The Department for Transport announced the Government’s new plan for the future of the railways on Thursday 20th May. I think the Williams-Shapps Plan is ambitious and excellent, and it has the potential to have many benefits for us here in West Dorset.
In brief, the Williams-Shapps Plan aims to do ten key things:
- A modern passenger experience
- A retail revolution
- New ways of working with the private sector
- Economic recovery and financially sustainable railways
- Greater control for local people and places
- Cleaner, greener railways
- Bold new opportunities for rail freight
- Increased speed of delivery and efficient enhancements
- Skilled, innovative workforce
- A simpler industry structure
You may also have heard about some other really positive things that this plan will bring – for example, there will be new flexible season tickets for commuting two- and three-day weeks to better reflect new working patterns that have emerged from the pandemic.
Possibly the biggest thing that has come from this plan is the creation of Great British Railways. I think this is a very exciting announcement because it will solve the problem we have been experiencing for years where there are so many competing interests that go into running the railways with no one giving overall strategy and direction. This will be the job of Great British Railways who are also mandated to have a focus on passenger experience, guiding the railway according to that basis.
Great British Railways should put an end to the relentless bureaucracy and improve train services for all of us.
For us here in Dorset specifically, there is real opportunity with this plan to get the long-overdue improvements we need, particularly on the Heart of Wessex line. Train operators will be obliged to make changes for the good of passengers, which gives ample opportunity to address the concerns we have all had for a while.
The plan will also be excellent for rural connectivity. We will hopefully finally see an end to poor rural rail services with low frequency and poor customer service – the plan changes the incentive structure for operators to work in the interests of communities and passengers. Getting rid of franchising means that there will be more focus on the social value of rail routes, connecting remote places to our urban centres.
This is just a brief statement from me – I am working on a full written response to the Command Paper, drawing on my years working on the railways to give some insights where they are needed. I will publish that here on my website in due course.
Last week, the Transport Select Committee began an inquiry into the Plan. You can watch my question to Sir Peter Hendy about the Heart of Wessex Line below:
If you want to read the full paper, please see the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-british-railways-williams-shapps-plan-for-rail