Key professional bodies have welcomed the prospect of greater rail devolution in the wake of the Shaw Report into Network Rail, however the freight sector has raised concerns over the potential fragmentation of services.
The Government-commissioned report by HS1 chief executive, Nicola Shaw, suggests there should be a ‘step-change’ in autonomy for regional administrations, known as Routes, as part of wider plans to reform the national operator.
The report goes on to say the Government ‘will also need to consider when and whether it wishes to pursue a concession or time-limited license for a whole route’, as well as recommending the creation of a new route for the North.
‘Wessex and Anglia are currently the strongest candidates for a concession or a timelimited licence because they have no or low levels of public subsidy and little forecast enhancement activity,' the report states.
‘Routes (sic) also be required and empowered to find local sources of funding and financing, including from those (such as local businesses or housing developers, for example) who stand to benefit from new or additional rail capacity.'
The suggestions produced a reaction from the Freight Transport Association (FTA), which called for the retention of a strong central operator.
Chris MacRae, FTA’s rail freight policy manager, said: ‘FTA believes a strong central system operator is essential for access planning and pathing across the network, plus high-level control to manage diversions at times of line closure.
'Without this, Rail Freight Operating Companies (FOCs) will have to negotiate for paths with each and every route and attempt to stitch together an end-to-end service for the customer - the scope for delay, cost and inability to grow rail freight is all too apparent.'
However the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) said it supported the report’s ‘proposed balance between deeper route devolution and the retention of core System Authority functions at the centre’.
Daniel Parker-Klein, head of policy at CILT said: ‘We fully support the objective to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of Network Rail and the further devolution of accountability to operate, maintain and renew infrastructure to Routes should be an effective way of achieving this. It is, however, essential that implementation of the new structure protects the interests of cross boundary services and their customers.
‘The ability to run across all Routes in a coordinated manner is a significant issue for passenger service operation and is crucial for freight.'
Adrian Shaw, a senior vice president at infrastructure giant AECOM, said: ‘Limited concession and innovative approaches to attracting private sector investment provide a good compromise.'
Mr Shaw added the current network would not be able to cope with an expansion of freight if there was mixed use with passenger lines.
‘Dedicated freight lines that would run parallel to passenger lines should be considered. Only in extremely constrained areas should existing passenger lines be used – but this should be seen as an exception rather than the norm,’ he said.
Rhian Kelly, business environment director at the leading business lobby Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said: ‘What rail users and tax payers alike will want to see is an upgraded rail network, delivered on time and to budget. The overriding imperative is that we see greater transparency and accountability in the performance of Network Rail to achieve that.
‘It is essential that the Government keeps up the momentum from this process by setting out next steps in a speedy response.’