Rail Reform Bill, aimed at legislating rail reforms, was included in last week’s King’s Speech but concerns linger about the pace of the process


The recent King’s Speech has drawn attention to industry frustration with the sluggish implementation of rail reform and the implementation of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.

While the Rail Reform Bill, aimed at legislating rail reforms and creating Great British Railways, was confirmed to be in progress, concerns linger about the pace of the process. In particular it seems unlikely that the legislation will get anywhere before the next general election.

Richard Bowker, the former boss of the Strategic Rail Authority, the public body that provided strategic direction for the industry between 2001 and 2005, said he did not understand why major reforms were taking so long to be delivered.

Time is really of the essence. What have you been doing for two and a half years?

“I am genuinely struggling to see why it is so complex that, two and a half years since the Williams-Shapps plan was announced, we’re still only at this point,” he said. “Anything that moves us towards a world where government officials have less to do with the day-to-day running things is good news, but why so slow? Time is really of the essence. What have you been doing for two and a half years?”

Norman Baker, director of external affairs at pressure group Campaign for Better Transport and a former transport minister, said it was not clear why the government had opted for a draft bill route rather than a firm commitment to legislate. “This has already been subject to extensive discussion and is largely non-controversial across all the political parties,” he added.

Andy Bagnall, chief executive of industry body Rail Partners, also expressed concern.

“The recommitment to establishing Great British Railways with the publication of a draft Bill is a step forward, but it is a missed opportunity to not actually legislate in this Parliament,” he said. “The rail industry has been awaiting progress on reform since the Williams Review started over five years ago, culminating in the Plan for Rail being published in 2021.

“Delivering that plan remains the best foundation to build a better railway for Britain, and not seizing the moment now means continuing uncertainty until after the next general election.”


Jason Prince, director of the Urban Transport Group, was also gloomy in his assessment.

“Many of the much-needed transport laws promised in the current parliamentary session have once again failed to materialise,” he said.

“It is disappointing that the government has only presented a draft Rail Reform Bill, effectively leaving any prospect of reform this side of the general election stuck in the sidings.”

Meanwhile, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, urged the government to begin the pre-legislative scrutiny process without delay.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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