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Labour party outlines vision for future of rail

The Labour party has set out its vision for rail in Getting Britain Moving: Labour’s Plan to Fix Britain’s Railways.

The party states it wants to deliver a ‘unified and simplified rail system that relentlessly focuses on securing improved services for passengers and better value for money for taxpayers.’

The vision is based on six key objectives: More reliable services; Simpler, more affordable tickets; Integrated, efficient services; Improved service quality; Accessible services; and Safe services.

The plan commits to establishing Great British Railways (GBR), an arm’s length body and ‘directing mind’ of empowered rail industry experts and professionals, tasked by the Secretary of State with improving the rail network with a ‘relentless focus’ on passengers and freight customers. GBR would be responsible for planning timetables, improving services, and the operation, maintenance, and improvement of rail infrastructure.

Specific improvements outlined in the plan include:

  • Automatic delay and cancellation refunds;
  • More integrated timetables, ticketing, and fares;
  • An ambition to introduce a best-price guarantee, like Transport for London offers;
  • Digital season tickets;
  • A single new passenger watchdog – the Passenger Standards Authority;
  • Clear standards that need to be met by all services;
  • Better mobile connectivity, including moving towards 5G;
  • Better integration with other modes, such as buses and cycle hire.

The plan also outlines Labour’s approach to bringing rail services back into public ownership. It states that Labour will deliver a Railways Act for England, Scotland, and Wales to ‘enable the full benefits of a unified railway’, by: giving statutory force to Great British Railways and implementing the new structure, which will bring the decisions that matter to passengers together under one set of goals; transferring expiring train operator contracts directly to the new statutory body; and removing the requirement to return franchises to the private sector.

Other elements within the plan include commitments to:

  • Deliver a Railways Act in the first parliamentary session, if elected;
  • Set targets for modal shift to lower emissions from the transport sector;
  • Empower devolved authorities to ensure decision making will take place as close to local communities as possible, so the railway can be responsive to local needs;
  • Integrate stations into GBR, with the new body responsible for their management and development.

Responding to the publication of Labour’s plan, Community Rail Network chief executive Jools Townsend said: “It is encouraging to get further clarity on Labour’s vision for rail, with key objectives for a more passenger-focused, inclusive railway that everyone can rely on and benefit from. In community rail we appreciate the huge difference this can make to our communities and people’s lives.

“We welcome commitments ensuring that rail decision-making takes place close to local communities, allowing the railway to be responsive to local needs. Targets to increase modal shift and improve rail’s integration with other transport modes will also help to focus minds on the need to transfer more journeys to rail, alongside buses, active travel, and community and shared mobility, for the sake of our climate, local places and people’s health.

“We also welcome the commitment to deliver legislation on rail reform early in the next parliament, and will continue to work with partners in government and the rail industry to support the development of a more community-focused railway that delivers maximum social, environmental and economic value.”

You can read the full plan here.