Unions have responded to the latest emergency measures by demanding the rail network to return to public ownership
The Department for Transport (DfT) has said that rail franchising has been “ended” as the department seeks a new model for the nation’s rail network in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
It was confirmed on Monday morning that the emergency measures, introduced to keep trains running after the outbreak of the coronavirus, had partially been extended for up to 18 months pending the implementation of a “simpler and more effective structure” that is currently being developed.
The DfT has taken on franchise holders’ revenue and cost risks since the national lockdown March, at a cost of at least £3.5bn to taxpayers.
This comes after on the suggestion of a two-week national lockdown, Edward Argar, a minister within the Department of Health and Social Care, has rubbished claims that the Prime Minister is being advised to take the action due to a rise in COVID-19 infections.
The DfT has said that “significant” financial support would still be needed as the department’s operators moved to the new “transitional contracts” that will see the taxpayer continuing to pay the companies to run services but at a slightly reduced rate.
The new Emergency Recovery Management Agreements (ERMAs) ensure that the companies are not exposed to changes in demand from passengers, kept low due COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, as well as a reluctance to return to their offices.
Grant Shapps, the UK’s Transport Secretary, has promised that the looming reforms would eliminate the complex nature of the current franchising set-up.
“The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working.”
“Our new deal for rail demands more for passengers. It will simplify people’s journeys, ending the uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company.”
“It will keep the best elements of the private sector, including competition and investment, that have helped to drive growth – but deliver strategic direction, leadership and accountability.”
“Passengers will have reliable, safe services on a network totally built around them. It is time to get Britain back on track.”
This comes after local lockdown measures are being imposed in the Welsh county of Rhondda Cynon Taf following a rise in cases of COVID-19 in the region. A cluster of cases in the Welsh county has been traced back to a rugby club’s trip to horse races, which “stopped off at a series of pubs on the way”
Chief executive, Matthew Gregory, said: “We are pleased that the vital nature of rail services to communities and local economies is being recognised.”
“Passengers can be confident that public transport is safe and across our rail networks we have increased service levels to provide more capacity as schools restart and many more workplaces and other facilities reopen.”
“We are now operating around 90% of the rail services we were prior to the pandemic. We will continue to bring all our expertise to bear alongside government and industry partners to deliver the next phase of recovery of the rail network.”