Transport secretary Ann-Marie Trevelyan has confirmed that legislation to create Great British Railways will be postponed at least until next year.
She was answering questions from members of the Commons Transport Select Committee, and refused to be drawn on a revised timetable.
The Committee was also told that it is possible for GBR to start playing a part in running the railway even before a Transport Act has been passed. For example, GBR could recommend a choice of operator for a contract, leaving the Department for Transport to carry out the legal formalities.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the MPs on the Committee: ‘The challenges of the energy legislation we have got to bring in, and various others, have meant we have lost the opportunity to have [a major Transport Bill] in this session. What we are continuing to pitch for would be what I would call a “narrow” Bill, around legislation about such things as e-scooters.’
She was later asked by MP Chris Loder if it was still her intention to create GBR. She responded: ‘What I want to do is fully implement the modernisation, so that we have got something that’s genuinely fit for purpose. The passenger and the freight provider are at the heart of the service we want to be providing.’
Department for Transport permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly confirmed that without the full legislation, it would not be possible for GBR to take over by 2024.
Andy Bagnall is chief executive of Rail Partners, which now represents operators. He said ‘It is disappointing the legislation to create Great British Railways will be delayed, but we look forward to working with the secretary of state, rail minister and Great British Railways Transition Team’s leadership to progress reform in its absence.
‘It is critical there is not a long hiatus and there are immediate steps that can be taken now, such as switching on revenue incentives in National Rail Contracts and feeding back to the market on passenger service contracts development, which can accelerate growth and underpin a reinvigorated public-private partnership.’
Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan said he was concerned about the effects on the supply chain: ‘It’s disappointing to learn that the Transport Bill is being postponed. As the Government itself has said, the railway needs a clear strategic direction and GBR was to be the mechanism to deliver this.’
He continued: ‘For the rail supply sector there is now a real concern that this delay will lead to a hiatus in work, hitting confidence and certainty in what are already difficult economic circumstances. And this adds to the lack of clarity rail suppliers are already feeling, given there is also uncertainty over long-term funding, enhancement schemes and major rail projects too.
‘Even with this delay, we urge the Government, Network Rail, other rail clients, and the rail supply sector not to wait for legislation but to work together.’