Rail franchising model deemed no longer fit for purpose

30th April 2019

Keith Williams, appointed to conduct a review of the rail system, has expressed his belief that the current rail franchise model is no longer fit for purpose. Mr Williams, current deputy chairman of John Lewis and former chief executive of British Airways, has been tasked by the government to carry out The Rail Review, with the aim of recommending the most appropriate organisational and commercial framework for the rail network.

Passengers have already called for reform in rail ticketing, deeming the current system too complicated and often delivering unfair pricing that seems to follow little to no logic. Passengers are also desperately calling for better communication, which is particularly poor when things go wrong, and a more reliable service.

Addressing industry leaders in London, he said the existing franchise model is ‘no longer fit for purpose’, and is ‘no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers. What worked 20 or 25 years ago no longer works today and will not work into the future.’

Highlighting some key areas for concern, including poor performance, fare hikes, disruptive industrial action and the failures to deliver key infrastructure projects on time or to budget, Mr Williams went on to say that “the rail industry has lost sight of its customers – passengers and freight – and therefore lost public trust.”

Believing that the key to the future success of rail lies in putting passengers first and central, Mr Williams has spent 5 months listening to industry professionals and passengers. Addressing key priorities in the commercial model, affordability and industry structure, he stated that the current franchising model “cannot continue in the way that it is today”, and that despite significant passenger growth since the innovative model was first used, servicing the many basic needs of the passengers on this rail system has “not kept pace” with changing needs of passengers. He believes the model has rendered the industry both unable and unincentivised to innovate at the rate at which passengers are expecting of them.

Speaking again at Accelerate Rail 2019, Mr Williams reinforced his opinion that the industry needs to return to a stronger customer focus as the future operating model of the industry is considered.

He said, “Moving to a customer focused railway won’t be easy and I want to make it absolutely clear that trade-offs will be unavoidable when I come to make my recommendations – for example, between a systems that delivers a national network and is responsive to local interests.”

Expecting to produce a number of evidence papers over the coming weeks, Williams will be laying out thoughts and findings from his observations of the rail industry, seeking further feedback before producing his final report to the Secretary of State. It is then anticipated that the government will produce a white paper in response to his recommendations and proposals, covering required legislative changes. This white paper is expected to be released during Autumn this year.

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