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James Brooke, Senior Associate and Head of Rail Consulting at Stantec responds to the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

James Brooke comments on key priorities of the report that aims to reform Britain’s railways and launch a new era for passengers.


The proposals present the biggest changes to UK rail since privatisation. We welcome the establishment of Great British Railways (GBR) as the guiding mind for the industry to address issues such as fragmentation and the need for greater accountability across the whole system. These issues have caused knock-on effects to passengers including May 18 Timetable change and overly complex fares and ticketing structures.

We support the move away from the franchising model, towards a Transport for London style model for the operation of trains and timetable delivery, similar to London’s Overground service and Docklands Light Rail service. This will include incentives for key indicators such as reliability and passenger satisfaction. The Passenger Services Contracts Toolkit, which considers a range of incentives to underpin future rail contracts, is a good start. It’s important that this is further developed and tailored to each respective service, reflecting local characteristics and customer base, whilst not becoming an overburdensome, complex and inefficient audit regime.

The establishment of regional divisions within GBR and closer working with cities, regions and devolved railways should be a priority, particularly in advance of the development of Passenger Service Contracts. This must provide clear accountability and greater control at a local level to influence key passenger issues, including the involvement of Community Rail Partnerships where relevant, and further help to unlock local economic growth and achieve social value objectives.  

The plan also sets out proposals for the development of an accessibility strategy and investment programme, ongoing investment in electrification, alternative technology and climate resilience, simplified funding for R&D, and investment in cross-sector skills and training. As key enablers to the long-term sustainable transport system required to meet the UK’s net zero targets, these areas remain critical to the industry and economy overall and should not be forgotten or de-prioritised in the context of the proposed wider structural reforms.

The Williams-Shapps plan states: “Great British Railways will be a new organisation, not just a larger version of Network Rail.” Such significant shifts in focus and remit should be embedded throughout the newly formed organisation for it to become a truly customer focussed organisation and deliver the ambitious plans.  

At Stantec, we have a strong track record in the rail sector and are delivering social value across a range of infrastructure projects. As proposals in the William-Shapps Plan are further developed and rolled out, we look forward to supporting our rail clients and the customers and communities they serve.

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Media Contact                                               
Alicia De Haldevang
Stantec Media Relations

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