Friday, 03 December 2021

Travellers worried about rail shake-up

Travellers worried about rail shake-up

PASSENGER groups say they are worried that the Government’s shake-up of the railways could have a negative effect on users.

A new state-owned body called Great British Railways will take charge from 2023, replacing Network Rail, which owns, operates and manages most of the railway infrastructure.

It will be responsible for awarding contracts to train operators, timetables and tickets.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the unified rail system would lead to “high-quality, consistent services with better connections”.

But Henley Trains and the Henley Branch User Group, which represent passengers, fear the new system could affect their relationship with the local train operating company, Great Western Railway.

Neil Gunnell, of Henley Trains, said: “I don’t think we could have a much better rail service and I’m very grateful for how much GWR has tried to work with local communities.”

He said he feared that the new body would not prioritise individual passengers, especially those using a small branch line like Henley’s. “I worry we will become insignificant,” he said.

Patrick Fleming, secretary of Henley Branch User Group, said: “I’m a little bit sceptical as GWR have been good with engaging with us, with timetabling for instance.

“Everything will be centralised now and timetabling will be dealt with by Great British Railways and may affect what has been a very good and helpful relationship. It took a long time to have half-hourly train schedules and that was pushed through with pressure from the campaigner groups and also the willingness of the directors to look at it.”

Patricia Mulcahy, who chairs the group, said: “We will have to see how it works out. We will learn who the new people are and form a good relationship with them.

“The issue with trains is always reliability and I imagine the same problems that occur now will continue.

“Transport is way down the list of the Government’s priorities when it comes to funding but if all goes well everything will stay the way it is and if it doesn’t there will be a lot of unhappy people.”

Edward Marshall, chairman of the Wargrave Branch User Group, welcomed the shake-up.

He said: “The macro picture is to re-do the franchising model, where there have been some serious fiascos such as on the east coast mainline, which had five different operators in 15 years, and replace it with two-year management contracts. Great Western Railway are already on a management contract.

“I think that makes huge sense and we’ve been quite lucky for that continuity in our area.”

Mr Marshall said the bigger issue was the lack of electrification on the Thames Valley branch lines. The lines were due to be electrified in December 2017 but this has been repeatedly delayed.

Mr Marshall said: We’re not starting from scratch, the Electrostar trains from Didcot to Reading are very good trains — it’s just about a case of finishing off the original project for the commuter lines.”

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