End of Greater Anglia as Great British Railways is born
- Credit: Archant
Greater Anglia will cease to run rail services later this year when Great British Railways takes over the operation of trains across the country.
The biggest railway shake-up for 25 years will see control of both trains and track brought under control of the new national public sector body, which will also specify timetables and fares for all services.
It will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end the current "blame-game system" between train and track operations when disruption occurs.
The Department for Transport said the organisation will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms like Abellio, Stagecoach or First Group to run trains.
But it will be GBR that sells the tickets and that passengers have their contract with - the government will keep the fares and pay a fixed fee to the company running the trains.
It is a similar model to that operated by Transport For London which is responsible for the Tube, the London Overground and the capital's buses.
Eventually all passenger trains are expected to run in GRB branding - although industry experts expect that they may also reflect their regional identity. In this region they could run as GRB-Anglia.
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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who said passengers deserved "an affordable, reliable and rapid service", but had been failed by "years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication", declared: "That complicated and broken system ends today."
He added: "Great British Railways marks a new era in the history of our railways. It will become a single familiar brand with a bold new vision for passengers - of punctual services, simpler tickets and a modern and green railway that meets the needs of the nation."
The shake-up is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams following the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018.
Rail franchises were effectively ended when the Government took over the financial liabilities of operators in March 2020 to keep services running amid the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then more people have started travelling by train - but it is still only about a third of pre-pandemic levels.
The government announced last September that the franchise system, which has operated trains since privatisation in the mid-1990s, would be replaced because it was no longer financially sustainable.
GBR is not expected to be established until 2023. However many reforms will be brought in before the body is launched, including:
- A new Great British Railways website for all tickets and clearer compensation.
- Simpler fares delivered starting with new flexible season tickets, offering savings on certain routes for people who travel to work two or three times a week, on sale from June 21.
- There will also be a "significant roll out" of more pay as you go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.
- New operator contracts focused on punctuality and improved efficiency making it easier and cheaper to plan maintenance, renewal and upgrades.
- A single national rail identity using an updated version of British Rail's old double arrow design logo.
The changes come as the Great Eastern Main Line taskforce pressure group pressed the government for investment in faster Norwich to London services and measures to boost reliability and capacity.
David Welch, convener of Norfolk campaign group NOR4NOR, which wants to nationalise the railways, said he welcomed simplification of ticketing for passengers but feared the shake-up would lead to cuts in staffing.
He said: “What we have been expecting is that after Covid there would be serious rail cuts. We have been hearing about 10-20pc cuts, not necessarily in services, but more likely cuts in staff numbers.
“We fought a two year campaign for the retention of guards on Greater Anglia trains and before Covid we were beginning to see threats to ticket office staff. I suspect that is where many of the cuts will be.”
He added: “I’m sure a clean up around ticketing will benefit passengers and get rid of the enormous confusion but on the other hand it does look like pretty much the same old structure.
“Private companies will still be given contracts, maybe under slightly tighter regulation, but I don’t really see Great British Railways as being a return to British Rail.”