Rail franchises have hit the buffers but what next for Britain’s trains?

Long-overdue reform of the network must concentrate on who will ultimately be in charge

The pandemic has shown that rail franchising is no longer working, declared the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, on Monday, killing the model of privatisation of the past 25 years. His analysis is not quite right. The proof of franchising’s failures arrived long before Covid-19, which has merely provided more evidence. Reform should have happened years ago.

The franchising mess can be summarised as follows: baffling fare structures; prioritisation of revenues over investment; constant squabbles over infrastructure delays between the operators and Network Rail, which is charge of the tracks; and general dysfunction to the point where even an unremarkable timetable change caused chaos in 2018.

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