Ahead of the publication of the Williams Rail Review, the man in charge of establishing the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to support the delivery of railway services believes those in charge of day-to-day operations should be independent from government.
Keith Williams, the former boss of British Airways, is leading the review that was set up last year in response to the timetable chaos and number of subsequently cancelled services that caused consternation for passengers and businesses.
The situation meant punctuality dropped to a 13-year-low by December 2018, and the chaos also resulted in a review from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) whose investigation revealed the interests of passengers had not been prioritised – something it recommended must change.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Williams stressed the importance of a “Fat Controller” type figure – a nod to the fictional character in Thomas the Tank Engine who manages the railways – to lead daily decisions and stay independent from government.
Mr Williams believes that, although there should be some government involvement, it should be limited to overall policy and budget decisions, and that the railway system shouldn’t be managed by the Department for Transport (DfT).
In an interview to the BBC, Mr Williams said that a figure independent from government would provide accountability for mistakes. He also stressed the importance of the role of regions.
“There needs to be real accountability in the railways; somebody needs to be accountable to the public for the services they receive. That needs to be at a national level, but what we also recognise is the role of the regions needs to be emphasised because regional input into the national system has been somewhat lacking.”
The Chairman of the review has yet to decide what the relationship between the government and this individual will be, but he did say Network Rail shouldn’t take an overall managerial role.
The Williams Rail Review will be published in autumn.