Today the UK government has announced major reform to our railways the biggest change in 25 years which sees creation of new public body Great British Railways – a single, familiar brand with united, accountable leadership

A quarter-century of fragmentation on the railways will end as they come under single, accountable national leadership, as the Government today (20 May 2021) unveils a new plan for rail which prioritises passengers and freight.

A new public body, Great British Railways, will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenue, running and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.  

Great British Railways will simplify the current mass of confusing tickets with new flexible season tickets, and a significant roll-out of more convenient Pay As You Go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones. A new Great British Railways website will sell tickets and a single compensation system for operators in England will provide a simple system for passengers to access information and apply for refunds.


There will remain a substantial, and often greater role, for the private sector. Great British Railways will contract private partners to operate most trains to the timetables and fares it specifies, with a model similar to that used by Transport for London in its successful Overground and Docklands Light Railway services.  

The new Passenger Service Contracts will include strong incentives for operators to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers. They will not be one-size-fits-all: as demand recovers, operators on some routes, particularly long-distance, will have more commercial freedom. Affordable walk-on fares and season ticket prices will be protected. 

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, published today, sets out the path towards a truly passenger-focused railway, underpinned by new contracts that prioritise punctual and reliable services, the rapid delivery of a ticketing revolution, with new flexible and convenient tickets, and long-term proposals to build a modern, greener and accessible network.

UK PM Boris Johnson said: “I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve.

“By creating Great British Railways, and investing in the future of the network, this government will deliver a rail system the country can be proud of”.

Grant Shapps the Transport Minister said: “Our railways were born and built to serve this country, to forge stronger connections between our communities and provide people with an affordable, reliable and rapid service. Years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication has seen that vision fade, and passengers failed. That complicated and broken system ends today.

“The pandemic has seen the Government take unprecedented steps to protect services and jobs. It’s now time to kickstart reforms that give the railways solid and stable foundations for the future, unleashing the competitive, innovative and expert abilities of the private sector, and ensuring passengers come first.

“Great British Railways marks a new era in the history of our railways. It will become a single familiar brand with a bold new vision for passengers – of punctual services, simpler tickets and a modern and green railway that meets the needs of the nation.”

Andy Burnham

However GM Mayor Andy Burnham welcomed the changes although seemingly sceptical he said: “I broadly welcome these reforms and believe they could bring some much-needed sense and stability to what has felt in recent times like a chaotic railway. Rail privatisation as we have known is over and there won’t be many tears shed in Greater Manchester about that. But we do have concerns that this move back to a centrally-controlled railway could weaken the powers of the North over our railway and we are seeking reassurances from the Transport Secretary that this will not be the case.

“It is important to remember that Northern Mayors and Leaders led calls for change following the timetable chaos in May 2018. We said enough was enough, demanded a better rail service here and this is a significant response to that call. While these changes are clearly a sizeable step in the right direction, they do appear to fall short of what the Prime Minister promised at the Convention of the North in 2019 – notably devolved control of services and stations. In Greater Manchester, we want that local control so we can deliver a London-style public transport system by the end of the decade. We hope that these proposals will not cut across that vision and want to work with the Transport Secretary and the new Great British Railways to deliver it.”