Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), which represents the companies large and small that design, deliver and manager our built environment and infrastructure, responds to the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail:
“Following the pandemic, both passengers and the rail sector require a fresh start, and this review provides that opportunity. The plan for an integrated ‘guiding mind’ – Great British Railways – is welcome and should enable a joined-up strategy with an eye on the longer term, especially vital as we move towards tackling overarching issues such as the decarbonisation of the railway and fare reform.
“The elephant in the room is the finances of the network – more than £12 billion has been provided in emergency investment by the Government since the start of the pandemic – and nurturing the emergence of a economically sustainable system which is also attractive to passengers looking for more flexibility than before, will be key. Moving to a new simplified organisational structure will enable better strategic decision-making which balances financial considerations, ambitions for us to build back better post-pandemic, and Net Zero goals.
“The emphasis on accelerating network upgrades is also welcome and reinforces key issues outlined in ACE’s recent Project Speed briefings which showed how our members’ skills could be used to achieve this. However, with much of the detail still to be revealed, and two years before the new system is in place, we will need clarity on how the industry transitions to these new arrangements. For example, how will this affect preparations for Control Period 7? Furthermore, understanding how Great British Railways works with, and alongside, regional transport bodies will require more detail.
“ACE and its members are ready to work with the Government to ensure the paper’s aims are delivered, as together we nurture a sustainable rail sector – in every sense of the term – that is attractive to passengers.”