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The government has announced the biggest shake-up in the UK's railways since privatisation in the mid-1990s.
It will see the creation of a new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR), which will set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.
But private operators will still be contracted to run most trains.
And next month, flexible season tickets will be available for some people who commute two or three times a week.
The reforms follow the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 and years of complaints about the "fragmented" franchising system, which will now be scrapped.
Under the changes, GBR will replace the current operator of infrastructure, Network Rail, but is not expected to be established until 2023.
The government says the new system should look more like Transport for London, with multiple operators under one brand, offering greater accountability when things go wrong.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "I am a great believer in rail, but for too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve."
Instead he said the plan would "deliver a rail system the country can be proud of".
A string of reforms will be brought in before the new body comes into existence, including a "significant rollout" of more pay as you go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones.
New flexible season tickets will offer savings on certain routes for people who do not travel to work every day, reflecting the expected changes to commuting patterns after the pandemic.
They are due to go on sale on 21 June for use seven days later, and will allow passengers to travel on any eight days in a 28-day period.
'Confusion and over-complication'
The plan is contained in a White Paper, based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams. It followed the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018.
The plan was initially due to be published in autumn 2019, but was delayed by the general election and the coronavirus pandemic.
The White Paper is entitled the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, after Mr Williams and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Mr Shapps said the railways had suffered from "years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication".
He added: "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."
Since the privatisation of British Rail 25 years ago, rail reviews, reforms and reorganisations have come and gone with a steady regularity, operating to a frequency something akin to an elongated Olympic Games.
Successive administrations have felt the need to tinker with the original architecture of the system, which gave train operators a substantial degree of freedom to set fares, lease new trains and change service patterns.
Since Railtrack collapsed in 2001, however, the general direction of travel has been towards more control at the centre.
In 2004, the then transport secretary Alistair Darling considered a plan to unite the two big forces in the industry, Network Rail and the Strategic Rail Authority, into a single unit, to be called National Rail. This plan finally makes that idea concrete and reverses one of the pillars of the original privatisation, the separation of management of the track and the trains.
Great British Railways will have its say over Network Rail (the owner of the track and major stations) and will award concessions to private companies to operate services. If the plan is followed through and properly implemented, it should see an end to the squabbling over who is to blame when the trains are late, dirty or overcrowded. Everything will be the problem of a single body.
That concentration of power will also be a potential Achilles' heel. One of the successes of the privatisation was the freedom for train companies to do new things - a freedom that was a partial factor in the remarkable revival in passenger numbers in the past two decades.
If that spirit of innovation is lost - and if civil servants and politicians endlessly interfere in the working of the new authority - the railways risk sliding into stagnation. The fear among railway executives is that the Treasury, having had to pay dearly to support services during the pandemic, will seek to claw back spending, leading to cuts in services.
The publication of the plan comes eight months after the government scrapped the system of rail franchising, which had been in force since privatisation, and unveiled plans to extend support for train firms.
After a drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic as more people worked from home, taxpayer money was used to plug the shortfall in ticket revenues.
The government's reform plan was welcomed by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
Its chief executive, John Larkinson, said the ORR would "continue to work closely with government and industry to facilitate reform and reshape rail for the future".
Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said the proposals could deliver "the biggest changes in a generation".
"Train operators called for a guiding mind and Great British Railways will help to bring the whole industry together," he said.
"To deliver for passengers and freight customers, it must have the independence to hold the operators of both tracks and trains to account equally. Crucially, it needs to allow operators to put their customers at the absolute forefront of decision-making," he added.
This article first appeared on www-bbc-co-uk.cdn.ampproject.org
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