Will tickets be cheaper? What the rail shake-up means for you

Passenger at Norwich Train Station.

What will rail shake-up mean for passengers at Norwich Station? - Credit: Archant

The biggest shake-up of Britain's railways for 25 years will see everything from track maintenance to timetables and fares brought under the control of a new national public sector body.

Greater Anglia will cease to run rail services when Great British Railways takes over the operation of trains across the country

Passengers on train.

The Government believes scrapping the franchise system will lead to operators being more focused on improving services. - Credit: Greater Anglia

But what will it mean for passengers?

In a nutshell, what is going on?
The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail involves Great British Railways (GBR) taking over responsibility for managing infrastructure, issuing contracts to train operators, setting fares and selling tickets.

How were trains run before the pandemic?
Most services were run by private firms awarded franchises by the Government.

Did that work?
Passenger numbers have soared since train operation was privatised in the mid-1990s, but there have been long-term complaints about punctuality and the cost of fares.

What will change under the new system?
GBR will award contracts to private firms to run trains, with incentives based on performance and passenger numbers.

Network Rail will be absorbed by GBR, meaning the operation of train and track will be brought together.

Greater Anglia train

Private companies like Greater Anglia will continue to run services but under the banner of Great British Railways. - Credit: Archant

Will that make my train run on time?
The Government believes scrapping the franchise system will lead to operators being more focused on improving services.

The new concession model is similar to the one successfully used by Transport for London for its London Overground and Docklands Light Railway networks.

Ministers also hope there will be a smoother link in the management of train and track.

Will fares go down?
There has been no commitment that individual tickets should be cheaper, or not go up in price every year as fast but the report does say they should be better value.

Government has pledged to simplify the fares system and offer digital ticketing and more flexibility.

A move towards pay-as-you-go contactless technology - similar to that used in London - should automatically ensure a fare is capped to the cheapest available. 

What about part-time commuters?
New flexible season tickets will be introduced from June 21, which can be used for travel on any eight days in a 28-day period.

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Some passengers who commute two or three days per week will save hundreds of pounds a year through the new offer compared with the cheapest alternatives such as daily tickets or annual passes, according to the Department for Transport.

Those travelling three times per week would need to buy a new ticket nearly every three weeks, but would still save money depending on their route.

Rail ticket machine

The railways shake-up will see simpler ticket prices and expansion of contactless payments. - Credit: Greater Anglia

What if I only commute one day a week?
You will be better off buying daily tickets.

How about four days a week?
An annual season ticket is likely to continue to be your cheapest option.

How do I get one of these flexible tickets?
Passengers will be able to access the paperless ticket on smartcards or mobile phones.

What about compensation for late trains?
Full or partial refunds are paid for trains that arrive 15 minutes or more late or are cancelled but only 37pc of passengers actually claim.

A single GBR online system should make it easier to claim, with notifications sent to passengers' phones.

In time, automatic refunds should be more common.

Why did the Government decide reforms were needed?
The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 led to former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams being commissioned to carry out a wide-ranging review of the railways.

Greater Anglia train and passenger

Greater Anglia will disappear as part of the a major rail shake-up that will see launch of a national brand Great British Railways. - Credit: Archant

Why has it taken so long for anything to happen?
A plan based on his recommendations was due to be published in autumn 2019.
Its delay was attributed to the general election of December 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic.

What has been the response to the reforms?
Passenger watchdog Transport Focus said passengers will "welcome this move towards a more accountable and joined up railway".

But the announcement was criticised by trade unions, with the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association describing it as "an attempt merely to paper over the cracks".