An industry body says more competition on rail lines should be encouraged as part of measures to “revive” British railways.
Rail Partners, which represents private train companies, says allowing operators to run services on the same line is more common on the Continent and could lead to increased passenger numbers, trips newer trains, cheaper fares and reduced subsidies.
Most rail lines in the UK are served by a single operator contracted by the government.
One of the few lines with competition is the East Coast, which runs between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh. Grand Central, Hull Trains and Lumo are open access operators – competing with London North East Railway (LNER) – that do not receive subsidies from the Department for Transport.
A report by Rail Partners notes that competition exists in countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain. It called for “the full potential of open access” to be realized on UK rail lines “where there is potential demand”.
The document continues: “In a time of tight financial constraints, open access operators can provide free services to taxpayers while helping to connect underserved communities.
“For some long-distance routes, many railway companies competing to attract passengers can offer different types of services based on customer needs.
“Whether it’s faster, more comfortable journeys or faster wi-fi, demand will shape the market, meaning rail companies will have to adapt to passenger demand if they want to stay afloat. its business activities.
“For open access to prosper, it is vital that the access regime is fair, transparent, stable, and that the regulator is equipped to facilitate the expansion of this type of competition.”
Applications to launch open access services are evaluated by the Office of Railways and Roads (ORR).
In December, ORR approved Grand Union Trains (GUT)’s proposal to run five round-trip daily routes between Carmarthen in south-west Wales and London Paddington from late 2024 to compete with Great Western Railway.
Rail Partners CEO Andy Bagnall said “strengthened public-private partnerships are the best way to revitalize the railway”.
He continued: “What matters is what works for customers and taxpayers, so we should put aside ideological debates.
“Train companies, in the past and across the Continent now, have shown the skills needed to increase passenger numbers and reduce costs for taxpayers.
“If reforms continue to stall, rail will face a slow recovery from the pandemic and worst-case scenario a permanently smaller network.
“But with the right reforms, rail can grow again and act as a catalyst for a stronger, greener economy.”