Arup responds to the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

"Yesterday’s launch of the long-awaited Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail marks the beginning of a new chapter for the rail industry. Living up to its billing as ‘a fresh start’, the Plan sets out a series of sweeping changes that provide both a challenge and clear sense of direction for the industry.

Integrating the railways

"The creation of Great British Railways will fulfill the anticipated role of the ‘single guiding mind’, combining track and train as well as cost and revenue, and becoming the primary funder of research, development and innovation.

"Structuring Great British Railways into regional divisions that will work closely with local partners is a positive step, building on the devolution of Network Rail by bringing everyday decision-making closer to local communities. There’s good news for London too, where a new strategic partnership will support housing, economic growth and the environment across the transport network.

A new deal for passengers

"Stations are front and centre of improving the passenger experience – joint management teams will be established, and the Government’s property development company, the LCR, may take a greater role in their development. Integration with other transport modes will be enhanced, with stations potentially supporting local communities in different ways. This could include hosting on-demand shopping collection or facilities for education or training.

"In another potential boost for passengers, flexible season tickets will arrive next month and the process of buying tickets will become smoother via a single website and app. These changes are a welcome move towards simplifying the complex fares and ticketing structure.

Accelerating innovation

"Great British Railways will take on new responsibilities to accelerate innovation, which is likely to result in some streamlining of the diverse range of organisations currently operating in the research, development and innovation space. These responsibilities include facilitating and promoting rail freight and removing barriers to data sharing. The body will also play a significant role in enhancing sustainability, including bringing forward electrification proposals.


"We welcome the commitment to the electrification of the network and alternative technologies such as hydrogen and battery powered trains and look forward to the opportunity to support Great British Railways in the development of options and innovation to support decarbonisation.

"The promised comprehensive environment plan by 2022 as an integrated part of the 30-year rail strategy will be key in creating clear accountability for decarbonisation within the Great British Railways organisation, providing the urgency required to achieve net zero across the system.

"Legislation will also be needed to fully embed the changes, including to manage access to the railway and to put in place the right incentives, accountabilities, and levers of power to enable effective decision-making.

"These reforms are undoubtedly significant and put us on a path toward improvement on several fronts. Arup will be looking closely at the Plan, engaging with our rail clients and partners from across the industry to contribute to the important discussions around its implementation."

Andrew Went Andrew Went
Andrew Went, Rail Leader for Arup's UK, India, Middle East and Africa Region.