Late last week the UK Government published a consultation on the legislative changes needed to implement the rail reform set out in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.
Not everything in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail needs new laws, but key elements of structural reform do. After the consultation (which is open for 8 weeks until 4 August) the Government will publish a summary of responses within 3 months, then we expect a new Transport Bill (mentioned in the Queen's Speech) to be introduced to Parliament in the autumn.
Some key points to note:
- Great British Railways (GBR, the new public body corporate entity that will run the GB rail network) will be formed from Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, avoiding large-scale workforce or asset/contract transfers
- GBR will have a licence, enforced by the ORR
- GBR's licence will include an overarching duty to perform its functions, and act in the public interest, in a way that balances a range of considerations including improving accessibility and considering the impacts on the environment
- GBR's licence will also contain a duty to promote rail freight, alongside a rail freight growth target and guidance from Government on its priorities for rail freight in each funding settlement
- GBR will be structured to balance the need for a national whole-system view and meeting the needs of local communities and regions. Key strategic decisions will be taken centrally and operational matters led by five regional divisions, with their own budgets
- A Framework Agreement will set out the formal processes underpinning the corporate relationship between GBR and the Department for Transport
- The 5-year periodic review process will continue relatively unchanged, and will continue to set infrastructure budgets and access charges for the network
- GBR will be given a power to require GB rail operators to share information and carry out other collaborative activities, where this would lead to benefits – even where this would normally give rise to concerns under Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998