Under sweeping reforms, the Government will deliver rail “the country can be proud of” according to Boris Johnson, bringing an end to the complex and fragmented system passengers are currently forced to deal with.
And today it was revealed how we can look forward to faster trains in the West Midlands as electrification on local lines are extended.
The changes involve new body – Great British Railways – to oversee all services, owning the infrastructure and tasked with collecting revenue, planning the network and setting fares and timetables.
New national flexi season tickets will go on sale later this month, while there will also be a full roll-out of pay as you go, contactless payments and digital ticketing on smartphones.
There will also be a simplified compensation system for easier refunds, while community groups will get the chance to take over the running of branch lines.
To all intents and purposes, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail is the first major reform of the system since the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s.
And few will argue that it is not long overdue. The changes of the 1990s were supposed to result in improved services but had the opposite effect. Within a few years more than 100 companies were running operations, and for passengers, the network became complicated, disorganised, expensive and unreliable.
This year’s reforms, while undoubtedly influenced by the pandemic, were prompted by the timetabling debacle of 2018, which saw commuters endure months of cancellations, delays and overcrowding.
The idea behind the new plan is to put passengers first, hardly a novel idea but one which appears to have been missing from the vast majority of recent rail schemes. Here in the Midlands transport bosses have been calling for a rail revolution for some time now, and have today announced the first stage of a scheme which they believe will see people across the region turn to the railways in their droves.
The new study, Rails to Recovery: Building Back Stronger, proposes rail electrification, faster local trains and a new hourly train to London from Shrewsbury. It also suggests that more local stations are opened or reopened, enabling people across the entire region to access services. It sees adapting to the arrival of the controversial HS2 line as key in terms of making sure that local services do not end up getting squeezed out.
According to report authors Midlands Connect, the body tasked with developing transport projects in the region, the proposals will save passengers time and money, while also boosting the economy and helping the environment.
As chief executive Maria Machancoses points out, the report marks the start of a process that is likely to take years rather than months. But in light of the pandemic, she says, reform on the region’s rail network is more vital than ever.
“This is the definition of a win-win project and can help take us from rails to recovery,” she said.
A key element of the plans will see the electrification of the line from Shrewsbury through the Black Country – which it is understood is currently being considered as a pledge in the next Conservative manifesto.
The case for this has been pushed by Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, who discussed it with officials from the Department for Transport earlier this year.
He said: “At the moment, if you take the direct to train to London, it has to change engines at Birmingham because the line is not electrified.
“I am convinced that this has to change. My constituents frequently raise with me the pressing issue of climate change, and I think that an electrified line…