The legislation required to kickstart the shakeup of the British railway network could be delayed, The Times has reported.
The creation of Great British Railways (GBR) – former prime minister Boris Johnson’s plan to simplify the British rail network – may not be included in the King’s speech this year, leading to the formation of a diminished body with only a fraction of the powers included in the original proposal.
Officials at the Department for Transport reportedly revealed this information to The Times, stating that the project was not a priority for current prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government.
First announced in 2021, Great British Railways was meant to absorb the state-owned infrastructure management company Network Rail and take on many functions from the DfT, including issuing passenger service contracts to private companies to run trains.
In March this year, Derby was revealed as the winner of the race to host the new public body’s headquarters.
The project was initially due to be launched in early 2024, but faced delays after the government axed its plan to introduce a Transport Bill during the current parliamentary session, citing the need to prioritise legislation related to the energy crisis.
However, the legislation required to set up the body may now also be excluded from the next parliamentary session – the last one before a general election.
Nonetheless, DfT has reaffirmed that the GBR project is still going ahead.
A DfT spokesperson said: “The government remains fully committed to reforming our railways and will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, having already taken numerous steps towards reform.”
A Number 10 spokesperson added: “We remain committed to rail reform through the creation of Great British Railways. No decisions have been made on legislation for the fourth session of this Parliament, but we’ve said before that we will deliver a programme of reform to unlock passenger benefits which we’re already delivering, including workforce reform and rolling out contactless payment and the reform that we’ve already made around fares as well.”
Tory MP Pauline Latham said: “I would be incredibly disappointed if [GBR] was ditched, having not only gone through the competition, but won it hands down. I will fight with ministers and the secretary of state to have the legislation passed, even if that requires a delegation of us to go and see Sunak.
“We promised it and delivering it won’t be complicated. I think the naysayers are the people who don’t want to relinquish power, but we need it. The current system, not least franchising and ticketing, is in dire need of reform.”
The move to scrap the project could be seen as a further snub from Sunak to his former boss Boris Johnson, who was behind the formation of GBR and described it as “the biggest shake-up of the railways since privatisation”.