In Brief

Rival rail operators to run trains on same routes in bid to improve services

Office of Rail and Road says shake-up should increase competition and drive down fares

Passengers on the UK’s railway network will soon be able to choose which train operators they use for their journeys, under a new system that experts believe could revolutionise rail travel.

The reforms, which come into effect in April, will allow “open-access” operators to run services on routes currently served by government-contracted franchise operators, “provided that they pay a bigger share of costs for the upkeep of the railway”, The Times reports.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) says the changes “should encourage more competition in the passenger rail market” and drive down the cost of fares, as well as resulting in more train services and encourage innovation.

Rail Technology Magazine reports that open-access operators such as Hull Trains and Grand Central have “already shown that the competition they introduce leads to service improvements and growth in rail travel, and they were also the first services to introduce innovative services such as free Wi-Fi”.

The Competition and Markets Authority is also backing the changes, which the watchdog says could have a similar impact to the reforms seen in the airline industry,  The Sun adds.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Competition, provided through open-access operators or through competitions to run franchises, has delivered real benefits both for customers and taxpayers.”

However, the ORR’s senior manager for competition economics, Beth Tasker, warned that operators might cherry-pick the most profitable routes. “In the GB rail market, where there is a lot of public subsidy of franchised services, this would result in the cost of the railway to government going up,” she said. “Our policy must take this into account.”

The RMT union has warned that the reforms may lead to “even more fragmentation and profiteering on Britain’s broken rail system”.

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