The headquarters for the new public sector body to oversee Britain’s railways will be announced in the “not-too-distant future”, the Government has said.
Rail minister Kevin Foster said the Government’s “commitment to deliver is unchanged” despite a delay in developing rail reforms and establishing Great British Railways (GBR).
GBR is intended to absorb state-owned infrastructure management company Network Rail and issue contracts to private companies to run trains, with Birmingham, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster, Newcastle and York shortlisted to host its headquarters.
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Mr Foster, responding to an urgent question, told the Commons: “There will be a GBR at the heart of our rail network with a HQ located in one of our great railway communities. The details will be confirmed shortly but our commitment to deliver is unchanged.”
He added: “Sorry to disappoint people, I won’t be announcing from the despatch box today where that will be but it is something we’re committed to do.”
Mr Foster went on: “There will be a successful bidder, they will be announced in the not-too-distant future.”
Labour accused the Government of “managed decline of our railways”.
Shadow transport minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said: “The Conservatives promised at their party conference with a straight face to get Britain moving.
“Yet all we’ve seen is stopping, striking and a managed decline of our railways, and now they’re abandoning their flagship policy.
“This is a direct result of the aimless and distracted party, a shambolic Government with no plan and no ideas. So, perhaps the minister can clarify what is the future of Great British Railways? Has it been stopped in his tracks? And when will his department get a grip of the railways to deliver a proper service for passengers across our country?”
Mr Foster replied: “Luckily, I already answered his first question in my previous comments around the fact that we certainly have not brought it to a halt. And, you know, I think, again, in terms of the location of the headquarters, we’ve said, we will shortly announce the results of that one.”
Conservative chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee Huw Merriman asked Mr Foster to set out “some of the ideas” that will see the “guiding mind” of the Great British Railways brought forward “notwithstanding the legislation would be slightly lagging”.
Mr Foster said: “What can be achieved before or without legislation is things like workforce reform, delivering local partnerships, bringing more long-term strategy for rail forward, reforming some of the… how we use ticketing.”
He added: “So there is still plenty we can be cracking on with and delivering, even without the initial stage of reform having primary legislation as part of it.”
Conservative former Cabinet minister Michael Gove said it was “absolutely vital to ensure that London and the home counties are better connected”, adding: “Travel times from my constituency… to London have not improved since the age of Queen Victoria.
“Will he put a Stephenson’s Rocket up the fundament of those bureaucrats who’ve been standing in the way of the progress my constituents require?”
Mr Foster joked about “putting an electrified Michael on the case as well”, adding: “Obviously demands have changed particularly in London and the South East, but we are seeing the results of investment.”
Lib Dem Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) raised ticketing and pricing as she called on the Government to “commit to freezing rail fares and not increasing rail fares next January to help with the cost-of-living crisis and also the fight against climate change”.
Mr Foster spoke of the need to “strike a balance between ensuring an affordable railway for the taxpayer, but also ensuring it’s one that’s affordable for customers and communities as well”.