All change! Shake-up on the railways will affect East Devon travellers

Axminster Railway Station. Picture: CHRIS CARSON

The way the railway is run in East Devon was under scrutiny this week - Credit: Archant

The future of East Devon’s railways was the focus of scrutiny this week, as the government released its long-awaited proposals to shake up the organisation of Britain’s rail network.
The government announced on May 20 that they had agreed a new National Rail Contract (NRC) for the local train operating company South Western Railway (SWR). They will now continue to run services between Exeter and Waterloo until at least May 2023. The new contract will commence on May 30th when the present Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement with SWR comes to an end.
Under the new agreement, the government bears all of the revenue risk and most of the cost risk of running the service. SWR will earn a fixed management fee is £3.3m per year, and there is the opportunity to earn an additional fee of up to £9.9m, based on performance targets.
At the same time, the government announced a planned shake-up of the rail industry, with the proposed formation of a new body: Great British Railways. This is expected to replace Network Rail by 2023.
The new body will set the timetables and ticket prices, sell tickets and manage rail infrastructure. They will then manage the NRCs granted to companies to run the services. The Government has promised that the reforms will lead to new forms of ticketing, including flexible season tickets and greater use of digital tickets on smartphones.
The proposals follow a review lead by Keith Williams, the former head of British Airways. He said: “What we've done is listen to what customers want out of rail and react to that. And that really is a more reliable, punctual service and better opportunities when buying tickets.”
The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said the railways had suffered from what he called “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.”
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said they believed 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.”
The national organisation that represents more than 1,000 local voluntary groups and 74 Community Rail Partnerships, including The Friends of Honiton Station, has welcomed the government’s plans.
Jools Townsend, the chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “We warmly welcome the commitments set out by the government for reforming and reinvigorating our railways, aiming to make these vital sustainable transport arteries even more productive and valuable to the communities they serve.
“The community rail movement looks forward to working with local authorities, rail and transport partners, and the wider community sector, to ensure rail is firmly at the heart of a sustainable and inclusive transport future, which everyone can benefit from.”
At the same time, South Western Railway announced the completion of a year-long programme of extensive improvements, made possible by low passenger numbers.
SWR said that they had taken the opportunity to work on initiatives that would have otherwise taken much longer to deliver, and created more disruption, had they been attempted when passenger numbers were higher.
The works included 48 stations being completely repainted, 280 new benches installed on stations, 40 new waiting shelters erected, and 15 waiting rooms refurbished, allowing for a more comfortable passenger experience.
All 187 SWR stations now have Wi-Fi, and 16,180 light bulbs have been changed to LEDs, reducing energy use across the network by 21 per cent.
Claire Mann, SWR’s managing director, said: “While our customers were away, we’ve taken every single opportunity to improve our services. We’re investing heavily in our network, our people, and our local areas to improve the quality, safety, and reliability of our services, and better meet the needs of customers and our communities.”

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