Government's Rail Reform Plans Still Delayed

Fri,8 March 2024
News Transport
Disability Rights UK's Transport Policy Adviser Stephen Brookes is frustrated to report that the long overdue reforms set out in government’s rail transformation plans are facing delays, with long-standing issues in the rail sector still needing to be addressed, such as its financial sustainability and better access and service to Disabled rail passengers.

A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) says the rail transformation programme found that the Department for Transport (DfT) has not made any significant progress with its plans, with most of its work and savings delayed.

This comes three years since the DfT's published white paper on rail reform, which set out plans to implement key changes by early 2024. The NAO’s report confirmed further delays to the reform legislation.

With legislation delayed, DfT is now implementing interim arrangements ahead of resetting how it delivers rail reform in the new Parliament, yet it is too soon to say whether these will be effective. The UK’s independent spending watchdog also concluded that the relevance of much of the work so far– such as developing the future operating model for the rail sector – will depend on the policy direction of rail reform in the next Parliament.

All of this is not good news for rail passengers, as the report found governance arrangements for the programme have been complex and ineffective.

Reviews by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and DfT in early 2023 reported that governance was confused, accountabilities unclear, and there was not agreement across stakeholders on the scope and delivery approach of the programme which was made worse by DfT and HMT disagreeing on areas of reform from the start, such as the remit of Great British Railways.

DR UK agrees that the NAO recommends that the DfT’s puts in place a full delivery plan, with a realistic timetable and clarity about the benefits it will deliver, and this would allow the Department and Great British Railways Transition Team to work closely with the rail industry to continue building culture change and support a ‘whole systems’ approach to the rail sector ahead of any legislative changes.