Rishi Sunak derails Boris Johnson’s Great British Railways plan

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Plans to fix the UK’s rail system may be watered down as legislation to give vital powers to the body driving the changes risks being delayed.

Great British Railways, set up by Boris Johnson, will not be part of the King’s Speech and will not be given the legislative powers it needs to sign off contracts and set fares, The Times reported.

The plan was introduced by Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary, with the intention of fixing the fragmented nature of the railways.

The aim was to provide a “guiding mind” for the railways by bringing overall control of track and trains under one body.

It was described as the biggest shake-up to the country’s railways system since the 1990s.

A key part of its role would be to organise timetables, set fares and contract private firms to operate services on routes.

Legislation required to implement plans

However, this requires legislation, and it now appears the plan will not form part of the King’s Speech later this year.

According to The Times, sources within the Department for Transport have been told that it is not a priority for Rishi Sunak, and vital powers will not be given to Great British Railways in the next parliamentary session.

On Wednesday, the Railway Industry Association wrote a letter urging the Government to ensure it included a Bill to formally establish the body in the next parliamentary session.

The letter, which was signed by dozens of rail industry leaders, warned that if it was excluded it could be delayed by 18 months or more.

The decision comes despite Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, announcing that Derby would be the headquarters of Great British Railways.

A transitional team is currently in place, but when fully operational the body will be split across five regions, including Scotland, the North West and Central, Wales and Western, Southern and Eastern.

Andrew Haines, the chief executive of Network Rail and head of the transitional team, suggested in February that if the body was able to secure the legislation needed, it could come into full being in Autumn 2024.

‘Government is committed to rail reform’

The DfT spokesperson said: “The Government remains fully committed to reforming our railways and will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, having already taken numerous steps towards reform.”

 A government source said: “The Government is committed to rail reform through the creation of Great British Railways and launched its headquarters in Derby just over a month ago.

“Our programme of reform will unlock passenger benefits which we are already delivering, including workforce reform, roll out of contactless payment and fares reform.

“No decisions have been made on legislation in the fourth session of this parliament.”

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