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Transport secretary Chris Grayling to shake up Network Rail powers

Network Rail will be stripped of its complete control of the UK’s railways as part of a major government shake-up.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling is expected to announce later today that he intends to bring track and train operations back together, handing train operating companies more influence over the work on the country’s rail lines.

The UK’s track infrastructure is currently solely owned and maintained by Network Rail, which is publicly owned, with trains and services operated by private train operating companies such as Virgin and Southern.

But Mr Grayling has called for a change, with both track and trains to be managed by “one joined-up team of people”.

Under the changes, Network Rail and train operating staff will be integrated into operating teams to make decisions on renewal and maintenance work.

How much control Network Rail will have over the tracks is currently unclear – as is the balance of the operating teams.

Mr Grayling is also expected to reveal plans to create a organisation, separate to Network Rail, called East West Rail.

This will oversee the construction and operation of a rebuilt multi-million-pound train line linking Oxford to Cambridge.

This will be the first fully integrated rail operation created since the privatisation of British Rail in 1994, and will be tasked with securing private sector design, build and management of the route.

The delivery of the Oxford-Cambridge line will mark a step change in the way major projects are delivered on the rail network. Enhancements and renewals work is usually delivered through Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects Division.

Mr Grayling likened East West rail to Crossrail, which was planned and developed by a group outside of Network Rail and Transport for London.

The new body will be chaired by Network Rail non-executive director Rob Brighouse.

Mr Brighouse was previously managing director of Chiltern Railways, where he led on the delivery of a number of privately financed infrastructure projects and also worked closely with Network Rail on the construction of the £87m line between London and Oxford, which is being built by a Carillion / Buckingham JV.

Last month, the chancellor Philip Hammond gave £100m to speed up the delivery of the western section of East West Rail between Cambridge and Bedford, and a further £10m to develop a preferred route from Bedford to Oxford.

Mr Grayling is expected to say today: “When things go wrong [on the railways], a lack of a joined-up approach can make things much worse for the passenger.

“I intend to bring back together the operation of the track and train on our railways…our railway is better run by one joined-up team.

“If our railways are to cope with the challenges of today and tomorrow, it take more investment, new ways of working, new ways of funding improvements and more joined-up management.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has welcomed the changes, saying more is needed to be done to align incentives between the organisation and train operating companies.

He also welcomed the creation of the East West Rail, saying competition would improve the way Network Rail operated.

“Competition breeds efficiency and innovation and will further encourage our own teams to push aside the barriers holding them back,” he said.

Mr Carne revealed that former government chief construction adviser Peter Hansford would chair an independent review looking into the barriers to competition there were in delivering rail engineering projects.

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