Whitehall row ‘stalling government promise’ to slash rail fares

Lack of action leading to a “year of wait and see”, warns rail industry

Boris Johnson reading the Conservative manifesto on a train. The party has pledged to “end the complicated franchising model and create a simpler, more effective rail system”. Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

15 Mar 2020

A government promise to slash rail fares is being stalled by a row between the Treasury and the Department for Transport, it has been reported.

A long-awaited review of the rail industry led by former British Airways chairman Keith Williams had been due for release last autumn, with Williams vowing to push for a “simplified fares and ticketing” system to stop passengers being overcharged.


But The Times has reported that the review may now not be published until the end of July – with no money for trials of new types of tickets announced in this week’s Budget.

Rail companies have been looking at cutting the dramatic difference between peak and off-peak fares as well as bringing in new part-time season tickets for workers who do not need to be in the office every day.

But a senior rail industry source told the paper: “In January the government promised a year of action on rail but for passengers it’s increasingly looking more like a year of wait and see.

“Typical risk-aversion on the part of the Treasury actually risks the railway being left behind by other industries that are utilising technology to transform how they sell their services.”

The Treasury is also said to be wary about an overhaul of the long-term rail franchising contracts handed to private companies to run lines - with fears the system being proposed by Mr Williams could pose a bigger risk to taxpayers.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said ministers remained “completely committed to bringing forward vital sector-wide reforms”.

They added: “We are already acting on the emerging ambitions of the review, including trialling flexible fares and focusing the industry on improving performance.

“We expect publication of the white paper before the summer recess, with reforms which will put passengers first, end the complicated franchising model and simplify fares to create a simpler, more effective system.”

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