During their first 100 days the new Transport Secretary and Rail Minister must:
  • Include the legislation required to create a customer-led Great British Railways (GBR) in the King's Speech on 17 July;
  • Create an environment in which the industry and unions can negotiate a settlement, with a standstill on industrial action;
  • Set up a Shadow GBR in advance of legislation;
  • Appoint a Chair and CEO designate for GBR;
  • Agree with HM Treasury a way to manage the railway by reference to net support, ending the separation of cost and revenue management;
  • Decide what powers will be devolved to other authorities, for example Transport for Greater Manchester or Transport for the West Midlands;
  • Set strategic objectives for GBR;
  • Publish a White Paper defining the post-legislation powers of GBR;
  • Reinstate safeguarding for HS2 phases 2 and 2A;
  • Set modal shift targets for the passenger and freight markets, such as Labour gave in its 2020 GB Rail document;
  • Set the 2025 fares increase to no greater than CPI.
DfT should then let the Shadow GBR get on with managing the railway without intervention.

By the end of 2024, the GBR CEO designate should:
  • Decide the internal organisation of GBR and appoint the appropriate rail professionals;
  • Negotiate a win/win resolution to the industrial disputes, which have destroyed passenger confidence and suppressed revenue;
  • Demonstrate a commitment to fare simplification by ending the operator-only fares of DfT OLR Holdings Limited (DOHL);
  • Commission a no-holds-barred fares and ticketing review;
  • Create a rolling stock plan, making best use of existing stock by cascades between operators and identifying what new stock will be needed and when, to minimise cost while moving towards decarbonisation and accessibility objectives;
  • Commence the review necessary to decide how increasing capacity in the Birmingham – Liverpool – Leeds triangle is to be delivered;
  • Give greater authority to current DOHL operators (LNER, Northern, Southeastern and Transpennine Express)
Early progress on these points will start to address the criticisms raised by the Public Accounts and Transport Select Committees, restoring public trust and giving confidence to the rail supply industry.

Strategic objectives

Labour's Plan to Fix Britain's Railways set the objectives as: reliable, affordable, efficient, quality, accessible, safe. However, these are all operational objectives which can be summarised as 'focus on the day job'. They are not strategic objectives.

The government must recognise that rail is part of the solution to five of the really key issues facing the UK: the cost of living, lack of growth and productivity, social inclusion, declining health, and last but by no means least climate change. A holistic view is needed to recognise that a step-change in modal shift of passengers and freight to rail would have a positive impact on all of these.

Bill Clinton famously said "It's the economy, stupid". Research from Centre for Cities noted that there are 112 cities in the G7 the size of Nottingham or larger, but of the bottom twenty for productivity, seven are British. These are, it concluded, "effectively the sick men of the G7." Rail can join up badly connected and generally underperforming regional cities to pool their labour markets and capitalise on their higher education expertise and R&D potential.

The new Transport Secretary should demonstrate leadership by setting strategic objectives for rail which help to address these issues, and which cover the points from our Rail Action Plan which were not included in Labour's plan:
  • The use of fiscal levers to achieve modal shift;
  • Network electrification to achieve cost efficiency and decarbonisation;
  • Publishing an investment pipeline for network enhancements, leveraging private investment;
  • A target trajectory for revenue support based on improved working practices.
It should then be for the Shadow GBR to create the strategy, which GBR will follow to deliver these objectives.

Industry structure

The choice of CEO for GBR must make it clear that GBR will be customer-led, with passengers and freight front and centre (infrastructure operation and improvement being a service to meet their needs). Candidates with the necessary experience will come from the rail industry so the chosen candidate can be seconded to the shadow GBR in advance of legislation, as CEO designate for GBR.

The CEO designate must be free to decide the internal organisation of GBR and set out the detail of how a “unified system that focuses on reliable, affordable, high-quality, and efficient services” is going to be delivered in practice. The operators – initially DOHL, and then the other operators as their contracts expire – should not just be tacked into Network Rail. The structure of GBR should reflect its functions – the System Operator role, maintenance and renewal of the network, inter-city services, regional services, urban services (unless devolved) and account management for freight and open access operators.

Labour’s proposals may herald a return to centralised bargaining on terms and conditions and whilst this does have certain advantages, GBR must not be deflected from achieving changes in working practices and giving value for money to taxpayers (many of whom do not use the railway) so that increased cost-effectiveness can pay for fair wages.

Railfuture Rail Action Plan

FT article: The State of Britain: A plan for reviving regional cities

A manifesto for our railway to thrive by Sir Michael Holden

Key rail operator franchise dates. Note that it is the core term, not the full term, that is significant.