Commons committee condemns lack of railway reforms

The Government is failing to put the needs of passengers and taxpayers first, according to a new report by MPs.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has examined progress made with reforming the railway since Keith Williams was appointed to restructure the industry in 2018, following the failure of timetable changes on Northern and Thameslink in May of that year.

The Committee has taken evidence from politicians, senior industry figures and union leaders, but it notes that poor performance has continued.

It says that in 2022-23 13.7 per cent of trains were delayed and 3.8 per cent were cancelled, but taxpayers were continuing to subsidise passenger services at a level that the government considers unsustainable, reaching a total of £3.1 billion in 2022-23.

The report recalls that the Department for Transport set out an ‘ambitious’ reform programme in response to the findings of the Williams Review, but it has not made progress as it had intended, and many of the proposed reforms and associated benefits are largely on hold until the next Parliament when legislation can be passed.

Another unresolved problem is that much of the railway remains difficult to access for many people, which the report dubs ‘unacceptable’.

The Committee said it was not convinced that the DfT had paid sufficient attention, in advance of the delayed creation of Great British Railways, to the changes it can make now to improve the situation for passengers and taxpayers, while the Department has also failed to involve railway workers.

It concludes: ‘Delays to legislation have been a contributing factor, but there are also fundamental disagreements and issues that still need to be resolved on rail reform between the Department and HM Treasury. For example, the extent of GBR’s role and responsibilities, including the level of independence it will have. Meanwhile, no one is putting the needs of passengers and taxpayers first. The Department needs to demonstrate a sense of urgency in implementing rail reform, including addressing the things that will make a real difference for passengers and taxpayers now.’

The DfT has declined to comment, because of the forthcoming election.

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