Discreet open access plan sparks Christmas fluster

THE RMT is objecting vigorously to a proposal published by the Office of Rail and Road which could mean more open access operators being allowed to run trains in return for paying higher track access charges.

Although the idea was discreetly unveiled in a blog on the ORR website on 3 December it was given little publicity, and has only been attracting attention over the past 48 hours. Even so, some media sources have reported the proposals as if they have just been published.

The author of the blog is the ORR’s senior manager for competition economics, Beth Tasker. She says: ‘Open access operators compete with franchised train operators. The competition they introduce has been shown to deliver significant benefits. These include lower fares, improvements to service levels and growth in the market for rail travel. They were also the first to introduce innovative services, such as free WiFi for all passengers.

‘However, there is a risk that open access operators might cherry pick the most profitable services. In the GB rail market, where there is a lot of public subsidy of franchised services, this would result in the cost of the railway to government going up. Our policy must take this into account.’

RMT general secretary Mick Cash responded: ‘The rail regulator’s proposals will open the door to yet more fragmentation and profiteering on Britain's broken railways as private companies are given a chance to cherry pick lucrative contracts on a limited number of routes while the rest of the system is allowed to sink deeper into chaos.’

He continued that the plans ‘will not only do nothing to ease the pressure on basket case franchises like Northern and Govia Thameslink, they will make it worse. This is a mirror image to the carnage that was unleashed when deregulation was brought into our bus services.’

The rules could change in April, but no new open access operators are expected to start running services before 2020.

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