Government response to the consultation on rail reform legislation and draft Rail Reform Bill

Draft bill sets out blueprint for bringing track and train together under a new Great British Railways, leveraging private sector innovation to benefit customers.

The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP

I am pleased to lay the government’s response to the consultation on legislation required to deliver rail reform today (20 February 2024). I am also publishing the draft Rail Reform Bill today, ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny, which will be carried out by the Transport Select Committee. I have deposited copies of both of these documents in the libraries of both Houses.

The railways are a vital part of the transport system of Great Britain. They support over a billion journeys, employ over 100,000 people and carry millions of tonnes of freight. Rail touches all corners of the country, connecting communities and forming an iconic part of our industrial heritage.

The public rightly expects ever more from our railways, but what has adapted over time now needs legislation to set the foundations for further progress in order to establish Great British Railways (GBR). To meet the demands of a modern economy and society, we want to be able to make the most of our investment in railway infrastructure, such as the investments that will come from Network North. GBR will be best placed to optimise the railway to work effectively as a whole system, to make our railways more reliable, more efficient and more adaptive to technology and innovation, as well as fully embracing the private sector and its benefits.

Whilst primary legislation is needed to establish GBR, many reforms and tangible benefits for rail users can be delivered now. We are simplifying fares and continuing the rollout of Pay As You Go and barcode ticketing, building local partnerships. We have set a new Rail freight growth target and we are simplifying industry practices, reforming the commercial model and taking forward workforce reforms. We launched the second GBR sale last month, which delivered real savings to rail passengers across Great Britain.

The consultation sought the views of industry and stakeholders on the primary legislative changes required to establish GBR, which will be a new customer-focused, commercially-led arm’s length body that brings together accountability for the railways. We received nearly 2,500 responses and have carefully considered these in creating the draft bill to ensure the reform of our railways is in the best interest of customers and the taxpayer whilst securing benefits for the industry and its workforce.

The draft Rail Reform Bill sets in motion the plan to deliver a bold vision for future rail customers – of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation. When passed, it will help deliver on the 2019 manifesto commitment by bringing forward the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system. It will see the creation of a commercially focused GBR that will leverage private sector innovation to help deliver a better offer for customers.

GBR will have responsibility for infrastructure, operations and oversight of whole industry finance where it is the franchising authority. It will be adaptable to changing customer needs, working in close partnership with the private sector (including train operating companies, freight operators, suppliers and innovators) to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system underpinned by better collaboration and aligned incentives, generating value and savings that will have benefits for passengers and taxpayers. 

Given the scale and complexity of the changes being made to the sector, it is absolutely right that the draft bill undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny to provide parliamentarians and experts across industry with the opportunity to review and test the legislation in draft. I am confident that the measures in this draft bill will help deliver a simpler, more effective rail system and am, therefore, pleased to commend it to the House today for pre-legislative scrutiny.

Department for Transport
The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP