The Conservative Party has finally released its rail review, some two years in the making, saying they would put Network Rail directly under the control of passenger groups, and reaffirmed their commitment to high speed rail lines in an 8-point plan.
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers, said: “These plans set out our long term vision for Britain’s railways and provide practical solutions to concerns rail users face every day. Our rail network is suffering from chronic levels of over-crowding. We desperately need new capacity – longer trains, longer platforms and, ultimately, additional lines.
“By building a new high speed line connecting London, Birmingham Manchester and Leeds, the Conservatives will take a major step forward in transforming the UK’s transport infrastructure. But we also recognise the need to tackle the issues that plague out existing railways and which Labour continue to ignore. We will put passengers first by introducing a Passenger Champion with a mandate to hold Network Rail and train franchise operators to account when they fail.
“After twelve years of disappointment under a Labour Government people know the only way to see Britain’s railways improve is through a change of Government. Our rail review shows the Conservatives have forward looking ideas to make the changes people want to see.”
The Conservatives propose to:
Increase the powers of the regulator to create a Passenger Champion. They would expand the remit of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to create a powerful consumer-focussed regulator with the power to: “bang heads together to ensure that performance is improved, regardless of where the fault lies.” This stronger ORR would introduce tougher penalties for failure, and block the bonuses of senior management where appropriate.
Establish a new supervisory board for passengers and train operators to set the overall strategy for Network Rail and hold its management to account.
Give the go ahead for a new high speed line connecting Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Heathrow, the first step in a national high speed network extending to Newcastle and Scotland with further new lines linking up major cities across the UK.
End:”Whitehall meddling” by scaling back the involvement of the Government in areas such as timetabling and the purchasing of new rolling stock.
Extending duties imposed on Network Rail to co-operate with train and freight operators. They aim to align Network Rail’s regulatory incentives as closely as possible with the concerns of train and freight operators and the passengers and businesses they serve to create a unified regulatory structure for the industry. They also propose two pilot schemes to assess the impact of unified management of track and train.
Introduce competition in rail improvements to promote innovation. Other providers would be funded to carry out work currently dealt with by Network Rail for smaller scale capacity enhancements. Train operating companies, local authorities and Community Rail Partnerships could qualify.
Bring a moratorium on building on disused rail paths, to conserve disused railway lines still in public ownership. These lines could then be used either as reinstated lines or cycle paths.