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techUK responds to draft Rail Reform Bill

The Government has published draft legislation to reorganise the railways.

We welcome the publication of the draft Rail Reform Bill that supports a major reorganisation of rail sector, revises the role and functions of the Secretary of State and enables a new IRB (Integrated Rail Body) to be established.  

The Bill brings together the primary legislative measures required to deliver rail reform envisaged by the 2021 Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. It enables the transfer of some of the franchising authority functions from the Secretary of State to the IRB (to combine with the infrastructure manager function) and makes other changes to facilitate and support this core reform.

Given the scale and complexity of the proposed changes the Government has decided that the Bill should face pre-legislative scrutiny, led by the Transport Select Committee, to provide Parliamentarians and experts across industry the opportunity to review and test the legislation in draft. This is intended to allow for a swifter passage through Parliament when the legislation is brought forward.

The tech sector viewpoint

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail made accelerating innovation and modernisation a central recommendation. It rightly identified that “rail needs to innovate and accelerate change if it is to remain relevant” and deliver on its commitments to business, passengers and the environment.

techUK supports the Plan for Rail’s core recommendation of establishing Great British Railways (GBR) as the Integrated rail Body, acting as a “guiding mind” that can take a holistic and open approach to innovation. In our 2022 report “Putting data and innovation at the heart of Great British Railways transition” we set out detailed recommendations for how technology, digital and data can be embedded across GBR’s six pillars for transformation. 

However, despite the clear opportunity we have been concerned by the slow progress implementing the Plan for Rail since it was published. This uncertainty has undermined confidence and investment in rail’s technology supply chain. Our concerns have been detailed in the response to the Labour Party’s Rail and Urban Transport Review, alongside further recommendations from our members to drive innovation in the sector.

The next steps

We look forward to engaging in the pre-legislative scrutiny process, however, given the limited time remaining in this Parliamentary session, are concerned by the prospect this important legislation never may never be enacted.

The technology sector stands ready to bring our railways into the 21st century. The next government has an opportunity accelerate the rate of change through fully embracing GBR, bringing cost and revenue into one place, prioritising innovation and positioning rail as an industry capable of being cutting edge in its adoption of technology.

Smart Infrastructure and Systems Group

Our Smart Infrastructure and Systems Programme is the champion for smart infrastructure deployment and governance in the UK, and the economic and societal benefits that smart technologies can deliver.

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