Review of UK railways will look at nationalisation

News Whitehall

The future re-nationalisation of Britain’s railways cannot be ruled out, says the man leading a review into the future of the industry.

Former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams says that ‘all options are on the table’ as part of his year-long review.

Williams, who was also deputy chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, will publish his recommendations in a White Paper next autumn and reforms could start in 2020.

He told the BBC: “Our job is to come up with a recommendation for government, of whatever persuasion, to take forward.

“I am independent, for me all options are on the table. I think we should look at everything.”

Williams has been tasked with coming up with options for the future commercial and structural infrastructure of an industry under fire for high prices and poor reliability.

He said the priority will be the needs of passengers: “What I see in the rail system is a loss of public confidence, a loss of public trust, and hence the need for the review.

“The rail network works for the consumer, the passenger. What does the passenger want out of the system, how we deliver it, and how do we structure [the railway] to do that?”

He said Britain needed railways that are fit for the 21st century and were an ‘engine for Britain’s economic growth’ but that they are currently ‘flawed’ on many levels.

“The number of passengers has increased, investment has increased significantly, but that isn’t leading to greater passenger satisfaction.

“When I go and meet passengers, and interested parties in the railway, what I see is a huge passion in the railway, and a consensus that something needs to be better.”

He added: “My issue is not around the past. My issue is making sure we have something that works for passengers into the future.”

His review comes amid protests about a planned 3.1 per cent hike in rail fares due to come into force in January on top of a 3.4 per cent increase this year.

There has also been severe disruption on services including Govia Thameslink and Northern Rail caused by the botched introduction of new timetables.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) says the rises are necessary to continue funding network improvements, but passenger groups have called for a fare freeze.

Transport minister Chris Grayling, who has resisted calls for him to resign over this year’s delays, is known to oppose re-nationalisation.

He says his preference is for the review to find a way of balancing public and private sector investment more effectively.

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