Return train fares are to be scrapped in a planned shake-up of Britain’s rail system, expected to be announced by Rishi Sunak’s transport secretary within days.
Mark Harper will reportedly unveil plans this week to replace return fares with “single-leg pricing”, in which the price of two single tickets will be equal to a return.
He is also expected to commit to creating Great British Railways (GBR), a new public body which will seize responsibility for ticketing and timetabling from the Department of Transport and place the operation of tracks and trains in the same hands for the first time.
The idea was first unveiled by Boris Johnson and his transport secretary Grant Shapps in May 2021 but has since failed to materialise, amid fears among Tory MPs that it amounted to “nationalisation through the back door”.
It was first proposed by ex-British Airways boss Keith Williams, during a lengthy “root and branch” review of the railways ordered by ministers after the 2018 timetable fiasco, which subjected millions of passengers to cancellations and delays when radical new schedules were rapidly introduced.
Mr Williams suggested creating a body to serve as a “guiding mind” for the industry with oversight of the entire system, which he compared to the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine.
Such a move would be “key for regaining public trust”, he said in 2019, telling the BBC: “Someone needs to be accountable to the public.”
Mr Williams will be in attendance during Mr Harper’s speech on Tuesday night at Westminster, according to the Sunday Telegraph, which first reported the details of the expected reforms.
Mr Harper is also expected to hint at the greater use of ticketing technology – a signal that paper tickets could soon be scrapped in favour of QR codes and smartcards, the paper reported.
Rail fares in England are set to increase by 5.9 per cent from 5 March, despite the ongoing series of strikes, cancellations and delays as ministers fail to strike a deal on pay, jobs, conditions and pensions with unions.
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