Plans to shake up the railway network may be watered down as legislation to give powers to a proposed new public sector body could be delayed, it has been reported.
Great British Railways (GBR), announced in 2021 by then-prime minister Boris Johnson as a way to simplify the rail network and improve services for passengers, may not be brought forward in this year’s King’s Speech, The Times said, citing officials at the Department for Transport (DfT).
The body was to absorb the state-owned infrastructure management company Network Rail and take on many functions from the DfT, with its tasks to include issuing passenger service contracts to private companies to run trains.
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It was initially due to be launched in early 2024 but was delayed as the Government axed its plan to introduce a Transport Bill during the current parliamentary session, citing the need to prioritise legislation related to the energy crisis.
But the legislation required to set up the body may now also be excluded from the next parliamentary session, the last before a general election that the Conservatives may lose.
According to The Times, DfT sources have been told the railways are not a priority for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
They believe a significantly watered-down version of GBR could be established, without overall control of the railways, the newspaper said.
The DfT sought to downplay the report, with a spokesperson saying: “The Government remains fully committed to reforming our railways and will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, having already taken numerous steps towards reform.”
The work of GBR’s transition team is not being wound down, it is understood.
In March, the East Midlands city of Derby was unveiled by Transport Secretary Mark Harper as the location to host GBR’s headquarters. Downing Street directed questions to the DfT.