railway. We reflect that previous attempts to promote partial joint-working have been unsuccessful, primarily due to a lack of appropriate incentives. Our preferred structure is that of a fully integrated UK railway system integrating track and train, either on a national or route basis. We note that for most passengers, a train journey serves a purpose to get them from A to B – who actually gets them from A to B is irrelevant from the passenger’s point of view, with factors such as speed, reliability and price being far more relevant.

“In many cases today, the railway does not offer what is perceived to be good value for money on fares notably because of low subsidy levels and franchise agreement inflexibilities. We note that the current policy of reducing the cost of the railway borne by the taxpayer is a false economy because the wider economic, societal and environmental benefits that are gained from the railway in fact result in significant cost benefits to the taxpayer.”

In our full response response to the call for evidence we have provided detailed examples to support our case and offered some thoughts about how the system could be adapted to better prioritise the needs of the passenger. We do not advocate one particular form of ownership over another, but do present evidence that the current split between train and track does not provide the best model for a passenger centered railway. The review’s recommendations are due to be presented in a white paper in autumn 2019, and we will be keeping a watchful eye on the process as it unfolds.

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