CONTROL of trains and track will be brought under a new public sector body named Great British Railways (GBR) as part of sweeping reforms, the Department for Transport has announced in a move praised by North-East leaders.

The organisation will own and manage rail infrastructure, issue contracts to private firms to run trains, set most fares and timetables, and sell tickets.

It will absorb Network Rail in a bid to end the current “blame-game system” between train and track operations when disruption occurs.

Transport leaders in the North-East have praised the move, hoping it will create more joined-up planning for the future, aligned to what the economy needs and taking account of input from local areas.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership also welcomed the move, with the belief it will deliver a more reliable and efficient service. 

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail has been published as a white paper.

It is based on the recommendations of a review of the industry carried out by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams following 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.

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.

“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.”

GBR is not expected to be established until 2023.

Its logo will be an updated version of British Rail’s double arrow. It will be released at a later date.

Many reforms will be brought before the body is launched.

Flexible season tickets will be introduced, offering savings on certain routes for people who travel to work two or three times a week.

These will go on sale on June 21 for use seven days later.

There will also be a “significant roll out” of more pay as you go, contactless and digital ticketing on smartphones, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

The new body will specify most of the timetables and fares.

Operators will be incentivised to run high-quality services and increase passenger numbers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain’s railways were built to “forge stronger connections” and provide “an affordable, reliable and rapid service”, but passengers have been failed by “years of fragmentation, confusion and over-complication”.

He said: “That complicated and broken system ends today. 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.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Today’s announcement is a vindication of the compelling cases made by Northern business leaders following the May 2018 timetable fiasco. 

“The franchise model was broken and not fit for purpose, and I have no doubt that the new body under the leadership of Sir Peter Hendy and Andrew Haines will deliver a more reliable, efficient Northern rail network.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “Change is desperately needed on the railways and so I welcome today’s announcement.

“As a region we have a bold vision for integrated transport as outlined in the North East Transport Plan, and we want more influence over our local railways, focusing on improving access for communities. 

"We’re pleased to see a commitment to giving local leaders greater control over local ticketing, timetables and stations. These decisions should not be taken by people based hundreds of miles away.

“Railways connect our communities to jobs and education, link us to the rest of the UK, and provide sustainable arteries for freight. The operating system that has been with us since rail privatisation has not worked. 

"Secondary routes that are hugely important to our towns and cities have deteriorated while companies have competed ferociously for profitable passengers on trunk routes. Yet strangely the companies running the profitable East Coast Main Line have gone out of business several times over. The system does not work.

“The fragmented system has also led to absurd scenarios like there being too many services planned for the track capacity available, something affecting the North East right now which will lead to negative consequences. 

"As Great British Railways will be responsible for the whole railway, I look forward to better and more joined up planning for the future, aligned to what the economy needs, taking account of input from local areas.”