Great British Railways: Everything you need to know about UK's huge train reforms

·Freelance Writer
·4-min read

Watch: 'Great British Railways will put passengers first'

The biggest train reforms that the UK has seen for 30 years are set to take place following the creation of a new public sector body to oversee Britain’s railways.

Great British Railways (GBR) will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms to run trains, set most fares and timetables, and sell tickets.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the reforms will help simplify a system that is “too complicated”.

GBR will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end what the Department for Transport (DfT) branded a “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.

File photo dated 30/10/20 of a GWR (Great Western Railway) train waiting on a platform at Bristol Temple Meads station in Bristol. There will be
Great British Railways (GBR) will own and manage rail infrastructure and issue contracts to private firms to run trains. (PA/file photo)

Shapps said during the 2018 timetable fiasco there was no “Fat Controller” in charge of the system, referencing the Thomas The Tank Engine stories.

He told Sky News: “It’s just too complicated.

“But I don’t want to go back to the days of British Rail either. We had declining passenger numbers and railway stations closed.”

Shapps, who described himself as a commuter who wants “a railway that works”, added: “It’s a simplification which I think people will broadly welcome.”

GBR is not expected to be established until 2023 and its logo will be an updated version of British Rail’s double arrow.

Rail passengers use a footbridge straddling platforms 6 and 5 at King's Cross railway station, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Great British Railways is contracting private firms to operate trains. (Getty)

Is the government nationalising the railways?

No – GBR is contracting private firms to operate trains.

This concession model is similar to the one used for London Overground and Docklands Light Railway services by Transport for London (TfL).

Shapps said of the model: “This will be still with the involvement of the private sector, running the concessions, running the actual trains, but they get paid for running those trains on time, keeping them tidy and clean, and it will be a single organisation selling you the tickets and running the timetable.”

What happens to franchises like Great South Western and Avanti?

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, at a cost of £12bn.

Despite this, the franchises are not disappearing – they are simply being transferred from TfL to GBR.

However, it has not yet been confirmed whether the trains will be painted with the GBR brand logo or whether the individual identities of each franchise will be retained.

File photo dated 03/08/20 of a GWR train on the railway heading out of Bristol towards North Somerset. Control of trains and track will be brought under a new public sector body named Great British Railways (GBR) as part of sweeping reforms, the Department for Transport has announced. Issue date: Thursday May 20, 2021.
Control of trains and track will be brought under a new public sector body named Great British Railways as part of sweeping reforms. (PA)

Will fares get cheaper?

Potentially – the new body will specify most of the timetables and fares but there has been no commitment for an overall reduction in fares.

Instead, the government has pledged to simplify the fares system with a “significant rollout” of more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.

Paperless tickets will allow travel on any 8 days in a 28-day period, with passengers able to use digital tickets without the need to select the days of travel in advance.

Male hand using smartphone to open automatic gate machine in office building
The reforms will see a 'significant rollout' of more pay-as-you-go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones. (Getty/stock photo)

Former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams, who made the recommendations in a review of the industry, said: “Our plan is built around the passenger, with new contracts which prioritise excellent performance and better services, better value fares, and creating clear leadership and real accountability when things go wrong.”

The government said the new GBR website will sell tickets and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a simple system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.

Asked on Thursday if fares were bound to increase as a result of the reforms, Shapps said: “No, is the answer.”

However, asked if he could promise that fares would not rise higher than inflation he said: “I’m not here to give guarantees for years to come.”

Passengers wearing face masks at Waterloo station in London as face coverings become mandatory on public transport in England with the easing of further lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Flexible season tickets will allow commuters to save money while travelling to work for two to three days a week. (Getty)

What will happen to season tickets?

Flexible season tickets will potentially save commuters hundreds of pounds a year.

Following a move to more home working during the pandemic, many workers will only need to travel to the office two to three days a week.

With year-long season tickets becoming unnecessarily expensive as a result of this shift, the flexible season tickets will instead be offered.

The tickets will go on sale on 21 June – the day set by the government for the ending of lockdown restrictions – and will be able to be used seven days later.

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