A rail specialist’s view of the Williams Review

with Josh Collier, our Head of Proposition - Rail and Ground Transport

The long-awaited Williams Review [now dubbed the ‘The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail’] is now in the public sphere. As rail travel specialists, here’s our expert view on what that really means for travellers and the travel industry.

Through the creation of a new public sector body, Great British Railways (GBR), the government will create a consolidated rail body that holds powers to set timetables, manage rail infrastructure, determine prices and sell tickets in England. Previously, separate companies were responsible for different parts of the industry which caused both confusion and frustration alike.

Our Head of Proposition for Rail and Ground Transport, Josh Collier said of the news: “This announcement offers an exciting look into the future of the rail industry and we welcome the positives this will bring to the traveller”.

“The rail industry has built on years of complexities to create a fares structure that is not suited to meet the requirements of the modern traveller. A removal of Off-Peak cliff-edge pricing and the addition of flexible season tickets, both key inclusions, are huge steps forward”.

Flexible season tickets

The headline and most immediate benefit to travellers is the introduction of flexible season tickets. Under the new plans, new flexible seasons tickets are due to go on sale on 21 June for use seven days later and will allow passengers to travel on any eight days in a 28-day period, creating a new and more cost-effective product aimed at those travelling on average 2 days a week.

Earlier this year, we called out greater flexibility on season tickets as a vital reform to support flexible working patterns. Season tickets have been crying out for an overhaul for some time, with ticket sales declining long before the pandemic as home working and flexible working became increasingly more popular.

A recovery driven by better rail connectivity

Collier highlighted the role that rail has to play in driving a post-pandemic recovery: “As we now begin to re-open society once more, rail has an integral role to play in getting the country back moving and it’s fantastic to see the commitment to key infrastructure projects to make our railways greener and to reduce journey times which in turn will help the railways prosper.

“We hope by having one single organisation responsible across all areas in Great British Railways, it will help remove some of the challenges that are in place today and to offer the best possible experience with the customer’s needs front and centre. However, it’s important that Great British Railways put the necessary structures in place once formed to achieve a simpler experience for travellers, train operators and retailers alike to ensure parity is achieved throughout.”

The government’s plans also include a new Great British Railways ticket website and app, and wider pay as you go rollout with contactless payments and digital ticketing on smartphones becoming much more commonplace.

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