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Chair calls for permanent, long-term solution to bring clarity to sector and passenger

22 September 2020

The Government has announced that rail franchising has been replaced with new Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements (ERMAs).

The Department for Transport says the new system will address the continuing impact of the pandemic on the railway and delivers on a government commitment to replace the current franchising system.

The new system will take shape over the coming months, with the first step to move operators onto transitional contracts.

Chair's comment

Responding to the announcement, the Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, commented:

“In the absence of any detailed reforms, this announcement means we are simply replacing one set of interim contracts with another set of interim contracts. The Government now needs to set down some detail about what it intends to do next. The Williams Rail Review, established in September 2018, was expected to publish its findings and recommendations in Autumn 2019 with reform expected this year. The ‘wait for Williams’ is delaying change.

“The Government says the White Paper will be published ‘when the course of the pandemic becomes clearer.’ The Government is right to reflect on the coronavirus pandemic but we’ve been in this situation for six months now. The Department for Transport and the Treasury have gained more control over the railways than they have had at any time since privatisation. At a time when the Government has more power over the railways, it makes it even more frustrating that long-term changes, including flexible fare reform, are still some way down the track.

“Whilst the Government believe that rail franchising has reached the end of the line, it should be remembered that private sector management of our train services saw passenger numbers double since privatisation. We are going to need to see passenger numbers recover if the railway is to be financially viable. Our railways need the entrepreneurship of the private sector to innovate and drive growth in a manner which responds to new consumer demands.

“The Secretary of State told our Committee in June he wanted to move to TfL-type contracts (‘concessions’). The Government’s interim emergency contracts are similar to these in some ways, but what is missing is the independent contracting body Keith Williams has talked about. Without such a body, the DfT will not be able to drive performance and change. The Government needs a new ‘guiding mind’ to take the industry through the pandemic and design and manage new contracts for the longer-term.

“We need a permanent, long-term solution that delivers clarity for the rail sector and the passenger. The sooner we know what that looks like, the better.”

The longer term implications of the coronavirus pandemic for the UK’s public transport are being examined by the Committee in an inquiry: Reforming public transport after the pandemic. The deadline for submissions is Thursday 24 September 2020.

Further information

Image: PA/John S