Great British Railways: what is the major Network Rail train reform - and flexible season tickets explained

The new public body will incorporate Network Rail and take over responsibility for track and stations

The UK’s rail network is undergoing its biggest change in decades under restructuring plans.

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Flexible season tickets will also be introduced to reflect commuters’ post-Covid working habits.

Control of trains and track will be brought under a new public sector body named Great British Railways (GBR) as part of sweeping reforms (PA Media)

The restructuring comes nearly 25 years after British Rail was broken up and the network was privatised.

But what does it mean for commuters?

What is Great British Railways?

That is the name of the new public sector body which will control trains and track, as part of major reforms to the country’s rail network.

The organisation will own and manage infrastructure, but contracts will be issued to private firms to sell tickets in England, run trains and set most fares and timetables.

GBR, which will use a modified version of the British Rail double-arrow logo, is expected to take over in 2023.

Network Rail will be absorbed into the body, and the company’s executive, Andrew Haines, and its chairman, Sir Peter Hendy, are in charge of structuring the reform.

What does it mean for commuters?

The government has called GBR “a single, familiar brand with united, accountable leadership”.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps made clear the changes were not “re-nationalisation”.

Mr Shapps admitted that the current system, which relies on franchise arrangements, was “too complicated” and “fragmented”.

He said GBR would be more accountable for any delays or disruption.

And operators will be paid to provide specified services, with incentives to increase passenger numbers and run better-quality services.

The new plans follow a review of the network by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams which was started in 2018.

Unions have criticised the restructuring, saying the plans do not go far enough to overhaul the UK’s rail network.

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What are flexible season tickets?

Flexible season tickets will be made available to passengers commuting two or three days a week under GBR.

It is hoped that the tickets will help to increase commuter numbers after the pandemic and reflect the change in many people’s working patterns.

The “French-style” tickets will go on sale on 21 June, when it is planned that the final stage of lifting lockdown restrictions will come into place. They will then be valid seven days later.

They will allow travel on any eight days within a 28-day period, meaning those commuting only a few times a week could potentially save hundreds of pounds a year.

The rail restructuring will also see the introduction of pay as you go, contactless payments and digital ticketing for smartphones.

Speaking about the flexi tickets, Mr Shapps said: “For many, the idea of travelling five days a week to the office is fast becoming a relic of the past.

“The future is flexible — passengers want a simple, stress-free option, and new flexible tickets make fares fairer.”

How much will rail fares be?

The Department for Transport has said the flexi tickets could be 15% cheaper than daily peak prices.

But it is not yet clear how much other fares will be.

The GBR plan promises “simpler, modern fares”, while the DfT has promised that “affordable walk-on fares and season tickets prices will be protected”.

Rail fares rose by an average of 2.6% this year despite cuts in services during the Covid crisis.